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What is it with all the awards?

Posted by Vern Edwards, 14 May 2010 · 1,732 views

Why do acquisition people love awards so much? There are all kinds of acquisition awards. For a list, go to http://www.fai.gov/acm/awards.asp. It prints out to more than three full pages, and it doesn't come close to listing all of the available awards.

How can it be that a function/process that is the focus of so much dissatisfaction and criticism hands out so many awards?

The really good people that I know don't care about awards. They can't be bothered. In my experience, people and organizations who lust for or brag about awards aren't very good. I'm thinking now of one organization that loves to trumpet its awards. It does a poor job, but once said to me that it couldn't understand my criticism of it, because it has won so many awards. There are organizations that give awards as marketing and public relations gimmicks. Many professional organizations give awards to encourage and reward dues-paying membership. (Let us now praise ourselves!) I have to laugh at the way chiefs of contracting offices hand out awards for doing a good job of planning an acquisition, preparing an RFP, or conducting a source selection. That's what contracting people are supposed to do. Why give them awards for doing it? Aren't they getting a paycheck? I cringe every time some new presidential appointee establishes a new award. I guess the idea is that people might do the jobs they're being paid to do if you offer them an award for doing it.

I enjoy giving praise more than getting it, although I don't give praise very often. When someone praises me I immediately feel like a phony, because, truth be told, I don't think I'm all that good. I think I'm just okay, and not even that sometimes. Maybe that's why I distrust people who are award-oriented and who have won a lot of awards. They are immediately suspect in my eyes, even though I know that some awards are well-deserved.

I consider myself mainly a critic of the acquisition "profession," because I am more interested in what we did wrong and in how we do better next time than in how good we maybe were in the past.

The best award is when you walk down a hallway and, as you pass, someone says to someone else, "That CO really knows her stuff." That's a great award, even if you didn't hear it. But if you're that kind of CO you're probably upset about something that you just learned that you hadn't known about, and you are wondering: How can I have lived so long without knowing that before now?

Mr. Edwards: I could not agree with you more. There is a distinction between an award and a true accomplishment. An award that is not linked to a true accomplishment, is just silly. As the composer Charles Ives said, "awards are merely the badges of mediocrity."

Thanks for your thoughts.
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Somehow, this has something to do with the "Peter Principle", which goes like this: employees get promoted to their level of incompetence, usually ending up at the management level. I think, since the managers can no longer shine through their own competence, they have to give out awards to share or get in the limelight, whether their underlings are trully competent and deserving of the award or not. And the cycle repeats itself. The incompetent giving out awards to the heirs of the throne! I believe that's why government became the place with so many incompetent Contracting Officers.
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Mr. Edwards,

Well said! The best award I've ever received as a simple, "Thank You"! Motivation to excel is either inherent or non-existent. Handing out awards and accolades simply because they are available without discernment creates workplace dissatisfaction and low employee morale. Hhhhmmm, I wonder where the awardees are when the Post comes calling?
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We now live in a society where everyone gets a trophy. My youngest son?s soccer team concluded their final practice a couple of weeks ago and we went to the burger joint where all the kids got trophies. I?m not sure what the trophy represented because they never even played a game against an opponent. (They are 5)

I guess they got a trophy for being registered on the team and showing up each week for 12 weeks. This kind of mentality works its way into professional lives as well. I?m here every week, I meet PALT, I?m right in the middle of the pack on production ? ?where?s my trophy??

Randall C. Burleson
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