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09 March 2009

What if you gave a party...

honor: a tangible symbol signifying approval or distinction; to confer honor or distinction; to regard or treat with honor or respect
Acknowledgement of effort and contribution is always important, perhaps more so in a volunteer organization. There are many ways to do this, both through awards and through celebrations that accompany presentation of those awards. To have the maximum impact, those celebrations should be accessible to the members; more on that later.

In the business world, success and achievement are rewarded by increased salary, bonuses, or other perquisites; the common measure of one’s value is the paycheck. Honors and recognition may be important, but rarely do they take precedence over money.

In the world of professional organizations, there is an occasional cash reward, but in most cases outstanding work is recognized by an award, usually a plaque or other object of little actual value, presented at a ceremony attended by the recipient’s peers.

The value of an award depends on a number of things: the importance of the organization making the award, the uniqueness of the award, the total number of awards presented, and so on. Even though a plaque has little intrinsic value, what it represents can mean a great deal to the recipient, the organization, or a larger community.

We need to recognize contributions, but we also need to have balance. Awards are not equal, and there is no reason they should be treated as if they were. With a plaque, or perhaps a statuette or other objet d’art as the top end, there isn’t much room to work, but it still is possible to establish a range of ways to show appreciation.

It may not be politically correct, but if awards are to have value, they must reflect the degree of effort they represent. Is sitting at the registration table really equivalent to creating a new education program? Both deserve recognition, but should it be the same?

Work of short duration should be acknowledged immediately. At the basic level, a simple “thank you” is often enough. Most people don’t expect a plaque for doing small jobs, but they do expect and deserve an expression of thanks. Oral expression of thanks at a chapter meeting is appropriate for the people at the registration table, and certainly for those who organized the current chapter meeting. A short written thank-you is always appropriate; some of my most treasured compliments are thank you cards and e-mails.

Formal letters of acknowledgement are good for greater contribution. These can be a bit tricky; if they come across as a form letter the impact is greatly diminished. If the work recognized in the letter is related to the recipient’s job, a copy should be sent to the recipient’s employer, on the organization letterhead. This will tell the employer that the employee has value in the construction industry, and promote CSI at the same time.

At some point, plaques become appropriate, but they should be reserved for more important awards; I’m sure the person at the registration table would agree that a stack of plaques isn’t really necessary. Presenting too many awards reduces their value.

Each year, at the annual convention, CSI honors those who have made significant contributions to the organization. This acknowledges the importance of their work and allows members to attend the presentations. The highest of these awards and honors are Distinguished or Honorary Membership, the Distinguished Service Award, and the “name” awards - Andrew J. Drozda, Ben John Small, Dale C. Moll, J. Norman Hunter, Robert P. Brosseau, and Hans William Meier. I won’t go into the requirements - you can read them on the Institute website - except to say that only one of each may be awarded each year.

The honor of Fellowship is second only to that of Distinguished Membership. Although there is no limit to the number of Fellowships that may be conferred in a single year, few are elected as it is an honor reserved for those who perform beyond the call of office, and who have made extraordinary contributions to CSI.

This year, we will honor nine new Fellows, and recipients of only three of the other top awards: Distinguished Membership, the Hans William Meier Award, and the Andrew J. Drozda Commendation. I encourage you to learn more about each of the awards, and to congratulate recipients in person if possible.

…and no one came?

It seems reasonable that the more significant the honor, the more dignified the attendant ceremonies would be, the more publicity it would receive, and the more members who would want to attend the presentation. Unfortunately, it is increasingly difficult to attend the convention’s premier event, the President’s Gala (Honors and Awards Dinner).

In 1999, the first year I attended the Gala, the cost was $60 per person. I recall giving that quite a bit of thought as $60 isn’t a trivial amount, even today. In 2002, the Gala cost $65, an amount that accurately reflects the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from 1999 to 2002. I don’t remember all the steps in between, but last year a ticket to the Gala was $100. According to the CPI, the $60 I paid in 1999 would have grown to only $80.

This year, the price has risen to $125, a 25% increase in one year - even though, according to the Consumer Price Index, this year’s ticket should be four dollars less than last year!

This runaway inflation threatens to kill what should be the highlight of the convention. This year I’ll probably miss the Gala for the first time since 1999. I’m sure my wife and I can find an excellent dinner for less than the cost of a single Gala ticket, and with luck, get back in time to see the investiture of Fellows. Or maybe we’ll just order a pizza and sit in the hall.

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