What Employee Awards Say About a Company’s Culture

Vikas Joshi
June 1, 2017

At Harbinger, our annual awards night is a highly-anticipated event. The whole company comes together to celebrate the year gone by and to recognize the individuals and teams who have created a positive impact.

Every company has certain rituals that tell you about its culture. The ritual of giving away company awards is important because it serves as a key indicator of the values that the company wishes to recognize and celebrate.

Like I had written in an earlier blog, company values go beyond the words that describe them. Values really come to life only when you see them in action. Company values and culture manifest through things such as awards, processes, workplace ambience, and so forth. Even informal rituals, such as wearing traditional clothing for festive occasions, play a role in establishing the culture.

How Award Categories Reflect the Company Values

At Harbinger, we have milestone awards that recognize employees

who have spent five, ten or 15 years with the organization. It is a great way to show people that we truly value their long-term association with the company. Every year, a growing group of long-tenure awardees walks up to the stage to receive their plaques. The growing number of people who have completed these milestones shows that the respect and appreciation is reciprocated by employees too.

I think Harbinger’s ‘most challenging project award’ is another great example of an award that reflects the company’s values. Taking on innovative and pathbreaking projects often involves doing things that have never been done before, which is inherently a risky proposition. But taking these risks is important because it is the only way for us to move forward. So, our ‘most challenging project award’ recognizes the efforts of our teams in going above and beyond standard approaches to build something new, even if the results were eventually not what we had hoped for. So, the message here really is that while the outcome matters, so does the effort! Rewarding a valiant effort despite failure is important if we expect our teams to constantly push the envelope and move forward.

Similarly, the jubilation and pride that was apparent while collecting the ‘team awards’ shows how much we value teamwork. The fact that families join in the celebration means that we appreciate the contribution of the families in our professional success.

I recently came across a multinational PR firm that has, in addition to the regular awards, a set of ‘fun’ awards. For example, there are awards for the quirkiest fashion sense, the worst sense of humor, killer dance moves and even a ‘serial emailer award.’ Given that PR consulting is highly individual centric and creative, recognizing these personality traits is way to say that the company actively encourages not just professional capabilities but also the little quirks that make people who they are. After all, ‘personality’ is a huge differentiator in that field. These award categories also indicate the low power distance, which is important in a consulting organization.

For Mary Kay Cosmetics, one of the largest direct sellers of skin care products and cosmetics in the world, its entire corporate culture was based on the empowerment of women. Aligning its awards with business meant presenting its employees (mostly women) with award ribbons, sashes, diamond bracelets, and ultimately the iconic ‘Pink Cadillac’ (for sellers who reached $100,000 in sales within a year).

Awards are a great way to reinforce the values that the company holds dear. So, it’s worth your while to invest the time and effort to arrive upon the right awards for your organization. Awards tell your people what behaviors you value the most. Make sure you send out the right message.

Here’s something for you to think about. If you could choose an award category that your firm ought to add, what would that be? Folks at Harbinger, please let me know!