Recognition, not rewards!

The Exemplar Program is about recognition, not rewards. These concepts are difficult to separate. It took a great deal of conversation among the senior Judges (L4+) to really understand the difference as we developed the Exemplar Program. Conveying that distinction here is important as we roll out the program with a new group of Judges empowered to recognize their fellow Judges. This page is intended to help Judges as they seek to participate in the Exemplar Program through the written recognition process, it should guide those efforts, and it describes the difference between these two concepts (reward and recognition).

What’s in a recognition?

A key part of the Exemplar Program is the written recognition from one Judge to another. The communication of what we value is key. The Judge foils attached to the recognition are also important, of course, but the tangible card itself is intended to be more like a trophy commemorating the accomplishment or achievement, and not merely a transactional settling up of time and effort expended toward a goal.

First, let’s talk about rewards. We have a current mindset which is strongly oriented toward rewards in relation to Judge foils. It’s how we’ve operated for a long time now. Before we can truly understand our new system of recognition under the Exemplar Program, it’s important to grasp this concept and make the distinction.

The concept of a reward is simple. “If you do ‘X’ then you will get ‘Y’ in return.” Let me just be super-clear: this is NOT what the Exemplar Program is about. The Exemplar Program is about recognition. It’s about identifying the qualities, efforts, and behaviors which the Magic Judge Program values, sharing them, and multiplying their impact.

Rewards, by contrast, are temporary, transferable, and impersonal.

In the past, when Judges received foils as rewards for working Grand Prix events, they were often simply liquidated there on the spot. They were traded for other high-end cards, or sold to cover travel expenses. They were used up, transferred to someone else’s hands and gone. They weren’t special.

Rewards are dependent upon simple fulfillment of an expectation. Think about the old system: Work two days of the Grand Prix and you get one packet per level. That’s the deal. You can drag your team down, err in your rulings, instigate conflicts, and be generally mediocre to the event. Barring an exceptional circumstance, you would still get your foils.

This also applies to the Judges who go above and beyond. Except for the few recognitions at the end of a weekend (which usually cover less than 10% of a full GP’s staff), the old system was fairly ineffective at reinforcing and promoting exemplary effort. It can be demoralizing to put in the extra mile and still not be among the few the Head Judge and their minions notice and recognize.

Recognition, though, serves a very different purpose.

Think back to that ritual we have at Grand Prix events: Judge dinner. If you’ve never been to one of these (and I highly recommend it), it’s a time to sit down and unwind, but it’s also a time to recognize achievements and special efforts from the weekend. Promotions and milestones are applauded. Exceptional efforts or significant points of learning and achievement are celebrated. Judge dinner is where recognitions often occur.

When a Judge receives a single foil extra at the end of a long weekend as recognition for effort above and beyond, or as thanks for handling a difficult situation with unusual poise, the card itself is a tangible reminder of that experience, personal and lasting. Often, the Judge being recognized will have the card or its sleeve signed or altered by the Judge recognizing them. This destroys the resale or collector value of the card, but indelibly reinforces its personal value. This is the heart of recognition. It’s non-transferable, specific in its focus, and highly personal.

While the foils themselves from the Exemplar Program are not going to come pre-signed and are certain to be sold at times, the program aims to significantly change the automatic, transactional nature of past Judge foil distributions.

The tangible benefit of the foil granted through the Exemplar Program serves to amplify the message that comes with it. It magnifies the value of the behavior recognized, but it is intended to mean much more than simple compensation.

Recognition is a surprise! I cannot remember when or how I received my foil packets for any of my past few Grand Prix, but I can tell you exactly where in the Chiba Convention Center I was standing and how I felt when Kevin Desprez handed me a single foil there at the World Championships four years ago. I can remember his words and they resonate even now.

The unplanned and unanticipated nature of a recognition incites an emotional response, further reinforcing its value, and creating a memory marker which serves as a touchstone whenever the behavior and the object associated with it are remembered. It’s one hell of a powerful tool.

For examples which illustrate the difference between reward and recognition, please check out this page of the blog.