Recently while I was waiting in the airport bar to catch my flight, I had the opportunity to witness a workplace recognition ceremony of a group of employees who work for a catering contractor at the airport.

As I sit at the bar, I watch as team members begin gathering in seats near the window. A manager appeared and abruptly informs staff members that the door behind them, leading to the preparation area behind the bar, must stay closed at all times. She then walks behind the staff member and proceeds to shut the door herself. Closing the door has subsequently locked it, and the manager realises she’s now locked the staff members out.

‘Can you get in there now?’ she asks, “Yes, I have the keys” replies the staff member.

And with that, the manager curtly nods and walked away. She is joined by a colleague who suggests where the ceremony should take place. Though this suggestion is either not heard or ignored, leading the colleague to exhale loudly and look rather frustrated.

The group of staff members then gather in a semi-circle near the bar. As they stand and wait, passengers walk through, making their way to the departure gates.

With little introduction, the ceremony gets underway with the first manager reading out scripted feedback from a sheet of paper to provide insights into what recipients have done to earn their awards. There is no eye contact made with the recipients as their names are read out, nor is there any emotion in the words being delivered.

“George joined the team in 2008 and always provides good customer service…He handled a particularly difficult situation recently…”

“Selena always volunteers to stay late if someone isn’t available to do their shift…”

The manager continues on. The presentation is very transactional and I even feel uncomfortable watching it.

A team member leans forward with one hand out to accept his award—a laminated piece of paper with what looks like clip art printed on it. His expressionless face suggests this process may have taken place every week for the past 20 years.

To conclude the ceremony, everyone politely claps and the group immediately disperses. No one stops to reflect on their team members receiving an award. I look around the largely empty bar and can’t help but wonder what impact, if any, did these awards have on the team? Did they value it? And are these awards an incentive to improve performance at all?

Part of our model at Leading Teams is about genuine conversations which encompasses catching people doing the right things and rewarding living values and agreed behaviours. This encourages people to replicate those behaviours and other people will see them being rewarded. These behaviours then become part of the culture. However, if the conversations around performance are not genuine, and are seen as a ‘useless process’, which by the reactions of the staff they felt it was, then managers need to look at the reason for holding an awards ceremony like this in the first place.

Feedback can be given in many forms, whether it’s over a coffee or during the working day and does not always need to be provided in an organised forum. I wonder whether George, Selena and the others that received their laminated paper with clip art would have preferred a simple ‘Good job’ at the time?

Tim Ferguson

Tim Ferguson

Tim joined Leading Teams in 2012 after experiencing our program as a client. Tim is a facilitator based in Northern NSW.

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