The Most Important Thing You Need To Make Recognition Happen

Most recognition strategies and plans for recognition depend on moving the bar on whatever metrics you have for program usage and employee perception of recognition. 

The gap analysis of where your recognition status is today and where you want it to be tomorrow relies on the program metrics you have. The challenging part about program usage metrics is that they are all lagging indicator measures.  

Lagging indicators do just that, they lag behind on indicating whether you achieved the results you wanted. By the time you get the output measures on a program, it’s hard to do anything about them that will make a future change.

Is there anything you can really do that can change this? Is there one important thing you can do that will make recognition happen?

 The Most Important Thing You Can Do

Lagging indicators are outcome measures, and when looking at recognition programs the typical outcome measures you will look at comprise: 

  • The number of award nominations submitted
  • Number of points of specific values given to employees 
  • Number of specific recognition e-cards sent to employees.
  • Number of employees who have not been recognized at all.
  • Number of recognition comments made and likes on the social newsfeed.

Whether these numbers are pulled and analyzed on a monthly or quarterly basis it is pretty tough to make changes to them. 

Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, authors of the book The Balance Scorecard, coined the term lagging indicators. They also developed the term leading indicator. A leading indicator, in contrast to a lagging indicator, looks at future outcomes and events.

Leading indicators are input generated and thereby impact performance. They are much harder to measure than lagging indicators but are easier to influence because they are totally in your control.

And control is what you need to make recognition happen. Which makes leading indicators the most important thing for you to get a handle of. 

What’s A Leading Indicator of Recognition?

Before we dive into potential recognition leading indicators, let’s use a concrete example you’re all familiar with, like weight loss for example.

Every time you step on a scale to check on your weight, the digital output or movement of the hand on the scale is a lagging indicator. The output is your current weight in pounds or kilograms and there nothing you can do to change that measure. 

However, with weight loss there are two leading indicators to use that you can influence. One measure is calorie intake. The second measure is calories burned off. Ways to influence these two factors may seem hard to measure, but apps exist that can approximate calorie amounts of what you eat and tally them up. Other apps can count calories burned off through healthy exercise.

By measuring and controlling calorie intake and output, you can monitor and manage your desired weight.

So, what is the leading indicator of a recognition experience?  

Stacy Barr, consultant and author of the books Prove It and Practical Performance Management, suggests three ways to find lead indicators. 

1.    Check the research for known explanatory factors.

2.    Check your business processes for new potential explanatory factors.

3.    Choose the strongest of your potential lead indicators. 

You might come up with lead indicators like,

  • Frequency of employee contacts.
  • Speed of resolving employee concerns.
  • Personal conversations with direct reports, etc. 

She then suggests gathering data for each of these potential lead indicators and for the lagging recognition measures and start platting the relationship between them. For example, you could track the time between hearing or receiving a report of an employee concern and the time to resolve against recognition levels on employee engagement surveys or pulse perceptions scores of employee recognition. 

What specific activities or behaviors occur prior to giving someone recognition? This will help you determine leading indicators of recognition that you can influence. 

For me, a great leading indicator of recognition is the number of interactions a person has with another individual. The more times you interact with an employee, whether in person or virtually, by email or phone call, you will hear about their work experiences, the contributions they’ve, achievements they’re excited about, their positive attributes, and actions. This knowledge gleaned from these regular interactions becomes the source for what to recognize them for. The more interactions, the more recognition will probably happen.

Using the number of interactions with people as a leading indicator gives you something you can plan for. It is in your control. You set your own target for how many interactions you plan to have with your staff on a daily or weekly basis.  Each manager can set their personal goals. Eventually, you may set a minimum standard for a specific number of interactions.  

You will correlate this lead indicator of the number of personal interactions with staff against employee perceptions of recognition, usage of sending e-cards or comments on the social newsfeed, and other lagging indicators. 

Your goal is to get more people sincerely recognizing one another more often. Whatever industry you are in or your work environment, may affect proximity of your employees. You may generate different or more than one lead indicator. 

  • Keep in mind that lead indicators are: 
  • Metrics looking at the future and not the past.
  • An event or activity that is still to happen.
  • Events or activities that are in your full control or influence.
  • Something anyone can do it and they are relatively easy to do. 
  • Easy to explain to others.
  • More meaningful and effective. 

Look at what happens in your organization. The most important thing you need to make recognition happen is finding the lead indicators that work best for your people. Recognition happens regularly and consistently when you lead with positive action. 

Recognition Reflection: Have you stopped to examine potential lead indicators of recognition rather than always relying on lagging indicators?

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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