Having grown up well prior to the self esteem era, and in an era when the organized sports options for girls were limited, I didn’t collect any trophies. I did win awards for things-academic, but they tended to be books and religious paraphernalia. Not stuff with laurels, athletic equipment, and engraving on them.
My father, a superb athlete, passed his superb athlete days well, well prior to the self esteem era. So he had no trophies to show for his gridiron and diamond feats.
He did, however, have a trophy that he won in a golf tournament, which had a golfer in mid-swing on it. A nifty feature of the trophy was that the golf club was removable, and as kids, we naturally liked to remove it. The club, I believe, disappeared. The trophy may have, as well. In any event, it’s not in my possession.
My brothers, who both played sports, collected some trophies, but they were for being on winning teams, and not just for showing up. Tom won a “Gung Ho!” award from his high school for his efforts on the soccer field.
But I, alas, was trophy less.
In the work world, I did manage to win my share of awards.
They didn’t tend to be trophies, however.
At Wang, I was chosen to participate in the financial services strategy group, one of a handful of vertical strategy teams that were going to save Wang from itself. It’s pretty clear how that effort worked out. Nonetheless, we did have a banquet to thank us for our dedication and hard work. Fred Wang – Dr. Wang’s son – sat at the fin-serv table, as I recall. Team captains received nice fountain pens; team members got framed prints that were stylized slices of Monopoly boards. Which would not have been half-bad it they hadn’t been defaced with the autographs of the Wang executives. Is John Chambers’ autograph is worth something? Perhaps I should have hung on to the print?
When I left Wang, I left it in my cubicle. (In retrospect, I should have salvaged the frame.)
I won a few other corporate “things” over the years, the most memorable being the cut glass objet from Tiffany’s that Genuity gave its iLeaders one year. I will say my interest was piqued when I saw the pale blue boxes, but the trophies were duds. I would much rather have had a Revere bowl to throw loose change into, rather than a cut glass objet with my name engraved on it, useful only as a paperweight or murder weapon. When I left Genu, I left it in my office, along with my Blackberry and laptop. (Actually, I didn’t get to leave the Blackberry. Someone swiped it while I was walking around saying my farewells. I had technically been laid off, but as I was a voluntary separation, there was no one to actually fire me, give me my papers, and escort me out. So I just hung around for a while trying to get my paperwork in order.)
But there are, of course, many people and many organizations that really do go in for awards. And to support their needs, there are a lot of companies out there that “engrave the plaques and build the trophies” for all those award-winning folks in all those award-giving enterprises. Amazingly, it’s a $20 billion a year industry. Yowza!
From a ballroom stage on a post-Oscar evening, association president Guy Barone looked out at a few hundred gowned and tuxedoed recognition technicians and told them that the names of 2011's winners would be announced as soon as they finished dessert.
Recognition technicians. Love it!
Not surprisingly, the ARA gives out a ton of awards, including best plaque, best trophy, best engraving, and best sandblasting, which went to a fellow who sandblasted a spumante bottle for a Mardi Gras crew. (The winner beat out a sandblasted glass bingo hopper. But the bingo hopper contestant didn’t go home empty handed. She won for best engraving, with:
…a plaque made for a priest who was leaving his Minnesota parish. It was a silver-and-red plastic cutout of a locomotive, with Jesus in the cab window. )
Maybe you had to be there. (At the parish, when the priest left, not at the awards gala in Las Vegas.)
There was also an award for best sublimation. Now I’ve known plenty of people I could nominate for best sublimation, myself included, if you don’t mind a bit of a brag. But I don’t think they mean that type of sublimation. I think they mean the chemical process.
There has been a shift in recent years to giving out useful gifts – think the Wang pen – rather than trophies and plaques, but the ARA pooh-poohs this:
The awards association's executive director, Louise Ristau, addressed the issue this way: "A knife set doesn't say, 'You got this because you've been with the company for 20 years.' What says that is a plaque that you keep and look at your whole life."
Unless you’re me, who will leave the plaque behind when I part company with the company.
"We haven't found a saturation level for awards," says David Sturt of O.C. Tanner, a Salt Lake City "appreciatology" company. It ships 3.2 million corporate awards a year and advises managers on handing them out, as in: "Be genuine and adopt a celebratory tone."
"People feel underappreciated," Mr. Sturt says. "They hang onto their trophies, those little units of success in their lives."
God knows there’ve been times in my career when I felt – sniff, sniff – underappreciated. But is there something fundamentally wrong with me that I never had any desire to “hang onto” any of the “little units of success” that came my way?
Yet again, I must accept the reality that I’m just not like everybody else.
(Not that I’d turn down a best blog award…)