Once upon a time, there were hardly any business awards competitions in Ireland. Now, there are so many – often in overlapping areas – that it can be difficult to remember which is which, and what’s being honoured.
There are web awards, entrepreneur awards, venture capital awards, startup awards, innovation awards, app awards, young entrepreneur awards, sectoral awards. Awards for ideas, for business acumen, for large firms and small startups. For individuals. For companies, corporate divisions and teams.
Such is the plethora of awards that sometimes, it feels as if there’s one for everyone in the audience.
But despite some in-built scepticism – probably due to invitation overload – I think awards are a good thing. And I don’t actually believe that you can have too many of them.
First off, quality wins out. Over time, the more meaty and significant events gain a well-deserved profile, are valued most by the recipients and carry the most weight publicly.
I would think of events such as EY's Entrepreneur of the Year, the Irish Software Association's annual awards, the SME Awards, the Web Awards, and the Golden Spiders as being examples of proven events with wide recognition.
It takes time
At the same time, don’t forget that awards need time to build depth and breadth, and gain profile. Today’s newcomer event may well be tomorrow’s industry stalwart. Or bring some needed fresh air and perspective. Or highlight a neglected area deserving of attention.
In this category I'd include (among many others) our own Irish Times Innovation Awards, which keep expanding year on year, and the Web Summit's Spark of Genius award to the best new startup.
Awards are great for encouraging people and companies to push themselves, and think about achievement, hone a product or service, perfect a pitch, prepare a business plan. Having served as a judge on a number of competitions over the years, I can say that few companies, no matter how experienced and successful, innately do all these things well. Competitions push them to do better.
In this sense, awards events are both great inspirers and levellers. The smallest startup can successfully square up to the most powerful multinational, and often the company that you expect to really shine disappoints, while one you’ve never heard of, captivates.
Communication is almost always the weak spot for entrants, which endlessly surprises me given that doing business successfully involves communicating well. So, awards events that require business people to concentrate on how to present an idea, a passion, a product’s qualities, a business’s plans, have to be a good thing – with knock-on benefits to the company.
Technology companies particularly benefit from explaining a product or service to a judging panel, because it is what they should be able to do – in laymen’s, not geek terms – for their customers. But tech firms are notoriously bad at doing this well. Just visit a company’s website and you’ll see what I mean.
For companies themselves, winning an award – even an award with a modest profile, but especially, from one of the more notable events – can help to make a business stand out in beneficial ways from the crowd. I regularly talk to companies who say an award helped them earn a closer look from potential investors, or gain new customers. In that sense, winning an award or two may make a difference as to to whether a company survives at all.
And then there are the internal benefits to a company that come from awards. They certainly have a morale-boosting element, bringing outside confirmation that a firm is doing things well. Again, this is something that can really make a tremendous difference, to startups in particular, which may not have had any external endorsement.
And awards can help with the highly competitive area of employee recruitment. People like to work for a company that is doing things well, whether it be along business achievement lines, or providing a great work environment. In the latter category, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network’s inaugural Workplace Equality Index Awards, held last week, are to be welcomed. The annual index ranks Irish businesses in terms of inclusiveness
This year’s top five indicate that tech sector companies – which pioneered equal benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees and their partners from the 1980 onwards – continue to head the roster for supportive diversity.
The top five equality index places to work in Ireland, in order, were EY, IBM, Accenture, Deutsche Bank and Microsoft.
Congratulations to those five. And to every company that has had the pluck to place itself under the scrutiny of judges for any of Ireland’s business awards events – a very trying process – and win recognition. That’s the kind of self-challenging verve that differentiates business success from mediocrity.