How “Everyone Gets a Trophy” Has Impacted Us

trophyI was born in 1967. From my earliest of days, I remember being competitive. I remember playing football in the neighborhood with friends and always having to win. I remember having a basketball goal in my driveway and imagining hitting game winning shots at the final buzzer to win a championship. I remember playing checkers with my dad and not just wanting to win…but wanting to destroy him! I grew up in a musical family too, so competition was present their as well. If there was a talent show, I was going to win 1st place and get the biggest trophy. If there was a play or a musical, I would have the lead or the best solo. Winning was highly encouraged in my home growing up.

When I finished high school and college, I started to hear about youth sports leagues that were not going to keep score anymore, or that gave everyone the same trophy at the end of the season – not based on performance or achievement – just because they didn’t want anyone to feel inferior to someone else. I admit, I am not a psychologist and I have no idea how devastating it could be to an 8 year old if they came in 3rd place compared to 1st place. I guess there are those who would grow up to live in isolation and lack the interpersonal skills to be able to function in an adult world if they were edged out for the MVP of their soccer league at age 11. This whole concept was so foreign to me because of the way that I grew up.

As a young adult, I began working with junior high and high school students, and continued for almost 20 years. These were the very kids that grew up in the “everyone gets a trophy” age. And now, they are known as Gen Y or Millennials. I understand this generation, I believe, much better than most others would because I was so involved with them during those formative years. And now, as the Managing Director and Partner of a recruiting firm in Austin, Texas (Providence Partners), I see exactly how the “let’s not keep score” mindset has impacted their behaviors and thinking.

Employers now have had to change the way that they manager this generation. They’ve had to invest in technologies and tools that allow deeper collaboration and communication. The way recruiting is done is transforming because of some of the impact that the trophy mindset helped to establish. We now have 80 million people in or entering the workforce who have a deep need for immediate and constant reassurance of their value and the approval of the work they are doing. They hunger for quick responsive feedback. They have this need to feel involved in the strategic and inner thinking of an organization and feel that there should be no chain or command…that their ideas and thoughts should be just as valued as the CEO or a VP.

Gen Y or Millennials have this reputation for being uncommitted to their employers and always looking to transition into another job. I can see that and know that it happens. But the companies who have the most success in maintaining their Gen Y workforce are the ones who have adapted their management styles, recruitment strategies, and communication styles to adapt to the way they are wired. In a way, they still expect the trophy at the end of the week – only now it comes in the form of recognition, compliments, reassurance, and feeling valued in the work they do. If you want to see similar results, try making a few adaptations in your approach and see what happens!

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2 responses to “How “Everyone Gets a Trophy” Has Impacted Us

  1. The article feels like you have a second half that wasn’t published. Can I tell you my second half to this story? Like you, I was born in the competitive generation. As a youth, everywhere I went, kids competed for something. Yet, because my family was very poor and I was malnourished for many years, I was not fit enough to be the winner. But my pals pushed me, drove me, to be tougher. I was never the trophy winner, but I did become better because I learned to compete against the trophy boys. I became more determined and more competent because I knew that I had to actually work harder to catch up to them.

    The “everybody is a winner” generation don’t understand that. And I saw the fruits of it a few years ago, when I went to work for a younger Managing Director who had an office full of Millennials. Even though he was personally a competitor, he managed to the Millennial mentality… and it was a total disaster. For much of the time there, I was the only work-horse pulling the team. Two of our players were such a waste of space, they should have been fired within the first 30 days but lasted for over a year. Finally I was able to convince him to hire some true competitors. But the rot had already become deadly. The two new competitors became immediately disillusioned when they realized that praise and commendation was equally spread among a dysfunctional team – handed out to the lazy players as much as to the hard workers.

    The manager could not understand that he was rewarding failure. By the time I was able to get him to see it, it was too late – he was eventually fired. Guess who ganged up to have the CEO fire him? Believe it or not it was the lazy players that he had coddled for too long. The very ones who he had tried so hard to “help” were the ones that stabbed him in the back.

    I think you can go over-board on competitiveness. I think ever organization can gain from collaboration. But you never win by rewarding failure. Never.

    The “everyone gets a trophy” concept is a losers game.

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