How Not To Fumble the Leadership Ball with Recognition

By attending a few of my one grandson’s North American football games, I have witnessed the occasional fumbling of the ball by some overly enthusiastic youth.

This reminds me of the clumsily carried out attempts at giving recognition by organizational leaders. You may have seen some of these awkward recognition plays that never touched down.

Look at how you can best help leaders not to fumble recognition practically or strategically.

Practically Mastering Recognition Giving 

Where leaders foul up recognition is not accepting their strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone is a born, natural recognizer. Most people have to learn the essential skills and practices that allow recognition to come across as authentic and meaningful.

One organization had a senior leader who was cold and unapproachable in the workplace. Employees shared how he would pass them by in the hallway and not even acknowledge them. After work, when they caught the same tram to catch the train home, he appeared not to even see them. Yet, when he was on stage at a celebration event to present an award to an employee, he was all smiles and warmly shook their hands. Of course, this did not resonate with workers. The hypocrisy and lack of sincerity downplayed any attempts at recognition from this senior leader.

Leaders can mismanage recognition giving my mispronouncing an employee’s name during a presentation. They may stumble over what to say to an award recipient because they didn’t take the time to prepare properly. Or they can simply err by not reaching out to direct reports on their career milestone anniversary. Staff members hope their leader will pick up the phone, maybe even walk by their desk, or just email them and wish them a happy anniversary. When nothing happens, it is another negativity notch towards the organization, and possibly a step closer to them leaving for another job. 

Leaders can do the following steps to ensure they do not botch up the recognition moments in any of their employees’ lives. 

  • Take part in any updated leadership development training that addresses interpersonal skills, active listening, showing empathy, emotional intelligence, and recognition giving. Even if your leadership or organizational development team has to conduct a separate session or coaching for your executive leadership team, make it happen.
  • Meet quarterly with your recognition program manager to learn more about your organization’s recognition strategy and plans. Learn how the recognition strategy aligns with the organization’s business and people strategy. It will help them see the importance of recognition.
  • Carve out time in each day with your executive assistant’s help to spend time on giving recognition to staff. Your executive assistant can help round up employee examples of positive actions and above and beyond performance identified by direct reports. The leader can write handwritten notes, pick up the phone and share a congratulatory message, or go online and send a well thought out ecard or social recognition message.
  • Go out and meet with employees regularly. Sit down with them in the cafeteria and ask them questions about how the organization can improve. Find out what they think senior leaders should do to make employee’s experience better. Hold periodic virtual meetings with a small invited group of workers to discover what they are working on that brings them joy. And thank everyone for the opportunity to speak and converse with them.

Strategically Aligning Recognition for the Organization

Senior leaders must solidly pick up the ball and define the organization’s overall recognition strategy. They must show their personal commitment by actively practicing recognition giving and using the online recognition programs. While others may draft the policies, procedures, and program objectives, they should at least review them with those responsible for recognition programs.

It is critical that the executive leadership team actively supports the various recognition programs in operation. Their role is to communicate the importance of recognition everywhere they go and to be an exemplary giver of recognition using the online recognition programs. 

An important role of senior leaders is holding themselves, their colleagues, and all their direct reports accountable and responsible for actively recognizing their workers. Employees must always feel valued and appreciated for their contributions. 

Finally, your executive sponsor should ensure that your recognition strategy and program plans have concrete measures of utilization that they review regularly. They should participate at least once a year in annually reviewing the recognition strategy, plans, and programs. And they should receive and analyze quarterly reports throughout the year.

For leaders to capture a more strategic focus on employee recognition practices and programs, they might consider some of the following actions. 

  • Ensure your executive sponsor of recognition programs is a part of the initial recognition strategy development. Even if they are only present at opening up the process, have them share how important recognition is to the organization. They can then review and ratify the final strategic document when completed.
  • Leaders should know the overall purpose goal for recognition each year. This allows them to support all initiatives that focus on this goal.
  • They will want to hear about the action plans that the recognition team has created. They should know who is involved with implementing these goals so they can support these employees along with their managers. It is also a chance for them to send out messages of recognition to everyone taking part.
  • Leaders have a way of looking for ways to improve things. They can always improve employee experience through better, and more inclusive, employee celebrations and award events. Your leaders can look for ways to encourage a sensory experience even in remote celebrations.
  • Your leader can be the very best for you and the organization by advocating for more consistent recognition practices across the organization, and better utilization of all of your online recognition programs. Foremost, is for your leader to be the most positive example of recognizing all workers they interact with. 

Recognition Reflection: How do you help leaders not to fumble an employee’s recognition experience?

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