Whenever I visit an organization that has senior executives who are exemplary recognizers, it’s a whole different ball game. Leaders who know and understand the importance of recognition really drive the rest of the organization in making recognition happen.
Typically, these leaders have set an expectation that giving good recognition is part of the way their organization does things. They are visionary leaders who lead their organizational culture and acknowledge people who live the values. They are purpose driven. These leaders are present at as many recognition and award events as they possibly can. And if they cannot attend, they will assign another top recognizing leader.
Leaders who are on board with recognition see it as the right thing to do for their people. They have also seen the benefit that comes to the organization when you treat your people with respect and value them and their contributions.
Looking at their recognition strategy (note, they have one) you will find their C-suite leaders endorse it fully in word and deed. And that includes budgetary support, leadership actions and reinforcing management accountability on all strategic recognition initiatives through performance management and feedback.
See if your leaders demonstrate any of the following attributes as recognition leaders.
1. Committed Recognition Leaders
I interviewed Peter Aceto, the former President and CEO of ING Direct (which became Tangerine Bank), a while back. It was very clear during the interview that he spent a lot of time creating relationships with people all around the organization. I thought I would ask him what percentage of time in a day he spent creating relationships with employees and getting to know them better.
Here’s what Peter shared with me, “I would say it is probably slightly more than 50% of my day. I spend maybe 30% of my day doing stuff that’s totally let’s say ‘anti-social’, like reading memos, writing things, reading presentations. But pretty much every other interaction, other than that, even if it is for a very specific business purpose, to me is relationship building.”
A concept I share with my clients is not to seek their senior leader’s buy-in for their recognition programs. Instead, seek their personal commitment.
Buy-in is so transactional and externally driven through available cash flow and budgets of the organization. Personal commitment, in contrast, is an emotional investment of the individual, independent of the organization. That’s what you should seek in a leader.
2. Individual Recognition Practices
Those who have read my books and articles know that I have some favorite CEOs I have admired for their recognition practices.
One example is the former CEO of Campbell’s Soup, Doug Conant. In describing the recognition practice he committed to doing, he said, “You have to stay connected with your people. I have an assistant scan—and I scan—the organization to highlight individual and team projects. I spend a half-an-hour and personally handwrite 10 notes a day. I also write notes once a month for our 25, 30, 35+ years’ service anniversary employees. It just takes discipline. It’s amazing what you can do”.
“It’s all about the degree to which you can make it personal. I made time to write 10 notes a day to connect with people. We figure over 10 years at Campbell’s I have written 30,000 notes and we only have 20,000 employees. You can go almost anywhere in the world and you will find a cubicle with one of my notes posted. I think that validates the strategy– paying attention to people, telling them they are important, and caring enough to say ‘thank you.’”
3. Understand Recognition’s Impact
Leaders who “get it”, keep on top of the latest research findings validating the impact and ROI that recognition done well can have on a business. You don’t have to keep going back with statistics and research. Besides the academic findings they have witnessed for themselves the difference that kind and acknowledging words can have in someone’s life.
Psychologists at Psychometrics Canada Ltd. surveyed employees and asked them, “What could leaders do more of to improve engagement?” The choices employees could choose from were:
· Listen to an employee’s opinions.
· Communicate clear expectations.
· Give recognition and praise.
· Provide learning and development opportunities.
· Help find solutions to problems.
· Defend direct reports.
In third place, in descending order as you see above, 58% of employees responded with “give recognition and praise” (Psychometrics Canada Ltd., A Study of Employee Engagement in the Canadian Workplace, 2010)
And in the classic paper, Motivating People: Getting beyond money, written by researchers at McKinsey and Company, they found that praise and commendation from managers was ratedthe top motivator for performance, beating out other noncash and financial incentives, by a majority of workers (67%).
Exemplary leaders already know the impact of recognition and they don’t need reminding.
4. Exemplary Program Users
A CEO of a major Canadian bank provides a great example of using their online social recognition program. A social recognition program provides a newsfeed of employees’ commendations, recognition, and praise for great work done and help given to one another.
One employee shared a story of a lunchtime experience witnessing a youth customer using their bank’s debit card at a fast-food restaurant. You could expect a few of this employee’s peers liking and maybe commenting on the individual’s post. But imagine the reaction when the CEO came on and thanked the employee for what he did for the customer.
It takes time to scan social media posts. And whether it was an assistant who found it the CEO was the one who made time to add their personal comment.
My own CEO, Peter Hart, faithfully goes on to our social recognition program every day. He sends out birthday greeting e-cards with a personalized message to employees and he sends out e-cards acknowledging length of service milestones with an added message of how they have made a difference to our company. His actions put a smile on may of our employees’ face.
You’ll see the actions of your great leaders who submit award nominations through your programs. They shout out accolades to those who have completed projects with e-cards and social recognition posts. These leaders are not only present at award ceremonies but they know what the employee did and how it made a difference to merit the recipient receiving the award.
For leaders who get excited about recognition it is all about celebrating employees’ progress and recognizing their accomplishments. Hopefully, you have some of these leaders in your midst.
Recognition Reflection: How have the leaders who are excited about recognition where you work affected everyone else in your organization?
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.