Among the hoards of commuters making their weary way home of an evening in London, you are likely to spot small groups of men in dinner jackets going in what looks like the wrong direction. They’re most likely on their way to an industry awards dinner somewhere, usually on Park Lane.  Every trade association stages at least one awards extravaganza and every industry boasts several every year.  In fact, the awards industry provides sufficient justification for an executive to invest in a black tie.  Female executives don’t do multi-wear outfits.

Most awards ceremonies are organised or supported by the leading trade or technical magazine that covers that industry – the ‘media sponsor’ – and the events themselves follow a tried and well-tested formula.  There’s usually between ten and 15 award categories, few of which would make sense to anyone not intimate with that particular industry (Algorithmic Trading System of the Year, anyone?)  Each category will have between four and six entries short-listed.

The event organisers usually employ the services of a newsreader off the telly as compare for the evening and a comedian or ‘retired politician’ as the entertainment or keynote speaker.  The food served at the dinner is typically secondary, both in importance and quality.

Having extensive shortlists across many categories adds excitement to an awards evening. It also has the benefit of guaranteeing that every table will be sold, just as long as the organisers keep who’s won a secret until the evening itself.  What shortlisted business would risk being named winner and, after the applause has died down, have the newsreader off the telly announce that: “Unfortunately, no one …”

It’s a profitable industry, the awards business. Increasingly, each entry submitted comes with a fee of up to £250, which means you can enter as many times and in as many categories as you like.  The tables, seating 10, usually change hands for between £2,000 and £3,000. Awards evenings represent good business for the venues too, which would otherwise be dark on a school night.

It’s easy to be cynical about awards.  During a recent board meeting, we were discussing the challenges of improving operational delivery and reducing costs.  Then he spoke up:  “You’d think we were terrible at delivery.  Have you all forgotten that we’re the best in the world at what we do … we have the award to prove it!”  The CEO shrugged.  “We won that award because ‘he’, pointing at yours truly, wrote a fantastic entry.” Like I said, it’s easy to be cynical about awards.

I’ve managed processes that have secured dozens of awards over the years.  Some were genuinely prestigious; others were less so. But the sales team always gets bragging rights and an opportunity to tell their customers the great news.  The CEO gets a new engraved acrylic plaque to decorate their office and the website gets a new logo.  Competitors also get to debate among themselves what made our entry superior after their CEO’s invitation to up their game next year. That’s a curious thing – CEOs can view awards as trivial when they’re won but not when they’re not.

But the major benefit of winning an award is always the positive impact it can have on employee morale.  Employees at a business that can boast award-winning products and services are prepared to concede that their efforts, innovation and commitment sway judging panels.  They accept at face value that they’ve been compared to the rest and came out best.

So were any of the awards secured because the comms department produced the best written entry? A compellingly entry certainly helps but unless the business has real merit that can be reflected in the right words, you’ll come away empty handed.

Employees can grow six inches after an award.  It puts a renewed spring in their step and rock and roll in their hearts.  So why do so many businesses not make more of an effort?