Six tips for award entrants: One judge’s view

Six tips for award entrants: One judge’s view

Owen McCall lifts the lid on which entries will stand out in upcoming ICT awards.

I will always value strategic leadership (backed by good execution) over pure execution every time.

Owen McCall

Over the past six months or so I have had the privilege of judging several industry awards programmes including the CIO100 in New Zealand, the CIO50 in Australia and the NZ Hi-Tech awards.

I judge awards for several reasons. It's a good way to give back, you learn a lot about what others in the industry are thinking about and working on and the best of entries are incredibly inspiring.

While the best entries are inspiring, the judging process itself is anything but inspiring. The judging process almost always involves reading and evaluating large volumes of written material. I find reading all the entries quite arduous and monotonous, as much as the best entries are inspiring, many are anything but.

There is always a number of themes that repeat when judging. This is to be expected, however often the themes that repeat are not helpful to the entrant’s cause.

As a judge I find this quite frustrating, it nags at me that entrants aren't putting their best foot forward and let's be honest, it makes the review process more difficult. With this in mind I thought I would write this blog, tips on entering awards - one judge’s view.

I hope this will prove useful to future entrants on how to capture your entry and somewhat selfishly, I hope that I will end up with more inspiration and less frustration as I read through entries, if I get the opportunity to judge again in the future.

Before I get into it, one little caveat. The views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect the views of the various organising bodies or of my fellow judges.

Let’s get started, my six top tips for entrants.

When asked about innovation, very few entrants talk about how they have added value to their organisation. Most talk about trendy ideation processes and cool technology that they have played with.

Innovation is about commercialisation

Yet when asked about innovation very few entrants talk about how they have added value to their organisation. Rather most talk about trendy ideation processes and cool technology that they have played with (sorry, piloted or prototyped). While these things are interesting and can lead to value, they are not innovation as by themselves they do not add value. When I am judging a question that asks you to explain innovation, what I am primarily looking for is value delivered. I look for very specific things:

Read more: Lesly Goh: How I got into IoT

●    Did it increase revenue and or margins (for commercial enterprises)?

●    Did it improve social outcomes (for government and not for profit)?

●    Did it reduce costs?

●    Did it reduce organisation risk?

●    Did it improve relationships with customers or other stakeholders?

If you do not explicitly show me one or more of these things I will mark you down. Once I understand the value you are claiming to have delivered, I then look for how you did this to validate how likely this was to have actually happened.

I love the saying 'In god we trust, all others bring data.' It is great advice for award entrants.

Provide evidence

I love the saying "In god we trust, all others bring data"(attributed to American statistician William Edwards Deming).  It is great advice for award entrants. I love a good story but in the end if you can't substantiate your claims with data I will largely discount your story. Now let’s be clear. When I mean data I primarily mean numbers. For example:

●    "Revenue increased by $xxxx and is on track to deliver $yyyy over the next 12 months."

●    "Customer satisfaction increased xx% from yy to zz.

While I like numbers the best, attributed believable quotes from customers or relatively arm’s length colleagues are also good. You get the idea. Get the numbers, get the quotes then back them up with your story, "This is how we did it."

Transformation is about business

If you are asked to provide an example of transformation that you or your product/service has facilitated, I am less interested in your personal transformation story than the transformation of your client or another part of your organisation. IT is about transforming and enabling the broader organisation not about transforming the IT team(s). So, as a judge I am much more interested in "we partnered with the COO to transform the organisation’s supply chain" (for example), than I am in, “we transformed the IT culture and way of working.”

I get it, sometimes you have to transform yourself before you can transform others. If you are in this position, then tell your story and tell me why your transformation was important to broader business transformations in the future.

Just know that I'm not going to rate that as highly as a genuine business transformation where you have partnered with your colleagues and enabled the change with great technology and information.

It's about you and what you've done

I hate answers that begin with something like "our organisation is awesome and does a great job at ..." This type of reply is common for diversity and talent management questions. Maybe I am excessively cynical but when I read organisational answers for personal awards I hear an undertone of "they make me do it." If you owned it, you'd say, “I did this!!!”

It's great that you company takes this seriously and you do need to tell us this, but if this is an individual award, what I am more interested in is what are you doing. How are you demonstrating that you are taking action to address the specifically nominated issue.

Leadership is about you leading

When it comes to demonstrating leadership, "The CEO made me do it" is much less powerful than I (and my team) formulated, sold and led a critical business initiative.

The former demonstrates great executional leadership, the latter demonstrates influence and strategic leadership. There is no doubt our industry needs both but I will always value strategic leadership (backed by good execution) over pure execution every time. When I am evaluating leadership style questions my hierarchy goes like this:

1.   Strategic leadership where you initiate, sell and execute an important initiative with organisation wide implications.

2.   Joint leadership where you partner with your peers from across the organisation to formulate and deliver an important initiative.

3.   Executional leadership where you successfully deliver on an initiative that was primarily developed and led from another part of the organisation.

4.   Strategic leadership within IT where you initiate and execute an important initiative with predominantly IT implications.

5.   Team leadership where you explain how you lead and manage your team (yes, this comes up a lot).

Within any given time period it is likely that you will be involved in initiatives from across this spectrum. That is normal and appropriate. However, when entering awards, pick one from the top of the list or as close to the top as you can. If you do this I will tend to assume you have also done all the others. If, however, you pick from towards the bottom I will assume none of the top got done.

Get the numbers, get the quotes then back them up with your story, ‘This is how we did it.’

Owen McCall

Transfer to cloud is not transformational

I cannot remember the number of entries that I have read where the centre piece of the entry is, "we moved standard infrastructure or standard office productivity solutions from on premise to being cloud based." Yes, you probably need to do this, but, it's 2017! This is hardly new, transformational or innovative (although it may reduce costs). If at all possible, pick a different example of your key project. Something that is specific to you rather than a generic process.

There you have it, one judge’s view. I hope you find it useful. I would be very interested in other judges’ views and I hope future entrants find this useful.

Owen McCall (@OwenMcCall) is an experienced management consultant and CIO, and a member of the editorial advisory board of CIO New Zealand. He is also a member of the panel of judges for the 2018 CIO100.  Reach him through 

Send news tips and comments to

Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz

Sign up for CIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, views and events.

Join us on Facebook.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Owen McCallcustomer focusCIO100DX#cio100NZ Hi-Techthe CIO50 Australia

More about AustraliaFacebookTwitter

Show Comments