Top tips for entering awards

Hesketh Emden, an award winner himself and a judge of the Training Journal Awards, shares some hints for success.

Do you look around your office and think that empty spot on the shelf could benefit from an award certificate in a nice frame or a piece of engraved glass marking your achievements? Can you think of a better way of recognising the good stuff you and your team have been contributing? Because of lack of budget, charities and not for profits have to think creatively, so I know that you have some amazing stories to tell.

But where to start? Every award wants something different, entry costs can be prohibitive, even with early bird or not-for-profit discounts. It can appear daunting so, as both award winner and judge, I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences with you to encourage you to take the plunge.

  1. Identify your story – everyone has one!
    • Some L&D teams focus on regular training, others tackle specific operational challenges and some a mix: regardless of where you fall, there are a number of ways to order your thoughts. Ask yourself: What have you and your team been doing over the last year or so? What are you most proud of? What’s been a surprise? How have you impacted performance? What’s been painful? Who’s been impressed? This should start to create a list of projects or activities for you to consider as a potential award submission.

    2. Brainstorm 

    I’d suggest sketching a very simple five minute outline for each of these projects around the following topics: 

    • What business challenge was this project seeking to address?
    • How does it link with the business plan?
    • Who were the stakeholders?
    • What specific benefits, improvements or changes did you want to deliver?
    • What solutions did you consider and why? – and which did you choose?
    • How did you implement, were there any problems or pleasant surprises?
    • What benefits did you deliver? Were they as planned?
    • Was it worthwhile?

     When you have answered these questions, you will have a much clearer idea of those projects worthy of recognition.

    I haven’t yet mentioned any award specifics and that’s deliberate because unless you can answer these basics, you won’t find it easy to compose any application. In this way, you avoid getting caught up in details too early.


    3. Tailor your application

      1. Register in good time, you’ll see all the requirements and, if payment is required, you shouldn’t have to pay until the end of the process – just in case you don’t complete. The Training Journal Awards are free to enter so a good place to start.

        Once you have your outline, review the categories in a particular award to identify which is best suited to your project. This may require a little re-framing to fit well. For example, work setting up a call centre could be considered within ‘customer experience’, ‘commercial programme’ or even ‘training partnership’ categories.

        Now have a look at the award category headings and how you can distribute your story throughout. Their instructions may identify other information you haven’t considered, so this is a great opportunity to add to your story, as required. Be aware that each category in the same award may ask for different information; this may assist you in deciding which category your activity best fits.

      4. Do you have any proof?

      Evaluation is worthy of special mention. Happy sheets don’t cut the mustard: they’re generally only useful to tweak your admin. What really matters is business impact and this is where you tie up the initial challenge with proof that you delivered benefits. Perhaps they were more or less than anticipated, do you know why? Does it matter? What did you learn? Are you doing more? Asking the business, reviewing before and after metrics and reviewing as time progresses all give you insight.

      Hard data is necessary in business but doesn’t give the whole picture, particularly from a ‘people’ perspective. Why not consider information from participants, their managers or business heads a few months down the line when changes may start to be seen? This goes for both large and small activities. If 75% of managers now feel more confident in dealing with a particular issue, that’s as useful to discover as the fact that there is a 20% reduction in the occurrence of this problem. It paints a more fulsome picture and, as Brené Brown said, ‘stories are just data with a soul.’


      5. You’re ready to submit

      Now, you’re ready to complete the submission. If this is undertaken online, it’s safer to complete offline in Word and then cut and paste: many of us can remember that sick feeling when an internet connection goes down along with an hour’s unique creativity. I’d definitely avoid experiencing that…

      Do note the word count requirements and, in particular, the relative numbers. I would suggest that a 500 word section is more important to judges than one requiring 200. Some awards may detail scoring and clearly this can give you a steer. That said, don’t waffle – volume never makes up for quality.

      Good luck and let us know how you get on.

      About Hesketh Emden

      Hesketh Emden is an award-winning learning, organisational development and talent management professional with extensive experience across the private and public sectors. A range of projects he has worked on has include identifying and developing leaders across the NHS, introducing wellbeing processes for drug and alcohol practitioners to improve their client outcomes and improving the dreaded performance appraisal. He’s also a Chartered Engineer and Physicist. Connect with him on Linked In

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