Let Your Leaders Know What It’s Like To Be Unrecognized

Sometimes they just don’t get it, do they?

You’ll hear a comment from a leader questioning the import of your wanting to create a recognition strategy. Another leader glosses over the latest engagement survey results and states that 56% percent on the recognition questions is good, isn’t it? These are all real scenarios.

Now I am well aware this does not describe all leaders. But there are enough to cause concern.

A few of them don’t understand why some employees are complaining about a lack of recognition. They think they pay their employees well and they have good jobs. What more can they want?

Sounds like it’s time to let your leaders know what it feels like to be unrecognized.

To respond to this need I am drawing upon the work of John Kotter, Emeritus professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School.

In his book “The Heart of Change” he outlined change management principles that can help our unrecognized employees finally receive great recognition from these challenging leaders.

Principle #1: Show Them a Truth

The first principle that Kotter addresses is the need to show difficult managers and leaders a truth. Don’t just tell them or give them the facts. For example, giving leaders only the percentages and numbers from employee engagement and satisfaction survey results will not change behaviors.

I recall conducting a corporate-wide employee survey that had a singular focus on all aspects of this organization’s current recognition practices and programs. I also conducted small focus groups across the organization. I had to present my report and findings to the senior management team. 

From one of the focus groups, I shared with the senior leadership, a specific account of an employee from Environmental Services (sometimes known as Housekeeping) who had received a thank-you card from the CEO a while ago. They shared how much the card had meant to them.

It was this story and not the survey findings that triggered the CEO. He acknowledged how when he had started in the CEO position he faithfully took time to write handwritten cards. And then he stopped.

From our meeting he said he would renew his habit of writing and sending out thank-you notes to deserving employees.

Action:There is a need to have your senior leaders see and hear employees’ responses on how well recognized and valued they feel working at your organization. They need real stories from the trenches. 

Think about conducting video- or audio-recorded interviews from willing employees. Capture short interactions of how these employees feel about recognition at your organization. Have a signed release giving permission to use the recording and for what purpose with no repercussions for their candid sharing.

You can ask employees: How frequently do they get recognized? Do they feel valued and appreciated for their contributions on the job? Is their manager effective at giving meaningful recognition? How well are senior leaders doing in recognizing employees? What examples do they have of great recognition received? What examples can they share of lost recognition opportunities?

For more information on how to conduct an employee recognition video read: How To Record Recognition Impact Statements on Video

Principle #2: Influence their Feelings

Why does showing leaders a truth like this through the use of video interviews affect change?

It seems we try too hard to influence people rationally using all kinds of facts and data. This influences the logical part of the brain. You can never neglect this information. However, it doesn’t automatically transfer to changed behavior. You thought your leaders would recognize people because of their low engagement scores. Doesn’t happen.

As humans, we make decisions and changes in our life more emotionally than rationally. Our emotions always come out on top. So bring more emotion to the table by showing them the truth you want to communicate and advocate for.

Action:Capture a nice mix of positive and negative feedback experiences from your employees. There is no doubt in my mind that some of your employee encounters will be both heated and complimentary. Don’t delete those scenes. This is exactly what you need your leaders to see and feel––the good and the bad.

Principle #3: Change their Beliefs

I never thought you could change another person’s beliefs. But Kotter’s work on showing people a truth was pretty convincing that showing truth affected people’s beliefs. How? By influencing a person’s feelings, their emotions, you can alter their beliefs.

This is when it gets exciting. You see when you can change someone’s beliefs this will impact how they behave. And when people behave better than they did yesterday and in the best way possible, it always produces positive results.

John Kotter said it best. In his book “The Heart of Change,” he states, “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”

Action:As leaders change their beliefs, they change their behaviors too and do the things they neglected or fought against, e.g.

  • Not supporting a recognition strategy.
  • Fighting against budget approval for a social recognition program.
  • Not giving exemplary recognition to employees

Make sure you take time to acknowledge these leaders’ for their positive changes. Thank them for supporting this inherent need of employees. Reinforce all good recognition related behaviors.

Let these principles of change help you influence your leaders in dealing with unrecognized employees.

Recognition Reflection: How do you typically deal with leaders who are lousy recognizers and are unsupportive of recognition practices and programs? 

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