Do Industry Awards Inspire or Inhibit Innovation?

This week Bromford was announced the winner of the ‘Outstanding innovation of the year’ recognising our approach to testing and developing new services.

Philippa Jones, our chief executive, said: “This is fantastic recognition for so many colleagues and customers who have been at the very forefront of helping us test and shape our new approach – evolving from the original Bromford Deal to our new coaching approach and trusting relationship with customers. I’m particularly pleased that the panel praised our rigorous and transparent approach to testing and piloting our service offers through the Bromford Lab.”

As someone (me, not Philippa) – who has frequently criticised sector awards for encouraging silo thinking,  and who has challenged arbitrary lists of power-players, I half expected to get called out for my hypocrisy in attending a glitzy ceremony.

10 years ago I was all over awards ceremonies – which culminated in Bromford being announced the winner of the overall UK Customer Experience Award, which had previously being won by the likes of First Direct.

As part of that I noticed two distinct types of organisation:

  • Those who were seeking awards and accreditations as some kind of self affirmation
  • Those who were using the networks they gained through the process as part of a journey of self discovery and learning

The latter was typified by First Direct – whose approach to learning drove their own innovation. They rarely even told their own customers that they had won anything – and even to this day are self aware enough to know that awards without customer endorsement are meaningless.

This is the approach we learned from – and tried to follow – at Bromford. We never saw getting the award as the end of something – merely as a waypoint on a journey.  The 2009 seminar I did with Helena Moore on the learning we gathered from that cycle was entitled “Lessons from an Imperfect Organisation” , recognising that awards mean nothing, unless what they stand for reflects the day-in-day-out experiences of our customers, colleagues and partners at Bromford.

Awards and accreditations can act against the interests of customers.

  • They can encourage people to aim at the prize rather than the journey. I’m pretty sure Einstein didn’t develop the theory of relativity in order to get his hands on a cheque from the Nobel prize committee.
  • They can encourage organisations to tell good stories rather than promoting transparency and encouraging learning from failure.
  • They can imply that innovation is a single event, when it hardly ever is. Truly significant change is achieved over years, sometimes across generations.
  • And awards ceremonies can actually embed silo thinking – by promoting innovation at sector level when the really wicked problems need a more joined up approach.

With all that said – I’m delighted that Bromford have won this award as it marks a truly significant point in our current journey.

  • Colleagues have begun to embrace what has been a counter-cultural approach to problem definition, testing and piloting. To doing less, not more. They’ve been patient with us whilst we develop new methodologies that are evolving and imperfect.
  • Customers have worked alongside us during the , often difficult, mobilization of a new service model. That’s a whole mindset change away from the transactional SLA type relationship we used to have with customers – towards one of reciprocity, experimentation and personalisation.

It’s not done and never will be.

Awards should be used to track learning from failure rather than merely celebrate success.

Plaudits and accreditations can only be a driver for innovation if they help us forget the past and prepare for an increasingly uncertain future.

NEWS: We are about to enter Phase Two of Bromford Lab and need an Innovation Assistant to ruthlessly prioritise what we work on and grow our innovation network.  If you know someone who wants to embark on a bright new career – please share this link by 7th May. Thanks


3 thoughts on “Do Industry Awards Inspire or Inhibit Innovation?

  1. Agree with all of this Paul, but for me, there is a more fundamental problem with many of these awards-they can be nothing more than a rather cynical income generating weeze for the organisers (often commercial organisations) based on selling overpriced seats at awards ceremonies. In those circumstances you have to question the value of winning.

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