Who Are the Recognition Leaders In Your Neighborhood?

Do any of you remember the Sesame Street TV show and the song People in Your Neighborhood? Perhaps I’m dating myself.

The lyrics of the song started with:

“Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?… and concluded with…The people that you meet each day.”

Bob McGrath, one of the few human actors on the show among the many puppet characters, sang the song with one of the puppets and then they would identify the different people that helped make their Sesame Street neighborhood. Various puppets appeared representing the postman, firefighter, grocery store owner, barber, and doctor, etc.

Many times I am asked how to get senior leaders involved with recognizing and appreciating their employees. Or how to engage them in accessing their online recognition programs to acknowledge or nominate staff.

Sometimes I feel if the leaders don’t “get it” about the importance of recognizing employees, maybe those who manage recognition at the organization should let the natural consequences take their course.

The real recognition leaders in your organization are most often the people that you meet each day in your “neighborhood” at work.

Who Are the Recognition Leaders Where You Work?

They are often real people like you and me, who happen to value people and the difference they make. Each one you’ll find has a life purpose and they constantly seek meaning in the work they do every day.

Informal recognition leaders are naturally great acknowledgers of those around them. They are informal leaders in their own right. They value people.

They are known for their positive characteristics and work ethic. And their peers see them as people worth observing, paying attention to, and even following them. Their peers often receive positive feedback from them. 

You will find these informal leaders will influence recognition giving where they work. That is because they demonstrate respect for others and they earn the respect and trust of others. People feel important around them.

They don’t intentionally lead others but they naturally gain followers. This benefits the formal, titled leaders when both are on the same page. But it is not so helpful if a formal leader’s agenda and vision is not aligned with the informal leaders and their fellow employees.

Start Identifying the Informal Recognition Leaders

Jasmine Gordon in a Forbes article suggests looking for informal leaders by seeking employees who are:

  • Charismatic natural motivators
  • Well-respected veterans of your organization
  • Highly social communicators
  • Enthusiastic users of new technologies and ideas

It makes sense that recognition leaders are naturally motivated and have charismatic personalities. Whether new or long-term employees they always give and receive respect. There is no doubt they are proficient and frequent online and face-to-face communicators. And yes, you’ll find they are avid users of your social recognition programs and other recognition programs that you have.

Dr. Steven Zemke and Diane Zemke, from Gonzaga University, identified the following attributes of informal leaders from the research literature, and categorized them as task or relational oriented, or both.

Their list includes:

  1. Exerts influence on group processes (task).
  2. Maintains goal focus for self and group (task).
  3. Creates a collaborative atmosphere (relational).
  4. Exhibits technical competence (task).
  5. Exhibits fairness, humility, and trust (relational).
  6. Uses creativity, reflection, and intuition (both).

With these attributes in mind you can be looking for individuals who initiate recognition giving and celebration activities, even on a small scale. They are committed to achieving success and carrying through with valuing people and their contributions. Informal leaders work together and don’t seek the glory of a task completed or being recognized for doing it. They are willing to learn how to use online recognition programs and are active users of the system. They are strong advocates for fairness and equity with rewards and recognition and will stand up to counter any inequity. You can rely on them to give good insights as to why recognition is working well or not where they work, and provide helpful solutions.

Work with Informal Recognition Leaders

The scientific research suggests informal leaders are stronger in task specific behaviors when working in teams than they are on relational issues. This is where you can assist them so they can learn how to identify team members who are better at relational activities.

  • Perhaps work with their manager in considering them as recognition ambassadors for their respective work areas. This might be the impetus you need to spark great recognition giving and program usage. 
  • You might develop a recognition steering committee and nominate their names for membership.
  • Ensure they are on periodic focus groups to identify strengths and weaknesses with current recognition practices and programs.
  • Enlist their services to help you when it comes to planning and setting up recognition and celebration events.
  • Consider training them to conduct mini-training sessions or lunch-and-learn presentations on how to give better recognition informally, or better participate in online recognition programs, or how to submit and online or paper-based award nomination.

While senior leader involvement is always the best in getting recognition moving, never neglect the grassroots up swell that can happen by drawing upon the informal recognition leaders in your work neighborhood.

Recognition Reflection: How does your organization use informal leaders to help promote and encourage more effective recognition giving?

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