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No, I'm not advocating the oft-criticized everyone gets a participation trophy mentality. In fact, to truly understand the benefits of "playing the game," we must focus on the inputs and the tangible outcomes - not just who is standing in the spotlight at an event or awards celebration.

I say that as part of an organization that puts on two of the biggest business gatherings in our state each year. A combined 2,500-plus attend the Indiana Chamber's Annual Awards Dinner and the Best Places to Work in Indiana program. The events are important celebrations, but the benefits go well beyond the Business, Government and Community champions that are recognized or the 100 statewide Best Places organizations.

The Annual Dinner, and similar events, are indeed special. In 2013, the Indiana Chamber honored the military and recognized the many accomplishments of former and current men and women who serve our country both in the Armed Forces and in their subsequent business careers.

This time around, it's the 25th year - that tells you something about its importance - and comedian/talk show host/political commentator Dennis Miller will headline the silver anniversary celebration. And at the end of the evening (and going forward hopefully), people will feel very good about our state and their role in making it a great place to live and do business.

But it's the Best Places program that best symbolizes the value of being in the game.

Companies apply to receive an honest evaluation of the work environment they have created for their employees. How do they get that evaluation? Primarily through the direct, and anonymous, feedback of those employees. In addition, organizations provide information on the benefits and workplace culture practices that they have in place.

If selected as a Best Place to Work, you are entitled to tout that recognition. But here's what you also receive - the same things every other applicant earns as a result of their participation.

Applying shows confidence in a company (really, the people and their work). Participation alone suggests that a company has remarkable traits

In turn, team members will acknowledge that affirmation from the top and become even more self-assured and dedicated to excellence. (And, if not selected, the natural competitive juices will take over and drive most to doing what it takes to be among the best the following year)

The application process is a learning process. Diving into the company's history or simply reflecting on its values and mission statement can serve as a reminder of why employees choose to come to work there each day. Are you continuing to adhere to your company's values? Or, is a change of direction needed?

The evaluations (companies receive reports showing how they stack up against the others in the program) can be true eye-openers. Each year, companies have some of their practices validated, but their biggest takeaway is learning from others

Listening to your team members and making appropriate changes. Once again, demonstrating to your employees that they are your No. 1 priority and that you are working with them - not dictating to them - will yield invaluable results

Companies that participate in awards programs ultimately emerge as winners if their leaders are fully committed to the process. Recognition for one's hard work is invaluable, as is constructive feedback. So for companies hesitating to step out on a limb and apply for awards, go for it! The worst-case scenario is identifying - and acting upon - areas for improvement. That is a win for everyone.

Brock Hesler is director of membership for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

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