Does That Trophy REALLY Matter? #trophies #feedback
Does That Trophy REALLY Matter?

Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison is a champion dad! Because he’s not letting his kids keep trophies they didn’t earn through achievement. The more parents hop on this bandwagon the better it is for the economy. Yes, the economy.

I’ll explain.

This past weekend the outside linebacker took away what he called his kids’ “participation trophies” because they didn’t earn them. On Instagram he posted a photo of the two very impressive looking trophies and wrote “I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.” The Post

And then the kicker “…(be)cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…”

I LOVE this man! (My friend Alice is now going to demand I switch allegiances from the Green Bay Packers to the Steelers – James Harrison is good but not that good.)

Mr. Harrison’s decision has sparked a lot of debate across the country including interesting stories from Jim Vance to Good Morning America and The Sacramento Bee.

Parents You Can Do Something Now

Parents please please please take a lesson from Mr. Harrison. The more we reward our kids with meaningless accolades and trophies bigger than their heads, the less they are prepared for the real world of work. Sit down with your kids when they bring the trophy home and make sure you understand what it’s for. Does it deserve to go on the shelf of fame? Or … should it go back or in the trash because it doesn’t reflect real achievement.

How can a “little trophy” turn into a handicap for our adult children?

It’s not one trophy, it’s the parade of trophies, and ribbons, and stickers that kids are getting well past 1st and 2nd grade through high school and even college that is the problem. The “everyone wins” soccer phenomena happened almost in concert with the significant grade inflation that has occurred at the college level over the past 15 years. (I wrote more about this here.) These two things together are creating a large recent-graduate workforce ill-prepared for the reality of the workplace, where “good enough” isn’t and showing up is definitively NOT a skill, and doesn’t deserve recognition.

In researching my book (you can get it here), I talked to hundreds of managers of all ages and one of the biggest complaints they had about young millennials in the workplace is that they don’t know what good work looks like, or what the effort required to create it feels like.

As Ted, 45, told me, “I don’t think my younger colleagues have an appreciation for mastering a skill. What strikes me about them is that they aren’t going to let perfection be the enemy of progress, and getting things off their plates is the priority at the expense of quality.” (page 17)  This partial-work phenomenon was a constant theme, with manager after manager detailing work that gets “70 percent done” and not “wrapped up” as required to be finished.

I know this is a huge generalization, but based on the scores of workshops and speeches I’ve given in the last year, I can tell you that this sentiment is real and alive in today’s workplace. Just last week, an audience member from a keynote I gave in Washington D.C. called for some extra help with her 24 and 25 year old colleagues. “I’m at my wit’s end,” she said. “Neither of my associates can finish anything, and they keep complaining that I’m not recognizing their effort enough.”

I’m going to venture a guess that these colleagues CAN get things done, they just don’t know what finished looks like. And I’m going to guess that they both have a closet filled with trophies, awards, certificates and ribbons chronicling their first 20 years of participation in sports, school, extra-curricular activities, groups and the like.

This is where the impact to the economy comes in. We are losing productivity everywhere in the economy with this “re-doing” and “finishing” of work not done well the first or second time. Imagine what we could accomplish if this time and effort wasn’t leaking out of our businesses every day.


3 Steps to Take At Work Now

How can we close that gap between expectation and reality? Take these three steps to help drive productivity into your organization.

1. Don’t Assume that your colleagues understand or know what you mean. Be sure to explain your expectations, what “finished” looks like and how individual work impacts the team AT THE BEGINNING of every project. Taking the 30 minutes to give context will help drive buy-in from your teammates and reduce confusion or what you might feel are unwarranted check-ins throughout the project.

2. Don’t Wait to give feedback to your colleagues. So often people keep their constructive feedback to themselves for fear of being thought of as too stuffy or too strict or unreasonable. Don’t! Give people the feedback and course-correction they need to succeed as soon as you see where they haven’t hit the mark. Don’t let them be wrong for more than one cycle. Check out these useful HBR articles for great guidance on giving feedback so that it can be heard here and here.

3. Set A New Bar For Appreciation. We all want to know we’re doing well. At the same time NOW is a good time to reset expectations for everyone about what they’ll get for doing their job. Say “Please” and “Thank You” — a lot…all day long. “Please” and “Thank You” go extremely far in conveying respect and appreciation and have a measurable, positive impact on your business. Adam Grant and Francesca Gino have done some very interesting work in this area (you can read more here). The more your colleagues feel appreciated the LESS they need artificial recognition or the trophies that clutter up the desk but don’t correlate to achievement, and the more satisfying their work. The more satisfying the work, the less waste in the day. The less waste in the day, the more productive we are. The more productive we are, the more we contribute. You get the idea.

So if you’re a parent, do yourself and your kids a favor and evaluate whether the trophies and ribbons are shelf-worthy. If you’re a manager or colleague of someone who is disappointed because the trophies as work are far and few between, re-set their expectations now. You’ll be helping your kids and colleagues and the economy too.


You can read more here about Feedback is a Gift.