What Leaders Need to Be a Positive Recognition Example

I was recently asked the question, “how do you get management involvement with recognition?” The individual posing the question was asking for ideas for gaining both personal involvement of leaders, as well as getting them to set the right, recognition giving example.

Unfortunately, not everyone in a management or leadership position is identified or hired for being a good “people” person with strong interpersonal skills. Many individuals are recruited or rise to these leadership positions based on their technical skills or professional competency.

Where we fail with leadership development is in holding individuals accountable for learning, practicing, and maintaining necessary people skills – like giving recognition. We rely on in-class leadership training, microlearning via a learning management system, or personal development through reading the latest leadership books. You can obtain new people skill knowledge this way but not the personal commitment for setting an example.

What can you do to instill leadership example for meaningful recognition giving?

Leadership Development

Much of today’s leadership development is not aligned with the organizational strategy. For leaders to give better recognition they need to be held accountable for delivering good recognition and executing on the organization’s business objectives. How effective are leaders in achieving both of these needs?

Consider these strategic ideas to apply to leadership development:

  • Ensure there is a clear, written recognition strategy that meshes with your people strategy in attracting, recognizing and keeping engaged talent.
  • Link your recognition strategy with your business strategy so leaders know how recognition can be a powerful tool to leverage for driving results.
  • Recognition is one of the top drivers of employee engagement along with areas like meaningful work and career development. Does recognition get enough attention, communication, and the airtime it should for leaders to know of its importance?

Leadership development needs to work on creating positive relationships, building higher trust at all job levels, and developing deeper and more meaningful connections between people. Recognition will only be perceived and received well when there is sufficient positive relationship strength between leaders and their employees.

Having foster positive relationships that lead to recognition needs:

  • Positive leadership examples can happen through one-on-one conversations and regularly scheduled feedback sessions with leaders and direct reports. Make these one-on-ones a standard practice.
  • Leaders can start any meeting they have by acknowledging the contributions made by any individual on a telephone meeting or in face-to-face meetings.
  • Create short video interviews of employees sharing how well they are recognized or how they’re not recognized at all, and have them share how that makes them feel towards their leaders and the company. Show these videos in your leadership development sessions and facilitate discussion around them.

Measuring leader progress in the development of leaders and managers needs to go beyond the smiley face reaction sheet evaluations. Their direct reports should evaluate their leader’s progress at three-month and six-month intervals to gauge application of new skills and competencies. These new abilities can be further measured against correlation of team performance metrics and other performance measures.

Consistency with setting expectations for giving recognition and holding leaders accountable comes when you do these and other similar methods:

  • Ask leaders to write up a review of how they think they’re doing with recognizing employees before leadership development programs. Have them revisit this review afterward and compare with what they now know and record what they will do to change.
  • Use quarterly pulse check surveys of direct reports and gather perception data on a leader’s recognition abilities prior to any leadership development and then for the next two quarters following program completion.
  • Have leaders sit down with each direct report and ask candid questions about the recognition they receive from the leader and how they could make it more meaningful.

Return on investment and return on impact from the leadership development needs better qualitative and quantitative measures to demonstrate that learning programs, coaching, and other development initiatives have truly made a constructive difference.

We’ve heard before that if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. Here are some ideas to think about:

  • Consider using estimation analysis to collect data from employees on the percentage of impact they feel recognition has on engagement, retention, and likelihood to recommend the company to others.
  • Provide information on the costs behind poor engagement levels, low retention, and turnover costs, and implications behind likelihood to recommend numbers. Calculate potential costs before the leadership development and hopefully, potential savings from becoming better recognizers of employees.
  • Don’t always be concerned about the return on investment so much as you should on return on business impact. Find out about the return on the intangible factors such as how people feel. What is the return on the individual for leaders who know how to recognize people well?

Take stock of how leadership development is handled where you work. Find out if employee recognition is even in the curriculum. And whether it is or not, request your organizational learning and development folks up the ante on getting your leaders to become exemplary recognition givers.

Reflective Question: Does your current leadership development program give sufficient emphasis to improving leaders’ abilities to give excellent employee recognition?

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