The UK Employee Experience Awards (EXA) last month was a resounding success. I had the privilege of sitting as an observer on one of the judging panels, where I saw the enthusiasm and professionalism of the finalists up close.
Since then, we’ve been busy compiling judges’ comments into a bespoke Feedback Report for each finalist. It contains their scores, how they performed relative to others in their category, and written feedback offering constructive criticism.
Having read through this feedback myself, much of it is highly specific: the independent judges give precise feedback based on the essential elements of the submission, which is very useful advice for finalists going forward.
Nevertheless, I did notice certain pieces of feedback coming up quite often across categories and organisations, so I thought it would be useful to bring them together into one collection of common awards mistakes.
Awards Mistake #1 – The entry doesn’t address key elements of the criteria
One reason that our awards are the fairest around is that we make all our scoring criteria publicly available. For most categories in our awards, there are 9 different criteria, designed to measure the success of initiative from its inception through to lessons learned.
Each criterion is worth 200 points, so you have to give them equal treatment. The summary section is not meant to be an overview of your company or a space for general statements about corporate values: it should be treated like an abstract, something that contains the key findings of the initiative and indicates the approach you’ll be taking throughout your submission.
For some EXA entries, judges felt that important elements of the initiative were suddenly mentioned in the submission, without any indication in the introduction that this was part of the initiative.
Addressing the criteria is somewhat easier in the written stage of the entry process; finalists have a 200-word limit for each criterion, encouraging them to address each of them in appropriate detail.
When it comes to the presentation, however, it’s up to the finalists to decide. This is often a good thing – they give a free-flowing presentation that expands upon the ideas in the written entry and really brings the initiative to life. But remember – you need to be giving equal treatment to each criterion. To ensure that the presentation remains focused, some finalists decide to structure them around each of the criteria. This is not essential, but it’s vital to construct your presentation in such a way that you stay on topic.
Awards Mistake #2 – It doesn’t use lots of relevant metrics to quantify the experience
Our judges are experienced business professionals so they require hard evidence to be convinced. You need to provide measurable, clearly defined metrics proving you have improved the experience in one way or another.
The choice of metrics need to be suitable to your initiative – you need to be measuring the right thing. Conducting an annual engagement survey, for instance, is unlikely to wow our judges – with modern technology and new approaches to employee experience, judges expect to see evidence of more targeted and useful metrics.
Awards Mistake #3 – There isn’t enough linkage between the initiative and the success of the business
The majority of our finalists include the right kind of metrics. Getting to the next stage is the real challenge: you need to prove how a better experience (for customers or employees) has in turn contributed to better business results. The quality of the proof here often decides a category winner.
That’s what our Overall Winner at EXA, the Holly Private Hospital, did so well. In the words of one of our judges, they clearly described ‘tangible’ business results that could be linked back directly to the consequences of their initiative.
There’s a good chance that your improved customer experience has benefited your business, but you need to give solid proof of this to the judges to convince them of your initiative’s success.
Awards Mistake #4 – The initiative is not well-defined
At Awards International, we want different initiatives from companies of all sizes to do well and get the recognition they deserve. For that reason, our awards include a large number of categories for different types of initiative.
These initiatives don’t have to be running for a specific time period – but we do expect them to have a purpose within the business. Occasionally we see entries that mistake their ‘initiative’ for the general running of their business. As a result, these submissions often don’t do well in the Business Strategy and Innovation & Creativity sections of the criteria.
Our judges are looking for ideas that take organisations forward and contribute to continued success; you can’t just talk about what your business does in general terms. It has to be targeted on something specific you did to take your business up a gear.
Awards Mistake #5 – There isn’t enough focus on Lessons Learned
Understandably, some organisations don’t want to include too much criticism of their own initiative in the Lessons Learned section, thinking it will undermine their success. But this is a popular misconception.
It’s a little like when you’re in an interview and the other person asks you what your flaws are. Do you really think they want to hear something like ‘I care too much’ or ‘I’m a perfectionist’? Or would they prefer a real answer?
Learning from your mistakes is essential to the success of any initiative. You need to be above board with what didn’t go as well as possible, and suggest how you might improve things in the future. The judges understand that your initiative isn’t perfect – no initiative is. They want to see a considered assessment of business success, not a sales pitch.
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