How To Use Leading Indicators to Boost Usage of Your Recognition Programs

Recognition program metrics are old news by the time you get them.

And that “old news” element makes these numbers from the past called lagging indicators. They are a lagging indicator because we observe these measures after, or lagging after, any change has occurred. 

These lagging indicators create a conflict for you as the recognition program owner. Outcome measures from your programs are easy to measure. But you can’t do much to change them once you get them. 

My recommendation is to supercharge your programs by using leading indicators as well. 

The Difference Between Lagging and Leading Indicators 

Let’s quickly review the differences between lagging and leading indicators. Lagging indicators help you look back and see if you achieved your goals, while a leading indicator looks forward at the future outcomes and events. A lagging indicator is an outcome measure, whereas a leading indicator is a performance driver. 

A great way to understand lagging and leading indicators is to put yourself in the driver’s seat of a car. 

When you look ahead out the front windshield, you’re seeing the big picture of what is coming. I would consider it the leading indicator of your destination. It is hard to measure how far ahead various points are. However, you are in full control of what is coming up ahead of you. It allows you to steer around obstacles while staying on track. Leading indicators drive performance and drive the car.

Meanwhile, you also have a rearview mirror to look into. You are supposed to glance in these mirrors every 5 to 8 seconds. It gives you the view of the road left behind and you can check them when braking or slowing down. You pass cars and signs along the way. This is your past and there is nothing you can do to change it.

The best way to manage your recognition program performance is by combining lagging indicators with leading indicators. This is just like driving where you are looking ahead, the leading indicator, and always checking what’s behind you, the lagging indicators. 

Using Leading Indicators with Lagging Indicators

The challenge with these is that lagging indicators are easy to measure but hard to improve upon or influence.

Your recognition programs outputs tell you how many people have sent and received recognition related e-cards and who and how many employees have not received e-cards. Reports show how many people sent nominations for employees to receive rewards for achieving specific outcomes or achievements. These are interesting results.  However, there is not much you can do to change things.

Take the example of employees completing a specific security course online. They receive a certificate of completion. And the percentage of employees completing the course would be the lagging indicator. You can easily measure the outcome, but you can’t change things once the data is collected.

Let’s see what we can do to create a leading indicator. It might be harder to measure, but we can have greater control over our success. You can establish an average number of training hours for each employee. Now encourage staff to set their own preferred amount of time each day to complete the security course.

Every employee will have different times from one another, and it will be a percentage of the total training hours set. This number may not be as precise, but it allows you to hold people accountable to their own goals and influence all employees to take the training.

Combined, lagging and leading indicators can help you move the dial on performance.

Leading Indicators of Recognition 

You want all employees to recognize their peers more frequently using your online recognition program. Ask each employee to set a metric for something they will do to influence recognition giving. Their work, along with proximity to their peers, will create very different and individual measures. 

A recognition leading indicator must be: 

  • A future looking metric.
  • A future event or activity.
  • Something you can control or influence.
  • Something achievable and relatively easy to do. 
  • Easy to communicate to people.
  • Meaningful and useful to do. 

Here is one future looking metric. A leading indicator for giving recognition for you to consider is the number of interactions you have with your work colleagues or employees. Everyone can control those encounters and become more aware and open to listening for, and observing, the positive things people do that merits recognition. The more interactions you have with employees, the more knowledge you will have of what to recognize.

For example, a director meets with their managers once a week. They can request that managers come with reports of outstanding achievements and results from each manager’s employees. The director has set a leading indicator to gain reports each week of employees who have done great work well. Now, the director can go on the recognition programs and send a congratulatory message saying how they heard of their performance or positive behaviors from the employee’s manager. 

So, here we have the number of personal interactions with staff and the number of positive reports gleaned from managers. These are two leading indicators that will yield more recognition and better use of your programs.

Still use the lagging indicators for comparison and root cause analysis. This is after the fact and hard to change. Use the leading indicators to induce positive change in real time. This is forward thinking and something in your control. 

Recognition Reflection: Are you using leading indicators to influence giving more frequent recognition?

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