How To Lead Recognition To Greater Success In Your Company

Leaders and managers of recognition practices and programs rarely get a chance to hone their leadership skills.

And, yet, effective leadership skills are essential for raising the profile and strategic possibilities behind employee recognition.

This post will examine some specific ways you can enhance your leadership skills to maximize employee recognition in your company.

Diving a Little Deeper on Leadership

I am drawing upon the work of Dr. Gary Yukl, an Industrial and Organizational Psychologist. He’s a Professor of Management and Leadership at the State University of New York in Albany, and author of the well-known book Leadership in Organizations to help you.

He created an interesting leadership skill taxonomy that will help you get your head around the leadership behaviors and skills each of us needs to develop. Yukl did a factor analysis across much of the leadership research literature to develop this taxonomy.

Taxonomy is the scientific technique of identifying, naming and classifying, most often organisms, within the field of biology. However, creating taxonomies has also been applied to learning and other behavioral sciences for grouping or structuring traits, characteristics, and here, with leadership behaviors.

Yukl has developed and revised, a hierarchical taxonomy of leadership behaviors outlined in Effective Leadership Behavior: What We Know and What Questions Need More Attention from the December 2012 issue of Academy of Management Executive.

His hierarchical taxonomy includes 4 categories with 15 specific component behaviors.

A quick explanation of the above framework and then I will attempt to explain how these behaviors relate to employee recognition and your need to develop these specific leadership skills.

Task-oriented behaviors always have a primary objective to accomplish work in an efficient and reliable way.

Relations-oriented behaviors have as their primary objective to improve the quality of human resources and relations, often referred to as “human capital.”

Change-oriented behaviors, as the name implies, the primary objective is to increase innovation, collective learning, and adaptation to the external environment.

For External leadership, the primary objectives are to acquire necessary information and resources and to promote and defend the interests of the team or organization.

You’ll see specific behaviors aligned with each category in the right-hand column needed to achieve the primary objectives. Naturally, each of these behaviors is only relevant according to the situation at hand.

Take a look at their implications for recognition leadership and management.

It’s not an all or nothing with using these behaviors. Rather, it is perhaps best to ask qualitatively, how well am I doing with each of these behaviors?

Leading Recognition Effectively In Your Organization

Task-Oriented Leadership Behaviors

Most of the management and leadership behaviors needed for dealing with recognition programs on a daily basis are very Task-Oriented.

1. Clarifying: Leaders use clarifying behaviors when they explain the purpose of each of their recognition programs and principles clearly enough to others and set expectations and standards for people with using the programs.

It has been shown that setting realistic yet challenging goals improves performance with recognition programs. When people are expected to give recognition and held accountable for doing so – recognition happens!

2. Planning: This is the project management, decision-making, activity planning and assigning people tasks to make sure formal recognition is on schedule and that informal recognition programs are operating well.

The more planning on recognition strategy and implementation of program needs performed the easier your job will be.

3. Monitoring Operations: Assigning and delegating to people always requires follow up and monitoring of tasks assigned. Information and feedback received to give you ways to know if changes are needed or designing of systems are required to review performance.

Skills with monitoring recognition program effectiveness and leading recognition practices all result in improved leadership effectiveness.

4. Problem Solving: Wherever online systems and people are involved there will always be problems. You must be able to quickly analyze and identify the cause and provide confident direction on how to deal with each problem.

Some problems are more operational and can be quickly responded to. Other more systemic problems will require input from other leaders and longer-term planning and resolution methods.

Relation-Oriented Leadership Behaviors

After dealing with the day-to-day system operations and tasks required you are next most likely to be dealing with people at a Relation-Oriented level.

1. Supporting: Hopefully, you have at least one person working with you. If not, or in addition to, you will always be dealing with various departments such as IT, Finance, Communications, Learning and Development, etc. to keep employee recognition programs function.

You always need to be building positive relationships, helping people when there are problems with the programs, listening to employees’ concerns when there’s a lack of recognition happening, and encouraging other leaders to be recognition giving examples.

2. Developing: While typically associated with developing a subordinate, the lone recognition practitioner is more likely to be developing managers and leaders through communications and instructional content on improving recognition giving skills.

This leadership behavioral skillset is very important with onboarding of new managers and staff where you have a greater chance of making an impact.

3. Recognizing: It makes sense that recognition would be a behavior in your leadership toolkit. You must personally strive to be an exemplary role model of praise and recognition giving. You are always on the lookout for positive behaviors and contributions that merit being recognized.

You’re likely responsible for organizing award and recognition ceremonies. This leadership behavior is one you must continually be teaching to leaders who make award presentations and to managers who should be valuing their employees on a regular basis.

4. Empowering: You can delegate and give autonomy to others when you have other staff supporting you. But for the most part, you will likely be empowering others when you solicit and apply people’s ideas and suggestions for improving your recognition programs.

You will always benefit by empowering other’s involvement in recognition planning with better quality decisions, job satisfaction and more frequent and better recognition.

Change-Oriented Leadership Behaviors

Following getting the tasks in order and flowing well and managing the people side of things, you will always be dealing with change and the need to evolve recognition practices and your programs.

1. Advocating Change: You have to be constantly aware and supportive of making changes to everything around your recognition programs. Programs need to evolve and never be a static system. Be vigilant to all threats and opportunities and strive to anticipate industry trends and reported needs to prepare for.

You will have to be able to influence others to understand the need for the changes you recommend without causing distress.

2. Envisioning Change: This is where your leadership skills require you to confidently communicate and build commitment to a vision and recognition strategy that aligns with the organizational culture and helps to achieve the business strategy and goals.

Make the vision you have for employee recognition appealing to all leaders by crafting stories, branded imagery and slogans, and how it can assist them in achieving their business metrics.

3. Encouraging Innovation: Often forgotten within the change orientation is the need for research and development and stimulating innovative thinking for recognition practices and programs. Even if you are not creative yourself be open to diverse and inclusive input from others within the organization to contribute their ideas and suggestions.

Draw upon focus groups, feedback surveys and online collaboration tools to develop new resources, procedures and delivery vehicles for more meaningful recognition.

4. Facilitating Collective Learning: To improve employee recognition in your company it can be as simple as facilitating quality improvement activities around current recognition strategies and procedures. Or you can look at exploring new recognition initiatives through experimental pilot projects in certain departments.

You must be open to learning from trial and error around projects and ideas and work hard to not generalize or misinterpret evidence. You can learn from both successes and failures

External Leadership Behaviors

Finally, there will always be external vendors, subject matter experts, and the need to seek out recognition related research, associate with professional and trade associations, and discovering corporate best practices.

1. Networking: This essential leadership skill will be very important if you are the sole owner of recognition in your organization. You need to become good at building positive relationships with peers, superiors, and external subject matter experts who can provide information, resources, and support.

Become a member of Recognition Professionals International and other related professional and/or trade associations to benchmark and attend their conferences and learning sessions.

2. External Monitoring: By being involved with professional associations and industry reports and publications related to employee recognition you’ll be able to gauge how your organization is doing with recognition best practices. Periodically conduct a scan of the academic literature on recognition, incentives, behavioral economics, and rewards, to gain a different perspective.

The importance of external monitoring of employee recognition programs and practices will always depend on how much importance your executive team place in the value of recognition.

3. Representing: As the manager of employee recognition at your company you will be the voice and face for recognition. Besides being the ambassador for recognition you will need to be skilled in lobbying for the resources and assistance for an area often known for being cut. And you will also be on the frontlines when negotiating agreements with vendors and other recognition related suppliers.

Your role is to defend and promote the cause of recognition and the right of employees to feel valued and appreciated for their contributions.


If you haven’t thought of these leadership areas before, they may well help you in more clearly defining what your role description should cover.

I hope this post provides you a strengths-based approach for looking at your important role. Look at what you are doing versus what you’re not doing.

Decide how you will take on one more leadership behavior you don’t currently use. Think how you can qualitatively improve any of these leadership behaviors you are already doing.

Become the best leader you can for employee recognition where you work.

Reflective Question: How have you seen your personal leadership behaviors improve your role as a recognition manager or practitioner?

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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