Leadership Academy

Awards, rewards, wards and frauds

Posted by: Chris Lake - Posted on:

Introduction Text:
Last week, I was sat on a train carriage working away in my own world – tip-tapping emails on my keyboard and ear-plugged in to the latest album from The Script.  As the music faded between two songs my ear was drawn to the boisterous conversation being had at the next table.  A couple were (not quite so privately) debating the rights and wrongs of awards for public sector workers.

Head of professional development, Chris Lake
Head of professional development, Chris Lake

The phrase that punctured my bubble was the man saying, ‘If public sector people wanted awards they should have gone into the movies or banking!’  Banking!  Was he seriously saying that it was OK for bankers to be recognised for their performance, but that anyone paid by the public purse should not only toil in service of others, often for lower financial rewards, but that they should neither look for nor expect recognition for exemplary work?  In response, his partner gave him a wondrous monologue on the need to publicly celebrate those who work in service of the health and wellbeing of others.  ‘When your dad was on a ward and couldn’t get to the bathroom on his own, and you weren’t there to help, it was a nurse that saved his dignity!  That nurse deserves more than she gets’


I’m not sure she realised, but she carried the whole carriage.


In a time of squeezed budgets in healthcare – and slashed budgets across the rest of social care and the public sector – the argument for  rewarding staff needs making.  I’m not saying that we should be profligate – far from it.  I am saying that raising the profile of those that do exceptional jobs for our NHS is important.


What should the psychological contract be with our current and future employees?  I want to be able to say to my kids that, if they choose, the health sector will be an honourable, rewarding, and exciting place to work.  A place where, if they excel, they will be as likely to be recognised and celebrated as in any other career.


It’s currently awards season in the NHS.  We’ve had the Health Service Journal (HSJ) lists celebrating LGBT role models and BME pioneers.  Around the country ten regional leadership recognition Awards events are happening more or less weekly through November and December, with the national leadership recognition awards scheduled for 31 March next year.  And the annual HSJ awards ceremony will be a black tie and cocktail dress dinner in London next Wednesday.

The argument that all money should be directly spent on frontline care, with nothing spent on the workforce, is bankrupt.  We need a service with hope at it’s heart, driven for patient care by people inspired to emulate the role models they see celebrated and rewarded.  We need a service where due thanks is given for extraordinary effort and skill, and where the habit of hearing ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Well done!’ is the daily experience of all those doing good work.


Of course, how our celebrated champions receive their awards is as important as how it’s given.  Our colleagues deserve to feel the warmth of pride duly earned, and yet there’s a balance to be struck between shy humility on the one hand and arrogant exhibitionism on the other.  The truly great leaders I’ve observed wear their medals lightly, emulating the best Oscar winning speeches as they pass the recognition to others, shining the light wider, proving that greatness is never an individual act.  The alternative is a slightly fraudulent awardee who, in overzealously accepting the offer, undermines the reason they were given it.


As my train glided into the station, I was thinking that it’s the humility of great leaders that tempers their ferocious goal directedness and makes them truly worthy of celebration.  I got up from my seat and smiled at the woman, took a badge from my pocket and handed it to her.  Her face shifted from bemused to beaming, and attached the badge to her lapel.


It said ‘Proud of the NHS’.

4 replies on “Awards, rewards, wards and frauds”

  • What a fantastic post Chris!!

    You are absolutely right, everyone deserves to feel that sense of pride and recognition when they go above and beyond.

    In my team we are celebrating monthly champions – people in the team who have gone the extra mile for staff and patients. We announced the first person to be recognised at our team meeting last week and presented her with a bunch of flowers.

    She was so thrilled and there was no jealously from the rest of the team -they all gave her a massive round of applause.

    I think little things like this really help staff to feel valued and appreciated in what can be at times a very difficult working environment.

    It certainly gave us all a boost!!

    Louise R
  • Hi Chris,

    This is becoming a habit for me reading these blogs 🙂

    Really interesting, my first question I asked when I was nominated etc was will the event be free to attend as if it wasn’t I wouldn’t have wanted to use NHS money to purchase a seat or table. But then that’s my choice.

    I think there has to be a link between awards and benefit to the NHS, the patients we serve and the amazing staff we employ. In fact every penny we spend should be traceable to patient benefit.

    I did find this part of your blog ‘interesting’ “The alternative is a slightly fraudulent awardee who, in overzealously accepting the offer, undermines the reason they were given it.”

    Can you give an example of explain further? I would suggest if an awardee is fraudulent then isn’t the system of the awards in the first place floored? Isn’t this suggestion that one of the winners could be not worthy show that perhaps in part there is a point to at least questioning the value and impact of any award? As if one is not worthy it then brings into question the value for all?

    I waited 23 years and this year in a quick succession I achieved a distinction in my MBA, two HSJ awards and then probably the most important for me, was that I was awarded the highest performing student for the university of Sussex business school for my MBA.

    They were all amazing and in some cases surprising and a Twitter follower sent me a DM to say that they had googled me to read what I had done to get the awards or nominations. I did think perhaps that’s what could be added to improve the awards as sunlight, openness and honesty is the best disinfectant and assists with the value proposition for such activity.

    There have been some amazing and inspirational winners, ones with ‘die in the ditch’
    Principles not for sale when it comes to patient care and safety especially the most marginalised and vulnerable so to them, polish that crystal but remember its what your patients feel is the real reward.

    Best wishes


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