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Everyone Does NOT Deserve a Trophy!
By Tom Dennis – President,
Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
is a very troubling trend in place today. It is a tendency to couch
everything that happens in life in terms of its impact on ‘self-esteem’
(a phrase I have grown to despise). [See also
Blunt Talk and Black & White Reasoning] The view of those
supporting this trend is that if anything can damage people’s
self-esteem, it is bad and must be avoided at all cost; only things that
protect and nourish self-esteem should be pursued. Self-esteem, by this
view, is apparently such a critical treasure that nothing can be said or
done that might damage the fragile self-esteem of anyone, lest they descend
into depression and a life of despair. The poor dears!
This philosophy has led to the phenomenon of “Everyone gets a trophy”
in childhood sports, where every member of a team gets a trophy, whether
they’ve won or lost, or whether they’ve earned it or not. By this view the
superstar is no more deserving of recognition, or a trophy, than the kid who
can do nothing right. As those who grew up with this philosophy have entered
the workplace, some carry with them this false view of life. In my opinion,
this “Everyone gets a trophy” philosophy leads to dysfunction in the
workplace. The reality is that everyone does NOT deserve a trophy!
Since the “Everyone gets a trophy” philosophy is based on
a sports metaphor, let’s look at that philosophy in terms of one sport, a
swim team. When a new swim team is formed, it generally consists of three
classes of people in its ranks: Swimmers, Treaders, and
Drowners. Let’s look at the characteristics of each.
Swimmers are those who, when placed in the water, have the capability of
putting together a stroke, to enable them to move forward in a specific
direction. Included in this class are basic swimmers, who range in skill
from beginner to moderate to expert, to those whose skills enable them to
seemingly “walk on water”, to the truly exceptional who seemingly
“fly above water”. With training, practice, and persistence, swimmers
can advance in their level of skills and excel as members of the swim team.
The advanced swimmers gain broader recognition, and the truly exceptional
may even achieve Olympic-class capabilities and recognition.
[In workplace parlance, all of
the “swimmer” categories are people who can do the job, in one fashion or
another (i.e. they contribute positively).]
Treaders are those who enter the water and are able, to varying degrees, to
keep their heads above water and breathe; however, they are unable to
coordinate their arms, legs, and lungs in a fashion to move consistently in
one direction; that is, to swim. Some are solid treaders, who can solidly
keep their heads above the water for prolonged periods; some are
inconsistent treaders, who are able to keep their heads above water, but
barely; some are “bobbers”, who bob up and down, holding their breath
while down, but who are somehow able to keep afloat. With training,
practice, and persistence, treaders can become swimmers, moving up in the
[In workplace parlance, these
people can’t do the job without substantial training and help, often
draining the time and effort of those who can (i.e. they generally
Drowners are those who are simply not suited to go into water above their
head. They lack the will or capability to stay afloat, or even “bob”.
These are the people who lifeguards are always on the lookout for. Drowners
are literally over their head and out of their league. They have no business
even trying out for a swim team, much less becoming a swim team member;
maybe they can be an equipment manager, but not someone in the water. With
training and practice, drowners may become treaders, but it is a long road
for them to become swimmers. [see
Are You Part of the Solution, or Part of the Problem?]
[In workplace parlance, these
people should not even be in the workplace, and when they are, they
generally hurt workplace efforts badly. They should be removed as quickly as
Now, assume that all of these
swim team classes are members of the team, and that the team participates in
swim meets. Assume they have a losing season, but win some individual races,
and even occasionally win a swim meet. At the end of the season, does
everyone deserve a trophy? The policy of the school or organization
sponsoring the swim team may specify that all swim team members get
trophies, but do they really deserve them? I say no, because they
haven’t really earned them. A few specific members may have earned them, but
the team overall has not.
The parallels to the workplace, and to life in general, are, of course,
obvious. Every workplace has different people with different capabilities.
Some excel in science and technology, some in sales, some in marketing, some
in finance, some in manufacturing, etc. Some may excel by developing truly
brilliant theoretical solutions to perplexing and seemingly unsolvable
problems that may unlock opportunities to new and broad products and
services. Others may excel in devising practical implementations of those
brilliant theoretic solutions. Others may do well at carrying out the
details of those practical implementations. Others can take orders and carry
out the necessary work, but don’t really understand what they’re being asked
to do. Others put in their time, but it’s not always clear what they do or
how they really contribute. [see
Self-selection often occurs, where people recognize their strengths, and
concentrate on doing what they do best that contributes to the overall
success of the team. In other cases, while they may have been placed on a
team, people simply don’t fit, and become a drain on the team’s success.
As anywhere in life, different people contribute in different ways, with
varying levels of contribution and success. All may contribute, in their
way, toward contributing to the success of the team, and on improving the
revenues and profitability of the company (see
Keep Your Eyes on THE GOAL!). However, do all deserve a
trophy, or even the same trophy? Most definitely not! Those who most
contribute to company success should receive the largest benefit (trophy),
most often money, but other means of recognition may also be appropriate.
Others may be deserving as well, but to varying degrees, based on their
level of contribution.
Giving everyone a trophy (or even more so the same trophy)
minimizes the efforts of those truly deserving, making them less likely to
continue to excel, and falsely inflates the sub-par performance of those who
fail to deliver. This can lead to an effect that is the opposite of what was
intended. The reality is that everyone does NOT deserve a trophy!
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