A Great Senior Leader Can Make All the Difference to Employee Recognition

With my speaking, training, and consulting with organizational leaders and managers in 13 countries, I have seen exactly what it takes to have success with any employee recognition initiatives.

I often speak of the need for alignment, consistency with recognition, the quality of recognition, and the level of impact recognition has on people and performance. Yet, one important element that must be present is having a senior leader who will move mountains for you and advocate for the cause of recognition.

How do they make a difference? Let’s count a few of the ways.

#1. Vision/Purpose 

Poor leaders have a hard time seeing any purpose for recognition. They leave you alone to manage recognition with no direction or resources. You’ve probably seen one or two of them in your lifetime. They make no personal commitment to supporting recognition. And this lack of leadership is visible in their own lack of exemplary recognition giving.

Contrast this with exceptional leaders who get it and become ambassadors for recognition. They help you align recognition purpose and beliefs with the organizational strategy and goals. You’ll find they are a powerful advocate for recognition. These leaders will help to get the entire leadership team consistently giving authentic recognition. We also idealize this type of leader as an excellent giver of all forms or recognition, both online and in person. 

Wimbledon tennis champion, Serena Williams said, “I always believe that I can beat the best, achieve the best. I always see myself in the top position.” Recognition will be top of mind for such a senior leader. 

  • Find out what your senior leader sees as the purpose for employee recognition. What is their vision?
  • How can you support their goals as well as achieve what you need?

#2. Championing/Commitment

An outstanding leader truly champions the cause of employee recognition practices and programs just like they do with the other areas in their executive portfolio. This allows you to have a constant representation of recognition practices and programs at the executive leadership table.

This is important because recognition should be a driver of strategic initiatives or seen as a tool for strengthening organizational culture. With their leadership position, they can assist you with identifying how to embed recognition into different practices and functions within the organization. 

As American professional basketball player Bill Russell once said, “Commitment separates those who live their dreams from those who live their lives regretting the opportunities they have squandered.” Such leaders capture the vision for recognition and help you make it happen.

  • Work on gaining their personal commitment for recognition giving and supporting your recognition initiatives.
  • How do they recommend getting the commitment from other executive and mid-level leaders to give meaningful and effective recognition?


Working alongside an executive champion will give you insights on what is going on within the organization. You will learn what the strategic priorities are right now and how that positions recognition in the immediate future.

A senior leader can direct you on the timing of when to present new programs or budget proposals. They can guide you on what and how to present your information and requests. Insights on the personalities of the executive leadership team are incredibly helpful when wanting to get a decision on your recognition strategy and plans.

  • Gather insights and develop a profile or persona for each leader on the executive leadership team.
  • Find out the cycle of regular decision making and ways to discover the best timing for submitting proposals, etc. 


Having a great senior leader is critical for anything dealing with finances and program budgeting. This is especially so when an investment is required to start a new online recognition and reward program, or a formal recognition program with an event. 

Once you show your leader how a new program can support them in achieving strategic initiatives, they’ll be on board with you. Help them understand the thinking behind the solution you’re recommending. Show them the work behind your thinking. Tell of the meetings, the focus groups and their results, survey findings, benchmarking analysis, and best practice reviews. Let them know what other influencers and leaders in the organization are thinking. Share their pros and cons and how you plan to challenge and address these ideas. 

Recognition results may not always generate a financial return, but they can always impact people and performance.

  • Always work from a commitment focus, which is personal, versus trying to get leadership buy-in, which is a transactional approach.
  • By understanding your leader and having regular open communication, you will have a good handle on what it takes to get financial support and other resources. 


Leaders who best understand and exemplify recognition practices are the ones who develop positive relationships with everyone wherever they go. This positive relationship strength is a quality that adds meaning and authenticity to the recognition they give people. Recipients of their recognition know it is genuine and memorable.

They make time to write notes and thank you cards to employees besides using your organization’s online recognition and reward platform. They actively solicit details of great work being done by staff from their direct reports so they can send a handwritten recognition card or use the recognition programs to send a digital e-card. 

They note special needs of people and lead by showing care and concern for those struggling with health or family issues. And they learn employees’ names and use them when greeting you in the hall or during an online meeting.

Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s, once shared, “Doing the right things can be uncomfortable for CEOs. That’s why I talk about being ‘tough minded on issues’ and ‘tender hearted on people. Many executives stress over whether they should focus on either the head or on the heart. The key is to do both at the same time.”

  • Commend your executive champion for their support of what you are doing and, for their example, in giving memorable employee recognition.
  • Invite executive leaders to set expectations from their direct reports to be exemplary recognition givers in person and online.


Having a strong senior leader on your side ensures that all aspects of employee recognition practices and programs are strategically aligned, consistently implemented across the organization, and achieve their maximum impact by recognizing the accomplishment towards strategic goals.

1. Ensure your executive champion is leading the recognition strategy and plan development so all leaders know who they are accountable to.

2. Invite executive leaders to put employee recognition practices and program usage on their agendas for manager one-on-one performance calls.

3. Show your leaders how they can leverage recognition practices and programs to drive and reinforce positive behaviors and strategic objectives.

Recognition Reflection: Do you have an executive champion you consult with on all employee recognition related matters?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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