It is extraordinary the effect that having to make an acceptance speech has on the world’s most polished performers. For people who make a living from promoting an image it is interesting how so many seem to miss the mark. From Morgan Freeman’s 32 second speech to Halle Berry’s 4 minute 30second epic, Oscar acceptance speeches run the whole gamut from the good and the bad to the ugly. To be fair to these highly-paid thespians, it can’t be easy sitting there as the names of the other nominees is read out. They will have prepared an acceptance speech and are desperately trying to remember their lines whilst not letting their forced smile drop. They don’t want to come across as too needy or too grand or over-rehearsed. They want to be happy in a measured way and to remember to thank everyone who needs thanking. And then they hear their name and it all goes wrong.
Those who study Oscar speeches (and they do exist) tend to believe that what comes out of the mouths of the award winners is often a true reflection of what they feel at that moment. In other words, it is an authentic expression of the emotion that they’re experiencing. Well-delivered bon mots may have been prepared in advance but the release of all that excitement sees the words replaced with crying, screaming and punching the air.
It would of course be naïve to deny that getting an Oscar doesn’t have a financial impact on the careers of winners, but the way that they react shows just how important recognition can be. Everyone likes to be singled out for praise, especially in front of their peers. Winning is obviously important but the acknowledgement of having done a good job is what lasts.
HR professionals, and their advisers, place a big focus on reward and recognition. However, when it comes down to it the emphasis is more on reward and less on recognition. Financial incentives are created to reward the right behaviours, to align performance to business strategy, and to minimise resistance to change. Money is seen as the great motivator both for personal development and for enabling culture change. Recognition is often relegated to either in-house “Oscars” (oddly, these are rarely particularly successful) or to gift vouchers and a meal for two.
The shape of work is changing and we are seeing the decline in the effectiveness of hierarchical command and control structures and the emergence of more collaborative models. Aligning behaviours through reward schemes struggles in this approach. Behaviours do change, however, when supported by leaders who see their role less about being decision-makers in chief and more as team builders. True leadership is about creating the environment in which change can occur naturally. It is about encouraging and developing people and about role modelling the right behaviours. And the biggest impact can come from giving proper recognition to those who are making real contributions. Not just money or gift vouchers, but a real “well done” and “thank you”. After all, we all like to be recognised for having done a good job. And then, perhaps, like Jean Dujardin we too would say “formidable.”