Has A Leader Given You Meaningful Recognition Recently?

Have one of your organizational leaders recently recognized you in person, or publicly, for a specific contribution you made? 

It feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

The problem, though, is it doesn’t happen often enough. 

Examining some research completed over the years might give us some insights why this is. From there, together we can make some suggestions about what you can do.

What’s Up With Leaders and Recognition? 

First off, research conducted by David Novak’s company, OGO, found that over 40% of employed Americans feel that if they were recognized more often, they would put more energy into their work. And Bonusly surveyed 1,500 American employees and learned an interesting retention benefit from recognition. They reported that 63 percent of recognized employees were very unlikely to pursue a new job.

Now, what about our leaders?

A past Bersin research report on The State of Employee Recognition in 2012 discovered that senior leaders are out of touch with how often employees are recognized. 

Reportedly, nearly 80 percent of senior leaders believed we recognized employees at least on a monthly basis. However, when you ask employees about this, approximately 70 percent of employees reported someone recognized them annually, or not at all.

This reveals that leaders don’t know their recognition strategy and possibly do not receive a summary of the status of recognition. Recognition needs to be elevated in their eyes. Show them how you focus on recognition as a strategic leveraging tool.

An OfficeTeam survey states that 89 percent of senior managers said their organization was good at showing appreciation to workers. However, 30 percent of employees gave their firms low marks when on recognizing their achievements.

There’s obviously a disconnect between senior leader beliefs and the reality of recognition occurrence. Apprise your leaders of recognition scores from the employee engagement survey and other informal assessments you conduct.

Remember, if you weren’t able to affirm the opening question about being recognized by a senior leader, you’re not alone.

In my research within the public sector of Canada and the U.S., (see Survey Findings of the Effectiveness of Employee Recognition in the Public Sector), 93 percent of managers said senior leader involvement in recognition programs was very or extremely important. However, the harsh reality was only 21 percent were very involved, and another 58 percent were somewhat involved, which might not mean much. 

We have to get leaders onboard by giving recognition in person and with using our online recognition programs. Getting leader involvement requires them understanding the need for recognizing staff and giving a personal commitment to recognize all staff more often.

On The Positive Side of Things

Interestingly, the Gallup group surveyed employees and asked them to recall who gave them their most meaningful and memorable recognition.

Survey results revealed that the most memorable recognition comes most often from: 

  • An employee’s manager (28%),
  • A high-level leader or CEO (24%),
  • The manager’s manager (12%),
  • A customer (10%),
  • Peers (9%),
  • “Other” (17%). 

Notice that nearly one-quarter of respondents said the most memorable recognition comes from a high-level leader or CEO. Why is that the case? 

When employees receive recognition or feedback from a senior leader or CEO, employees can’t help but remember that experience. It’s a unique opportunity. Any amount of time that a high-ranking leader gives to an employee creates lasting impact and a positive impression. Gallup suggests that acknowledgment from senior leaders, and especially your CEO, would be a career highlight for most employees.

Leader recognition will always score high on the memorability spectrum. 

Things Leaders Can Do To Improve Recognition

Here are some ideas to give directly to your executive leadership team, or to coach your leaders on. Your goal is to improve their abilities in recognizing employees more frequently and creating memorable recognition experiences. 

  • Plan to connect with employees at all levels. It’s a rare experience for an executive to get out of their office or get away from back-to-back meetings. They need to step down the rung of the organizational ladder and associate with frontline employees. The former CEO of a financial institution made time to eat with employees in the cafeteria and just chat. He would also schedule informal discussions with employee groups to learn about their excitement and concerns for the organization. When there was a departmental celebration, he would travel there and be a part of the recognition. How can your leaders better connect with staff virtually or in person? What practices can they start to become more present with employees? 
  • Take part in as many recognition celebrations as possible. This means getting all award events and invitations calendared as soon as possible through their assistant. Coach their assistant to convey the importance of the senior leader showing up and being fully present, whether virtually or in person. When news of specific departmental or team accomplishments occur have them show up unannounced. Calendar the professional days, weeks and months, and see if one of the executive team can be present. Does their executive assistant schedule in calendared events for them? Is time set aside for them to prepare for these events?
  • Spontaneously reach out to employees individually and collectively. There are many life events that happen to a person while working for an organization. A well-known American airline CEO communicates care and concern to employees for any life event, whether tragic or celebratory. He will make a call, write a note on a card, and/or make sure they send some tangible expression of care along to an employee. Ensure there is a team of staff set aside to acknowledge care and concern events. 
  • Acknowledge the meaningfulness of their leadership position. Hopefully, leaders already know how employees place them on a pedestal and look up to them. Show your leaders and explain how recognition from them is more memorable and valued. You can tell them that being acknowledged by an executive is a powerful source in retaining staff for the long-term. Have scheduled time for introspection before expressing any recognition. Let them think about how will this employee feel after they have praised them? What can they do after they leave to extend the recognition experience further? 
  • Establish personal recognition traditions and practices. Each leader has their own leadership style. There is no need to expect everyone to do exactly the same things. One leader takes 30-minutes at the end of each day to write thank you cards and notes of appreciation to employees across the organization. Their assistant has gathered accounts from other leaders of amazing employees doing outstanding work or positive actions. The executive amplifies these achievements and actions by consistently writing notes to staff every day. 
  • Set expectation of executive leaders for their own recognition practices. A CEO must become an exemplary recognizer of their own immediate leaders and staff. They should hold their executive leadership team accountable for acknowledging their direct reports. And it means spelling our developmental consequences when they don’t. Encourage recognition giving anyway you can. Invite each leader to share great things employees are doing when they hold executive leadership meetings. Report on how they are each doing recognizing staff. Solicit support and suggestions from one another. 
  • Become active participants in your online recognition programs. Unfortunately, senior leaders can forget that they are also employees. This means that employee recognition programs are for them, too. Besides acknowledging and praising staff achievement in person, by phone, or handwritten notes, they can also alternate going online. Another action they can take is to elicit positive behaviors from direct reports each week and send an ecard to employees. They can add comments to what others have posted or sent ecards about. Go beyond just liking and have them write uplifting messages. 

Recognition Reflection: How do you help your executive leaders reach out and give memorable recognition to staff?

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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