It doesn’t happen very often. But every once in a while, you find an exceptional leader who changes the course of employee recognition in an organization.
Their example and positive actions influence and affect recognition practices by those around them and the usage of recognition programs by everyone. This influence is powerful and important in changing the way recognition plays out in an organization.
Here are some specific examples and some observations from others.
Research Findings From the Field
Always keep in mind that leadership example from the top drives culture and leadership practices throughout the organization. Managers and employees repeatedly share with us the significant impact that modeled behaviors, along with firm support from senior leaders, have on making recognition giving part of the organizational culture.
According to Gallup Group, 24 percent of employees state the most memorable recognition they’ve received comes from their CEO or a senior leader.
However, in the Survey Findings of the Effectiveness of Employee Recognition in the Public Sector that I conducted, we found 75 percent of managers stated that senior leader involvement was very important to them. But only 21 percent of managers reported their senior leaders were very involved in their recognition programs.
Real-World Examples from Different Industries
I interviewed Douglas R. Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup Co., about engagement and leadership.
Conant reported using a continuous-improvement approach to help achieve amazing things with engagement. Halfway through his tenure, Conant started walking around the Campbell campus almost every day for 30-minutes visiting with employees to get firsthand feedback on the progress that day. Conant described this approach as incredibly helpful and highly recommended it to all his executives.
Doug Conant had a personal recognition practice that was exceptional. With the help of his assistant, they scanned the organization and solicited input to find individuals and teams that were making a difference.
For about 30-minutes each day, he handwrote 10 to 20 notes to those people and teams. Besides this, he also wrote notes once a month to the company’s 25-, 30-, and 35-year plus service-anniversary employees. He disciplined himself to do this, and the practice was powerful in its impact.
Over his 10-year tenure, Conant wrote over 30,000 notes. You could go almost anywhere in the world and find a Campbell office cubicle with one of his notes posted. The notes validated the corporate strategies and told people leaders were paying attention to them and cared enough to say thanks. This helped develop an entire culture of celebrating people’s contributions.
These notes were never “just because” and always acknowledged the important contributions within the company.
Then there’s Peter R. Aceto, the former President and Chief Executive Officer of Tangerine Bank, in Canada.
I knew Peter spent a lot of time creating relationships with people throughout the organization. I asked him how much time he spent doing this.
He estimated slightly over 50% of his day. He spent 30% of his day doing things like reading emails and memos, writing up things, and reading presentations, etc. Everything else, even for specific business needs, he considered relationship building.
Aceto describes relationship building as something he loves doing. It is easy work for him. He described it as a very important investment even on the days when you wake up and you don’t feel like behaving that way because you are human. He told that even on the bad days; it needs to be done, anyway.
As for the power of recognition, Aceto leads by example. He too wrote personal letters and notes to people which he felt were worth the time, especially because of the reaction you get, which was always over the top. He also sent emails stating how he had heard an individual had done this or that, or got something done on time. Aceto reflects that it’s easy to give recognition.
From an employee engagement focus, he shared how when people do not feel appreciated or are not being thanked enough, the lack of recognition is always in the top three things that show up on surveys. And it has to be the easiest thing to fix. It’s easy to give the type of recognition that people really want. It is not about money or material things. People just want to feel like for all the effort they gave you, that you noticed, and you appreciate it. Not a lot is required to move the recognition level and make people feel appreciated.
Recognition was and continues to be very important to Aceto. He made sure leaders who didn’t think they had time for it realized they were responsible and accountable. They always measured recognition to make sure everyone kept their eye on the ball.
I learned a lot about purpose, self-discipline, and commitment towards recognition from these leaders.
1. Leaders should care about people and know that by engaging them fully and recognizing them appropriately that the business results will always follow.
2. Amazing senior leaders discipline themselves to invest their time and energies on building positive relationships so that their recognition is valued.
3. They make it their business to expect the same actions from other executive leaders and their direct reports and are prepared to hold them accountable.
Recognition Reflection: What recognition practices do your senior leaders carry out that set a positive example for others?
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