Awards – which ones matter?

There are a great many awards schemes that businesses and organisations can enter nowadays.  But which ones are worth winning?  My experience as a judge highlights two schemes that are genuine and represent a true accolade of excellence.

What does success in these awards say about the organisation, its leadership and the team and/or individual who has won?  And what should critics of business and our public sector organisations take heed of?

The WOW! Awards

Just prior to going on holiday last month, I had my annual day’s pleasure of judging the WOW! Awards, which were conceived 10 years ago by my long-time friend Derek Williams.  The awards extend across the private and public sectors.  I can’t say who won what; that will be revealed at a gala ceremony on November 30th.  What I can say is that all the nominees I have encountered over the years restore my faith in the decency and quality of human nature.

Fundamentally, the WOW! Awards work on a simple premise; customers, which includes patients in the health sector, students in education, citizens in wider society, are provided with an efficient and effective way of delivering praise into an organisation they have been served by and, well, wowed by.  Their praise gets to the person or team that did the wowing.  The very best from this stream of accolades gets considered in the annual judging round – the best of the best win.

Look at the WOW! Awards web-site,; roam around to see the wide array of firms and organisations participate and what they are achieving.  If not involved, ask yourself, “Why is my organisation not involved?”  Sometimes, just part of a much larger organisation is registered.  In this case I always hope the experience acts like a positive virus, one that will “infect” the larger entity.

In those public sector organisations participating in the WOW! Awards, receiving a certificate provides a source of bright sunshine to lift the gloom caused by the daily salvo of brickbats flung by politicians and the media.  This year, more than ever, before they rush to condemn, I suggest these critics dig deeper and unearth all the magic of the WOW! awards; it is hidden like truffles beneath an oak tree.

Northern Power Women Awards

As in so many other aspects of modern life, we have seen an explosive commoditisation of awards.   One young scheme that bucks this trend of quantity in favour of matching the WOW! Awards for its integrity and innate quality is Simone Roche’s Northern Power Women Awards (NPWA).   Simone conceived the Northern Power Women campaign to accelerate gender diversity across northern England.  The Awards scheme is one facet of the overall campaign.   For her successful work, Simone was “gonged” in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours.

NWPA is presently gathering nominations for this year’s awards, see, where you can nominate “role models”.  Is there someone you know across the hinterland of northern England who is doing something extraordinary and merits recognition?  If so, please nominate them.

Judging will take place just prior to Christmas, which is another day I look forward to; the awards will be presented in March 2019 in Manchester.


Both these awards schemes present incredible stories of people doing amazing things through their own initiative and huge reserves of personal dedication and commitment.  Some occur in huge organisations, others in small ones.  NPWA showcases local community initiatives, where a small group of inspired individuals produces a massive difference to the quality of life in socially deprived areas.

The schemes feature numerous heroic stories that bound together would produce a fat tome, one that would provide far more relevant and meaningful learning than yet another “management book” from Harvard.  As stories of what has happened, they are real, not theories, fables or analogies.  They are rich, vibrant, truthful lessons concerning bringing organisational and fundamental human values to life.

Many of the academic publications I encounter concentrate upon new technology and how this will propel change.  Sorry, I disagree.  Change only occurs when it is people driven.  Technology depends upon human creativity and inventiveness.  And of late, the output of these human behaviours has not been especially edifying.  Consider the genesis of Facebook asking students to rate two adjacent pictures of fellow students for “hotness”.  Would Facebook have taken off if launched against the current backdrop of #metoo?

Consider, too, the number of stories about AI bots replicating their human programmers’ biases with Microsoft shutting one down because it evinced racist traits in its evolving vocabulary and Amazon curtailing a recruitment system because it deselected women applicants.  Will an AI bot ever show care, compassion and commitment, qualities one of the first nurses to work in the NHS identified as essential to be good at her job?

Awards and leadership

As with so many things in modern life, there is not much new under the sun.  Go back 80 years and Dale Carnegie was writing about the need for recognition, “leaders… be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”  Lavish sounds a little over-indulgent, too polished, over-egged; false.

Praise and awards need to be genuine and authentic.  This is gained when senior leaders seek out the hospital porter or contact centre operative who has WOWed a patient or customer or ensures they recognise a colleague who has noticeably dented one of the many ceilings that continue to restrict inclusion and diversity.

Are the stories I encounter as a judge in both schemes reflective of lions being led by donkeys?  Not necessarily so.  For me, they demonstrate that a great many people are intrinsically motivated to do good for their fellow humans more than they are extrinsically.   Go back to the 1960s and Herzberg suggested cash only gets you so far as a motivator.  I also see evidence in the two schemes of Dan Pink’s view of motivation; provide purpose, autonomy and opportunity to master a skill or behaviour.

People will exercise their discretion to do the right thing in the right way if the organisational climate is safe and supportive.  That they have such freedom is generally testimony to the organisational climate created by their leaders’ behaviours.  So, pleasingly, few donkeys.

As hinted at earlier, is it that much of the braying noise of unwarranted criticism originates beyond the walls of participant organisations?  Are the various political breeds of ass that inhabit the Palace of Westminster, town halls and local authorities misinformed and misguided about the scale, reach and impact of good work being done?

Looking ahead – why authentic award schemes matter

WOW! and NPWA work because they are infused with the reality of life and are, therefore, genuine.  There is no fluff or flannel (although you often need the latter to dry away the tears produced by some of the stories that are told during judging).

The awards do not “celebrate” giving senior managers 100% bonuses for achieving only half of their objectives.  The schemes say thank-you and well done; they recognise the brilliance of extraordinary people solving complex, emotional problems.  Listen to these heartfelt words from the Chief Constable of Durham police,;  here is a leader who clearly recognises he stands on the shoulders of giants or, as he puts it, “geniuses”.

In WOW!s case, they celebrate doing something amazing for the customer; in NPWA’s case they celebrate “you can and you have, whatever gender you are”.

As a novice grandfather, I hold far more hope for my granddaughter’s future through the human behaviours on display in the WOW! Awards and Northern Power Women Awards than I do the malicious and salacious content published across social media or the partisan antics of our political classes.  It through the values-based, servant -leadership of people like Derek and Simone that a future can be shaped and ultimately celebrated that is open, tolerant and focused on people’s well-being, health and happiness.

Perhaps at each of their respective awards ceremonies, the nay-saying brayers should be given a table to marvel at what is being done despite their wow-less attempts at national or local, civic leadership.  After all, cross a donkey with a horse and you get a mule, which in the USA is called a jackass.  How apt.





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