How To Develop Emerging Recognition Leaders in Your Organization

A few years ago, some managers at a particular company reached out to a Rideau colleague of mine and me to have a telephone meeting with them. These were young leaders in the making and were part of this company’s emerging leaders’ program. They wanted to learn more about employee recognition and specifically about our recognition programs at Rideau.

Later, we were invited to attend an on-site meeting at the company head office. There we connected with these managers and their peers from across North America, both face-to-face and virtually.

While they were from various departments and held a variety of positions within the company, it was fascinating seeing the light go on for them, and their asking thought-provoking questions about employee recognition.

Their emerging leader program project required them to seek insights on best practices, creating a recognition strategy, and what programs would work best for their managers and employees.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every organization desired to develop their managers through an emerging recognition leaders’ program?

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Why You Need To Know Your Leader’s Perception of Recognition

Talking to employees versus talking to your leaders can yield a completely different viewpoint about what everyone thinks about employee recognition.

When Leigh Branham was researching for his book, The 7 Hidden Reasons Employee Leave, he learned that 89 percent of bosses believed their employees quit their jobs because they wanted more money. But when they talked to employees, only 12 percent of them stated they would leave an organization for more money.

Now, what about recognition? How do your senior leaders perceive employee recognition? The answer to this question determines the success or challenges you face with managing employee recognition initiatives in your organization.

That is why if you don’t know your leader’s perception about employee recognition you had better find out soon.

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Top 10 Ways to Create Thanksgiving at Work

As far as work and Thanksgiving is concerned, everyone will be more excited to leave work to be with family and friends than be thankful for work. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be more grateful for the jobs and careers we have. Our challenge is knowing what we each can do to create a more Thanksgiving attitude at work. Check out these Top 10 ideas to shed some light on this idea.

1. Create meaningful work opportunities. In a recent American Management Association (AMA) survey they asked what people are thankful for at work and the highest ranked item is “the professional satisfaction it provides me.” Check in regularly with employees to learn what could make their work more energizing.

2. Encourage positive work relationships. Next on the AMA list was, understandably, one’s coworkers. Often we stop people from communicating and forming friendships at work. Even the Gallup Q12 measures having a best friend at work. Orchestrate opportunities to have fun, break bread, exercise, play and celebrate together.

3. Make sure each “Boss” is a good one. Never take this for granted because a great boss appreciates and values employees. A bad boss can kill them. Working for an uncivil, toxic boss increases the risk of a heart attack by 17% and increases the likelihood of a stroke by 33%. Stop bad boss behavior immediately.

4. Gratitude is even good for you. Well-deserved thanks and expressions of appreciation make an impact on people’s health. The Institute of Heart Math found Individuals who received appreciation and gratitude had greater harmony in their heart rhythms. Don’t think they are just doing their jobs – THANK THEM!

5. Cut out saying negative things to people – period. In high performing teams researchers found the ratio of positive to negative statements directed from manager to team members was 5.6 to 1.These managers gave 5 times more positive statements than negative. Watch your mouth and be more positive!

6. Develop relationships versus “engaging” employees. When we get romantically involved with someone we build a relationship first before popping the engagement question. Same thing at work – focus on the relationships between people. Look at building a person up and connecting with them.

7. Use emails and social media to be social. We are becoming a cryptic, impersonal society in how we communicate in any form of written text. Use the polite social graces of writing “please” and “Thank you so much! I am really grateful.” Not only will you make people feel good they will more likely help you.

8. When you have a good boss, thank them. Here’s an interesting thought from the John Templeton Foundation Study on Gratitude. They found 74% of people never or rarely express gratitude to their boss.  Yet they want their boss to express gratitude to them. Start emulating the actions you want given to you.

9. Never give a gift or an award alone. No matter what tangible form of appreciation you might give someone, always add a card or note to share your feelings and thoughts for the person. Specifically acknowledge the employee for what they have done and share your heartfelt appreciation for their contributions.

10. Start things right with giving thanks. Begin each day with sending out an email of gratitude to someone who has made a difference to you. Put praise and acknowledgments at the beginning of each meeting agenda and have people share the great things happening. If you start right, you will end right.

Choose Your Words with Extra Care When Recognizing People

Giving people recognition is not hard to do. But recognizing those you meet and work with should not be treated so glibly that it is thoughtlessly done.

The words you use to verbally express your appreciation or use in your written or digital thank you notes, need to be done with care and consideration. Put more time into thinking about what you will say and realize the impact it will have on people.

Examine the following ideas closely to pick up on ways your vocabulary choice and phrasing of recognition could change.

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Where Do You Most Need to Improve Your Recognition?

Whether approaching the end of a calendar year or a time to consider a refresh of your recognition practices and programs, it is important to ask yourself as the recognition owner in your organization, “Where do we most need to improve recognition?”

Often this whole question of improvement follows the review of your annual employee engagement survey. Right off the bat I can tell you that if the average score of your recognition related questions on your survey is less than 65 percent, then you are dealing with issues with your daily recognition practices of everyday recognition.

Looking at everyday recognition, you know this should happen on a daily or weekly basis and impact between 80 and 100 percent of your employees. This is a great opportunity to work on. 

Where else can you improve recognition at your organization? What are some practical steps you can take?

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This Is What Awesome Recognition Looks Like

Some people seem to be just a natural when they are out and about in the company as far as appreciating people for who they are and recognizing the wonderful contributions made by employees.

There will always be others who have a much harder time in recognizing others. For whatever reasons, such as not being recognized as a child, perhaps more introverted, or plain uncomfortable with knowing what to say or do, recognition doesn’t happen.

But the great news is that giving awesome recognition to people is a skill anyone can learn.

When you know what something hard to do looks like, such as a new skill you have to learn, observe those people that do it well. Then all you have to do is reverse engineer how they do the task or skill and then you can replicate this ideal performance and do it yourself.

What does awesome recognition look like? How can you learn to master this art and science of giving meaningful and effective recognition?

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Get Solid Data Fluency for Strong Recognition Programs

Not sure how you did with learning a foreign language at high school, if you needed to do that. When I was trying to learn French growing up in England, it was a matter of rote grammar drills, writing out the different verb tenses, and very little conversational practice.

I cannot speak French today so can never claim to be fluent.

I also spent two years in my early twenties living in Belgium and gained some Flemish language skills. However, upon returning to Canada and many years absent with speaking Flemish, I have found out that if you don’t use a language, you lose it.

That’s why being fluent with the data gleaned from your recognition programs is such a necessary skill for you as a recognition manager or program administrator. If you don’t use it you’ll lose it.

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Why Senior Leaders in The Room Change Everything

Female business executive standing alone in boardroom

Whether it is a strategy meeting, planning meeting, or procurement meeting, there is something special that happens when you have your executive champion present in the room with the rest of your recognition committee.

Managing, administering, monitoring, and planning the day-to-day aspects of recognition practices and programs, requires constant vigilance, self-discipline, and persistence on your part with supporting recognition throughout the organization.

The reason you periodically want a senior leader in a recognition strategy or steering committee meeting, is because they can help you align recognition with the business strategy and give you the vision of where they see recognition supporting organizational strategic initiatives.

Consider some of the following benefits of having a senior leader in your meetings.

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Take Time To Find Out What Is Meaningful To People

Some people raise the concern that to expect their managers to recognize their employees is too much on top of everything else they are doing.

However, since it is employees or associates who provide the goods and services that produce satisfied customers, appreciating your people is the very least you can do.

What they need to do is to raise managers’ level of intrinsic motivation for recognizing, praising, and rewarding staff, so they can become proficient at giving recognition and willing to do so every chance they get.

One way for people to give better and more meaningful recognition is to first find out what is meaningful to each of their employees.

I will review with your key ways to teach and help supervisors and managers to practice this needed skill.

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Top 10 Unconventional Ways to Lead Your Recognition Initiatives

Now is a time for unconventional leadership and innovation with recognition and reward programs. Analytics and AI are blossoming in the HR technology world. We need these same tools in the recognition space. This requires a certain type of leader – an unconventional leader. Look out for people who demonstrate these Top 10 Unconventional Ways to Lead Your Recognition Initiatives. They’ll advance the cause of recognition into the future.

1. Unconventional leaders have courage to do the right thing. If a recognition and reward program hasn’t shown any benefit these leaders are prepared to shut it down. But they’ll also expect you to replace it with something better that will work.

2. Unconventional leaders demonstrate impeccable integrity. They’ll want inclusion and fairness with all programs, especially with rewards. They’ll advocate for the receptionist and janitor the same as they would for any senior executive.

3. Unconventional leaders are wise stewards over everything. They’re willing to invest funds and resources for recognition programs over the long term. No one will be expected to do more, or work longer, than is right and respectful of home needs.

4. Unconventional leaders are humble enough to be working for others. You’ll find great leaders are willing to go to bat for you and work with you. They’ll want a strong business case presented and clear rationale for the programs you want.

5. Unconventional leaders simply care for others. Recognition programs are about caring and appreciating others. Besides praise and acknowledgment, they’ll want care shown for the positive and tough things that happen to their employees.

6. Unconventional leaders take on challenges. Why not boldly declare that all employees will feel valued and appreciated for their contributions on the job. It may not be easy to do but they will enlist every company leader to make sure it happens.

7. Unconventional leaders ignore what everyone else is doing. If a majority of companies are using points-based reward programs that doesn’t mean these leaders will follow. They will create the best vision and processes right for their employees.

8. Unconventional leaders lead with leading indicators. Forget about lagging indicators like recognition program usage and participation statistics. These leaders are looking to measure whatever behaviors precede every recognition experience.

9. Unconventional leaders are always dependable. They will lead recognition by example. You can count on them to consistently use your recognition programs. And your employees will always be proud to receive a thank you card from them.

10. Unconventional leaders use persuasion for power. They will never usurp control over your managing of recognition and reward programs. Instead, they will gently steer you in a direction that eventually makes sense and that you fully adopt.

Previously published in Incentive Magazine by the author.