Biasing Awards with Entrance Fees?

CLO magazine (Chief Learning Officer) has just finished accepting nominations for it’s 2006 "Learning In Practice Awards."

Awards are a great thing of course, because theoretically they can reward outstanding achievements and highlight for the industry the leading-edge thinkers and product/service implementations.

But award selections are not easy to administer. They involve a great deal of investment by the sponsoring organization. Sponsoring organizations almost always get payback from giving awards because their name becomes synonomous with power and credibility.

Unfortunately, the cost of these awards programs almost always push awards providers to ask for an entry fee of some sort. For example, the CLO awards ask for $149 per entry. The Brandon-Hall awards have an entry fee as well.

These entrance fees completely bias the results, and should make all of us suspicious about whether the award winners truly represent the best in our industry. All we need to do is ask ourselves this question, "Am I likely to spend $150 if I have no likelihood of personal, social, or financial gain?" Even allowing for the occasional radical altruist or rich benefactor, most of us want to get something in return for spending $20, let alone $150. So why do award nominations get submitted? For personal or business gain. And what kind of organizations are most likely to be nominated? Organizations with lots of money and marketing clout.

What kind of products/services and people get overlooked?

  • Innovators
  • Individual contributors
  • Small businesses
  • Those who worry about associating themselves with phony awards

One solution to this problem is to use a sliding scale for entrance fees or to offer scholarships for organizations or individuals without the financing of our largest vendors.

In the meantime, when we see an award, we ought to be aware that somebody else was probably more deserving.