How To Get Leadership Sponsorship for Employee Recognition

You gain a lot when you have an executive sponsor for employee recognition.

An executive or leadership sponsor is a leader who actively advocates for the organization’s recognition strategy and for the recognition programs that you manage. Having a C-level sponsor is considered a key requirement for success.

Now, you are just wondering, how do you get one? 

The CEO or a senior leadership committee may select an executive sponsor. 

Typically, the person chosen to fill the role may have had previous experience with recognition or their portfolio lends itself to supporting recognition.

Develop a positive relationship with the leader you would like to have champion the cause of employee recognition. Give them an opportunity to see the amazing work that is happening with your recognition strategy and the programs you’re responsible for. 

And at some point, you may have to ask them if they would be the executive sponsor for employee recognition. 

Here are some things you can prepare in the meantime for whoever they assign to the role of leadership sponsor for recognition.

1. Define ownership of the recognition strategy and recognition programs.

2. Establish clear responsibilities for both the executive sponsor and the recognition program manager.

3. Orient your leadership sponsor to everything that you have achieved so far.

4. Give them an overview of the recognition strategy with the short-term and long-term desired objectives.

5. Determine explicitly how the executive sponsor can advocate for the needs of employee recognition practices and programs.

6. Establish measurements to determine the progress of all recognition program goals and objectives and to detail their specific outcomes.

7. Determine the mutual expectations of the executive sponsor and the recognition program manager.

8. Estimate a realistic expectation of the time and effort that will be required from the executive sponsor. 

Responsibilities of an Executive Sponsor for Recognition 

Many newly called executive sponsors report having no clue what their role entails. 

Foremost, an executive sponsor ensures everyone aligns the recognition strategy and program goals with the overall organizational strategy. They will review all the documentation you have created or facilitated with others. 

A senior level sponsor knows there is a certain dollar threshold for major projects and programs to warrant an executive sponsor. Recognition and reward programs often require a budget that makes this a major project. 

The vision of a senior leader helps them to see things from the 30,000 feet level. They make sure that you align the recognition strategy and all of your recognition programs with the organizational culture. Culture drives recognition and recognition reinforces culture.

A leadership sponsor advocates and garners support from other senior leaders for all things related to employee recognition practices and programs. When they are behind doors with the executive leadership team, you can be confident they represent recognition well and defend everything you are doing. 

Not everyone understands or gets recognition. They will become the buffers in overcoming resistance to recognition initiatives from their executive leader colleagues. Each leader has their strengths and weaknesses, and your sponsor knows them well and how to work with each leader. 

An executive sponsor helps to facilitate the right conditions that will help you and your recognition programs succeed. Sometimes it is a timing issue. Maybe there are some impending changes coming that you could not expect. They will help you.

Executive sponsors can assist recognition program owners and managers by enhancing the outcomes of recognition programs and initiatives. Leaders stay up late at night, examining metrics and analyzing them. Draw on their insights on how to maximize the recognition measure to tell the right story to the executive leadership team.

Senior leaders must be able to give substantive value in their role to recognition program managers and recognition steering committees. What do they see they can contribute? How do you see they can make a difference in employee recognition projects?

Organizations should hold senior leader sponsors accountable for the recognition strategy, recognition program outcomes, and budget spend. Your job is to make your senior leader look good at the executive leadership team. Deliver whatever they have asked you to do. Provide them with the evidence of the business impact that recognition has made on the organization’s strategic initiatives. 

Benefits of Being a Leadership Sponsor of Recognition

Point out in the various ways available to you what the benefits are of being a recognition leadership sponsor. These benefits can comprise: 

  • Senior leaders can benefit from being a sponsor of employee recognition because it is such a worthwhile initiative. 
  • An executive sponsor directing employee recognition will know it is important to the organization and to the CEO. 
  • Leaders in this role know how powerful employee recognition is as a driver of performance and people strategies. 

Recognition Reflection: Do you have an executive sponsor for employee recognition where you work?

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