16 tips to help you win awards

How to be a winner – or how to at least improve your chances of becoming a winner of industry awards

After several years of judging awards in the facilities management (FM) industry, I thought I’d offer some of my own views on how to prepare nomination submissions. What follows really relates to any industry, so I encourage readers to give some thought to my ramblings. If you disagree with what I say, that’s fine by me. I even encourage you to disagree and put your own stamp on your award submissions.

I’m aware that there is a lot to read on this page so please use the Table of Contents to navigate to any particular section.

I hope that what follows gives this year’s judges (I’m not one of them so I get nothing from this) an easier ride than they’ve had in previous years, and I wish you all every success.

Image: Alan Millin hoping to win an award for retiring and enjoying life
This is me hoping to win an award for relaxing and enjoying retirement

1. To enter, or not to enter? That is the question...

First off, we should acknowledge that preparing an award submission is expensive. Look around the table when you meet to discuss the drafting of your submissions. Do a quick mental calculation of the cost involved in sitting your team down for what is often, for most attendees,  an hour or so of mind-numbing boredom that yields little in the way of progress or value.

Then consider the costs associated with dragging those team members away from the production environment. Figure out how many meetings you are likely to need, including reviews, rewrites, etc. and calculate the total cost.

Then be brutally honest with yourself, do you have a real chance of actually winning anything? If not, don’t waste your time submitting anything for that category. If you step away from the emotion and enthusiasm that surrounds award submissions and put your business head back on, you might consider this to be something like a bid/ no-bid assessment.

You’re in business to make money, don’t throw it down the drain. Walk away and keep your hard-earned cash!  

2. Show me the money…

There is a saying that revenue is vanity, profit is sanity! Cash is king! Don’t simply tell the judges how much you have increased revenue this year. Judges are not dimwits, they know that it’s profit that matters. Anyone can increase revenue, but does that automatically then increase profit?

We’ve all heard of companies that effectively buy contracts. Yes, revenues increase but does that automatically translate to a corresponding growth in profit? If you’re in FM, think about which year your new contract actually starts to generate real money, is it really the same year that you start the engagement, or years 2 or 3 etc.?

3. Contract retention

Shouting about your contract retention rate can be a great way to show that your clients are happy with your service. On the other hand, ask yourself whether your retention rate is good simply because you’re the cheapest in town rather than the best, and whether you’re actually making any real money. And yes, I do know of FM companies that renewed contracts but didn’t have 2 ha’pennies to rub together. We’ll touch on money again later…

4. It's not about your company, it’s about what your company has achieved

Please resist the temptation to submerge the judges under an ocean of corporate blurb. They don’t want to read it, they don’t need to read it!

Ask yourself, if you were a judge and had to wade through a book-sized submission of your own corporate history, would you sit and read it thoroughly, digesting each nuanced morsel of sleep-inducing promotional material, or would you actually want to get to the part that is actually relevant to the award? Please be nice to the judges, they are your friends, but you can turn them into critics very quickly!

If you’re going to cram a huge amount of information into what you consider to be a trendy infographic, ask yourself, and be brutally honest when you answer, if you were the recipient of the document would you really want to read every item included, or might your eyes begin to scan ahead, and your brain glaze over as you think of your next holiday in the Maldives?

Judges don’t really care if you have a fleet of 2000 of the latest electric vehicles, a regiment of highly trained technical staff, an army of thoroughly trained cleaners. They want to know what you have achieved as a result of all this. 

As you prepare your submissions, ask yourself, so what? We have a fleet of new buses – so what? We have the best trained technicians – so what? We have great facilities for our staff and look after our people well – so what? Here’s a clue – think of your award submission as a business proposal. All your competitors will also be shouting that they have the best of everything too, so how do you stand out from the crowd?

And while we’re here, if the award is based on achievements of the last 12 months, ask yourself whether the judges really need to know, in intimate detail, whether your company provided the cleaning staff for something like the Millennium celebrations, that was another age, get over it…

5. Is your company an industry icon?

Many companies tend to include icons in their presentations. Please, please, please, take another look at them. Are your arrows going in the right direction? Here’s a hint, if you want to highlight improved efficiency, don’t use a downward pointing arrow. If you want to show a reduction in energy consumption, don’t using an upward pointing arrow.

You’re probably beginning to get the idea now, you will very likely overlook something because you have seen the same page hundreds of times, but proof-reading is notoriously difficult. Award judges however, are spectacularly good at seeing the one big mistake in your offering, and they see it very quickly. 

To help you along, I’ve deliberately used both British and American spelling in places within this post, can you spot the differences?

6. Health and safety

Don’t tell the judges you have reduced your lost-time injuries from 150 to 75 and hope for an award. If your HSE team was doing its job properly you should have no incidents to begin with. You’re better off looking for a new HSE manager than trying to win an award for bumping your workforce off. Think about it…

7. The unsung hero

I’ve always loved this category, while feeling very sorry for those nominated. Picture this: Our company  is delighted to nominate Ahmed for his fantastic dedication, working to resolve customer service issues at all hours of each and every day. He is a fantastic brand ambassador for our company, constantly making sure that customers know who he works for. He has given blood as part of our blood collection drive each year for the last 30 years. He was the first person we vaccinated against covid. He helped save a little old lady from a crocodile attack, and single-handedly rescued 150 people from a towering inferno. He has been a key component in our contract renewal success rate.

OK, enough is enough. Stop paying the guy peanuts and abusing him. If he’s winning contracts, make him a business development director. If he’s saving people’s lives, make him the HSE manager. If he really is a great brand ambassador, promote him to marketing manager. I hope you’re getting the message by now. Ahmed is not an unsung hero, he is an abused employee that deserves better. Give the guy the position he deserves and pay the salary that goes with it.

I particularly like the references to blood donations and covid jabs that creep into award submissions these days. You want to work the unsung hero for 12 hours a day. You expect him/ her to travel 2 or 3 hours to and from their accommodation. They have to shower, relax, and sleep before the next day dawns. But hang on a minute old chap, we still have time to extract their blood and stab them with these nice syringes as well, just to make sure we’ve got our money’s worth.

Come on guys, stop hiding behind a nomination for this year’s unsung hero and pay your people what they’re actually worth. Then consider nominating the guy or girl for next year’s facility manager of the year. Do right by your front-line team members, they are usually the only people in your company that actually earn money. Do that, and I might just vote for you as an unsung hero myself…

8. It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it…

Over the years I’ve seen many submissions from companies who seem to expect an award for simply having a trade licence. Guess what guys, that’s not how these things work.

If you’re in an FM company, do you really expect judges to vote you to the #1 spot for doing exactly what you are contracted to do anyway? Would you expect the CEO from one of your nearest competitors to give an award to one of your vehicle suppliers for delivering the right vehicles to you, on time? Think of why you should win the award and focus on that. If you haven’t gone above and beyond don’t waste your time, or that of the judges, with some no-hope submission – see the earlier point on whether to enter or not.

You don’t usually win FM awards for doing exactly what FM companies should be doing anyway, although if all submissions are weak, you could scoop an award for being the best of a bad lot, but that’s not really anything to brag about is it?

9. Sustainability

I don’t know about other judges, but I’m fed up with reading about claims of achievements on Earth Day or during Earth Hour – “we saved so many kW-h”, “we saved so much water” etc.

Just so you know, every day is Earth Day. You didn’t invent it, (OK, maybe you did, but if so, that’s probably worth an award for throwing the FM industry into annual turmoil…), you just did your job a little better than usual, often by switching off someone else’s lights (putting your client in the dark), saving someone else’s water (stopping your client from washing their hands for a few hours), turning off an air-handling unit for a few hours (causing discomfort to your client and high humidity in their building).

I applaud your achievements for Earth Hour, but then I ask myself, what did these people actually do for the other 8759 hours of the last year? Go on, think about it before you write your submission…

10. Repeatability

I mentioned earlier that judges are not dimwits, regardless of what you might think. When did you last hear the judges introduced as Dimwit #1, Dimwit #2 etc.? Which brings me to the subject of repeatability. No, this is not an ISO quality presentation, this is about repeating your submissions for a few years. The awards usually require you to have achieved something during the preceding 12 months. There is little point, therefore, in submitting the same project from last year, or the year before, and hoping that the judges won’t notice. They do…

11. Similarity

You’d be amazed at the number of entries that bear a striking, and I mean a hit you over the head with a baseball bat kind of striking, similarity to other entries. Now this may come as a bit of a shock to you, but if 2 entries are pretty much the same, judges will probably score them pretty much the same. Makes sense, no?  You have to be better than the others. Again, treat the awards as you would a business proposal. Become the one to beat, be the competition.

12. Technology

Another topic that can almost reduce me to tears… Let me dive right in here; buying a CAFM system is not, of itself, deserving of an award. Nor is it innovative. Here’s another surprise snippet, it’s been done before. If you are only just buying one, you’re a bit behind the curve, but I wish you well. 

If you hope to win awards based on the implementation of your CAFM system, or indeed just see a reasonable return on your investment, please listen very carefully to your system suppliers and integrators.

Ignore them at your peril. If you’re upgrading, congratulations! I hope you and your new system will be very happy together. Now, tell me why you really deserve an award for technology implementation.

You’ve found a new way to spy on your own workers? Good luck with that one…

For the record, and again this may come as a surprise to many, technology in FM doesn’t stop at CAFM systems, we just have to open our minds a little. Be creative, innovative, shout about it, and win!

13. Education

Yes please, keep it coming. You are not likely to win an award for training your staff to do what you’ve employed them to do. Your clients expect your staff to be fully trained, that’s your responsibility. You’ve built a new state of the art training center? Excellent, but I refer you back to my earlier point, so what?

14. Consistency

If you are entering in multiple categories, be consistent. Your numbers, statements, claims etc. need to be the same in each award submission. Any errors here and you might just find that a judge will go back and mark an earlier score down. In case you’ve forgotten, judges are not dimwits.

15. Vital statistics

I may have mentioned earlier that judges are not dimwits. They have their fingers on the pulse of your industry. If you are paying your suppliers late, or paying your employees late or treating them unfairly, or giving sneaky backhanders to your suppliers, the judges will probably know. 

If, for example, you then go on to claim that you pay everyone on time you will be caught out. If you can’t run your business ethically don’t waste the judges’ time!

16. It’s a business proposal

As I’ve already mentioned, think of your award submission as a business proposal, but without the blurb. You want to win, which means beating your competition.

Your submission is your presentation, think: SELL IT TO ME, DON’T TELL IT TO ME!

Shout about your achievements, don’t bore the judges, they deserve better…

And finally, good luck to you all, whatever industry you are in.

Before you go, why not check out my photography blog?.

If you’re feeling frazzled after preparing your award submission, visit Wellness-me for some inspiration

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