In 2016, I had the privilege of being one of the Judges for the Workplace Excellence Awards across multiple categories. It was a very engaging experience for me, as it gave me some fascinating insights about the types of work being done by many organisational psychology practitioners out in the field. The range and inventiveness of the applications that came to my desk were highly impressive.
Many of the applications that I received had a great deal of substance, but unfortunately sold themselves short in the way that they were presented. As a result, I would like to offer some tips for everyone considering an application for the next round of Workplace Excellence Awards.
1. Know the criteria
My first tip is simply to have a good understanding of the criteria associated with the Award you are applying for. The criteria for each Award are listed on the APS Awards page as well as the Workplace Excellence Awards website. The criteria could even be used as a possible structure for your application.
There are four criteria that are common to each Award, including: (1) Innovation in design and application, (2) Utilisation of psychological knowledge, (3) Impact on the organisation, and (4) Sustainability, as well as two specific criteria.
Innovation refers to the novelty and usefulness of the approach you have adopted. An application will score highly on this criterion if the approach is original (i.e., no-one else is doing it), or you are an early adopter of an existing technique that you applied to a novel context.
Utilisation of psychological knowledge refers to the extent the intervention is based on either psychological theory or empirical evidence. High-scoring applications will be able to demonstrate these linkages.
Impact on the organisation refers to the extent that the intervention made a positive difference in the organisation. Ideally, there should be some sort of objective measure of change indicating the success of the intervention.
Sustainability refers to the extent that the intervention becomes embedded within the organisation's policies and practices, and that it continues to offer benefits to the organisation over time.
If you can build a strong case for all four criteria (as well as the two specific criteria associated with each category), your application will be very competitive.
2. Describe the workplace challenges you are trying to address
I read a number of applications that described projects that were highly innovative. However, these applications left me scratching my head at what workplace challenges or issues they were actually trying to address. Some of them read as "nice to have" projects that did not appear to address a need that was especially compelling.
The strongest applications did a great job of articulating a current or anticipated business challenge. They went beyond personal observations, and included other pertinent information, such as remarks from important stakeholders (e.g., the CEO, affected workers) or baseline data indicating the extent of the problem. By providing this context, it gives a greater sense to each judge of how the intervention made a positive difference.
I should point out that the content of all applications is kept strictly confidential, and is limited to a small group of people. Thus, applicants can be candid about the types of workplace challenges their organisation is facing.
3. Measure the success of the intervention
Being organisational psychologists, all Judges are impressed whenever an applicant can demonstrate strong evidence of the effectiveness of an intervention. Nonetheless, we appreciate that it is often very difficult or impossible to conduct an evaluation that is as rigorous as an academic study.
The best applications provided some kind of empirical evidence to back up claims about the effectiveness of an intervention. For example, if an applicant claimed to have increased employee wellbeing, this claim could be supported through reliable and valid psychometric measures (e.g., ratings of engagement) as well as other metrics (e.g., reduced absenteeism and turnover, reduced number of critical incidents).
Strong applications also were able to compare this measured performance to some kind of meaningful baseline. For example, some applications provided pre- and post-intervention measures. Some applicants piloted their intervention in a single division, and compared this part to the rest of the organisation.
Thus, my recommendation to all applicants would be to think about what your intervention is designed to achieve, and to work out a meaningful way of measuring its impact.
4. Make an argument for the sustainability of the intervention
Sustainability is one of the most important criteria. It is also one of the most difficult to argue for, especially if an intervention is new and is still in the process of implementation. There are a couple of pieces of advice I would offer.
On the one hand, you might be in a stronger position to argue for the sustainability of a workplace intervention that has already stood the test of time. As long as the intervention is still in place, there is no reason why you cannot submit an application for a Workplace Excellence Award for a historical initiative. In this case, you should put the argument that the intervention was innovative at the time it was introduced. You could also talk about how other organisations have replicated the approach.
On the other hand, if the initiative is newer, you could make an argument for why the intervention is likely to continue into the future. For example, you could talk about how policies and procedures in the organisation have changed. You could talk about how the intervention has been incorporated into the organisation's running budget. You could also talk about the ongoing support from senior leaders and other important stakeholders within the organisation.
5. Shorter applications are better; consider supplementary materials
The total permissible length of the application (2000 words) seems intimidating. However, there is no reason why an application needs to be this long if you can succinctly describe how the intervention meets each of the criteria. Many of the Judges would indeed welcome a concise, tightly-written application.
The rules also permit you to provide additional supplementary materials via a weblink. You could, for example, provide a YouTube video illustrating the positive impact of the intervention. The links could also contain references to additional empirical evidence (e.g., summary statistics) showing the impact of the intervention.
I encourage all applicants to put the bulk of the information in the application itself. However, the supplementary information could provide important insights to the Judges in the event of a stalemate between two applications.