Participation Trophies or Championship Rings

James Harrison is one of the most feared outside linebackers in the NFL.  He plays in the Pittsburgh Steelers 3-4 Defense, so his task is often to rush the quarterback.  He has a monumental career of accomplishments that follow his work.  The man has been through a success track that is like the myths you hear except it is true.  His dad was a truck driver.  He wanted to play football and went to tiny Kent State.  He shows up to the Steelers as a free agent and was cut twice.  He finally gets his chance as a backup and has a monumental breakout game against Buffalo.

If you remember the Pittsburgh-Arizona Super Bowl, you will remember his 99-yard return for a touchdown interception of Kurt Warner.  Well, last week he made news when his sons came home with “participation trophies” for a sport they played.  He flipped out.  In his world you don’t get a trophy for showing up.  You don’t get a trophy for trying hard.

In his world, you only get a trophy when you succeed.  When you succeed at the very top, it is rare and you become a champion.  They only give out one Lombardi Trophy to the NFL champion each year, not one to each team that participated.  So he posted a picture of the trophies on Instagram and wrote, “I come home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies.  While I’m very proud of my boys for everything they do and I’ll encourage them to the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they earn a real trophy.  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’re entitle to something just because they tried their best, because sometimes your best isn’t enough, and that should drive you to want to do even better, not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut you up and keep you happy.”

There is only one Lombardi Trophy, one World Series Ring, and one Stanley Cup given out each year.  None of these professional sports give a trophy for just showing up.  So the next question is are you giving participation trophies to your people or are you really celebrating true accomplishments with your team?

In the high-performing financial institutions that I have worked in, all have had different ways to measure the performance of their commercial people, their branches, and their divisions. Goals are set and then various measures of production, productivity, credit quality, income maximization, and expense control are looked at and measured.

The goals and results are shared throughout the organization from the leadership down to what is applicable on the front line.  This gives an opportunity for each employee to take ownership for their work and to realize that what how their actions can impact the overall organization.  Employees begin to have more of a purpose and pride in their job as they understand that their work matters to the overall outcome.  There is something innate inside each of us to achieve great things.  Giving folks on your team great things they can achieve will cause them to improve their daily performance.

So do you reward everyone on your team the same?  Of course there are rewards for the group performance, but there also should be rewards for your top performers.  Earlier this year, Gravity Payments decided to raise the minimum wage for everyone in the company to $70,000/year.  What ensued is several of the top performers in the company left, thinking it was unfair to more than double the salary of some of the weakest company performers while the top performers received no increase at all.  If you want your institution to perform at a high level, top performers should be recognized and rewarded.

Maybe you don’t even think that sharing goals and performance standards to people in your organization such as your lenders, branch managers, or front line staff is important.  I spoke to someone at a bank in my home state that followed this course of action.  My friend wondered why they were so mediocre and how to make his shop better.  I said to begin with, you need to share the goals and performance among the entire bank tem.  If the people you hire are valuable enough to bring on your team, they are valuable enough to share the goals.  Otherwise you run the risk of not aligning your team to meet your common goal.  How can they meet it if they do not know what it even is in the first place?

So to conclude, set goals for your CU and the different branches, divisions, and employees.  Share those goals with team members to get buy-in.  Track the performance to goal.  Reward those who achieve great things, and not just give a trophy for showing up.  These are steps in reaching beyond the present level you are at now.