Sorbojeet Chatterjee
Guest Article

A tale of two awards

When the co-founder of a startup refused to celebrate his award. And there's a host of new categories he suggests...

“I am extremely honoured and humbled to receive…”

The moment I see any post that begins with this phrase, I rapidly scroll through my social media feed till I reach a more familiar and comfortable destination - ‘motivational quotes’!

The ‘awards’ virus seems to be spreading with far greater momentum and infecting many more people than the dreaded Coronavirus.

Sorbojeet Chatterjee
Sorbojeet Chatterjee
Happ Coach

Let me begin with my tale of two awards…

The NHRD Showcase is an annual event organised by the most credible apex body of HR professionals. I saw a ‘call for entry’ banner on some website and reluctantly nominated our learning startup StratGist. And, like most passionate founders, even I believed we had a great product to ‘showcase’. But, what I thought would be a simple ‘fill it-forget it’ process, turned out to be far more strenuous than I bargained for.

The long and laborious process began with me being interviewed by a senior panel of NHRD members. Post that, I got the green signal to demonstrate our product to over 1,500 HR professionals, who visited the event. There were two different panels of distinguished and senior jury members, who spent 20 minutes grilling us on everything about our product – need, features, traction, revenue and what not. After the jury process, my board of directors seems so much milder (and kinder!).

I was now hoping they would ‘leak’ the results and I could probably take an earlier flight back home in case we didn’t win. The other participants tried, too. They refused to show any such sympathy. All the participants were in the dark till the end. NHRD wanted all of us to attend the award ceremony that had some of the most senior leaders from the HR fraternity in attendance.

Obviously, the organising team at NHRD has never watched Filmfare Awards and aren’t aware of the basic code for awards. I win, I attend; or is it the other way around – I attend, I win. All this is way too confusing!

To cut the long story short, we did get past many anxious moments and eventually won the ‘HR Startup of the Year’. The bonus was a cheque of Rs 1 lakh. And, I must admit the applause from a packed hall of senior leaders and potential partners was truly a high. I guess all the effort seemed worth it!

Till I came across the next award… I received a very warm email announcing that I was going to get an award for the ‘stellar’ work we do in the field of happiness. Honestly, at first I was genuinely ‘happy’. No nomination, no product demo, no jury pitch, just a direct award.

It was a template straight out of prime-time news. No discussion, no judging process, just a direct judgement by the news anchor!

I did go and pick up my award. But, the whole thing seemed so underwhelming that I refused to celebrate or even put it up on LinkedIn. (Truly blasphemous!)

I hate to admit, but what my parents taught me about ‘success post effort’ being far more rewarding and enjoyable might just be true!

In fact, a few days back, I refused another email from the Global Excellence Council nominating me for “India’s Most Innovative Startup”. A fancy award from a “global” platform! All this for a small fee of Rs 30,000.

The helpful person who wrote to me even listed out all the benefits of winning, including “enhanced business generation capability” and “greater investor interest”. All this for a small fee, I am sure this was a steal!

And like some say the ‘Great Roman Empire’ was neither great, nor Roman and not even an Empire… I refuse to indulge in deep analysis on whether the ‘Global Excellence Council’ is global, excellent or even a council?

Nonetheless, I have politely refused and I now have to create a superior product with unmatched customer service to enhance my business generation capability! Damn…

When so-called ‘global entities’ start dishing out high-falutin awards, everyone is bound to look at them suspiciously!

You might feel I am against the commercialisation of awards. Not at all. In fact, I feel the commercialisation is half-hearted. The organisers, too, need to enhance their ‘business generation capability’ and look at monetising through award winners and sponsors. In fact, every award can have a customised sponsor.

Here are a few award categories that can be a perfect fit with a few brands:

  • Chlormint ‘Dobara Mat Puchna’ award to the first-time angel investor.

  • MDH ‘Masale Sach Sach’ award to the most masaledaar pitch deck (even if it is not completely 'sach-sach').

  • Tata Sky ‘Life Jingalala’ award to a startup acquired by Google or Amazon.

  • Havells ‘Shock laga’ award to the e-commerce startup that withdrew discounts and cashbacks.

  • Alpenliebe ‘Jee Lalchaaye’ award to the founder who scammed (parted ways) with his co-founder!

  • Ghadi Detergent ‘Pehle Istamal Kare’ award to the startup with maximum freebies.

  • Kurkure ‘Teda hain par mera hain’ award to the VCs, who turn a blind eye to founders, who break the law in pursuit of growth!

  • Tata Tea ‘Jaago Re’ award to the best award organiser!

But then again, why should we blame the dime a dozen award organisers? Aren't we the real culprits who are feeding the beast? Our obsession for awards is fuelling one ‘prestigious’ award after another.

It’s a simple law of economics: Kill the demand, the supply is bound to get squeezed!

Till then, let’s not be too judgmental on the Global Excellence Council and its tribe, as well as the award winners who are truly honoured and humbled!

(The author is co-founder and CEO of Happ Coach, an HR tech platform. Material reproduced with permission, from the author's blog on LinkedIn dated March 11, 2020.)