What Direction Do Your Leaders Want You To Take?

You typically have leaders who either (1) “get it” as far as understanding the importance of employee recognition and who support you, or (2) those who are totally out in left-field and even become detractors of recognition.

To give a small indication of this challenge, this year’s WorldatWork Trends in Employee Recognition Survey revealed the highest responded reason for not offering employee recognition programs, with 28 percent, was “no support from senior management”.

My own research in the public sector revealed 93 percent of managers stating senior management involvement with recognition was important, while the reality was only 21 percent were ever involved with recognition programs.

In the Bersin and Associates’ “The State of Employee Recognition 2012” they found 80 percent of senior leaders believed employees were recognized at least on a monthly basis. That’s their belief.

Frontline evidence from the same report showed 40 percent of managers and only 22 percent of individual contributors reported their peers were recognized on a monthly or more frequent basis.

Yet you are expected to receive direction from senior leaders on the course of action you’re to take with employee recognition when they might not understand the positive value of employee recognition.

As a manager or owner of employee recognition what are you supposed to do?

Find Out Where They Are At       

Keep in mind that as the person responsible for employee recognition in the company, you will always be the expert and will know more than anyone else on the subject.

It is like you are on standing on step 8 of the 11 steps of a 12-foot ladder representing knowledge and experience about employee recognition. Step 1 is the beginner level and step 11 is the seasoned expert.

Personally, you probably know quite a bit about the theories and principles of motivation and recognition. You’ve managed the existing recognition programs for a few years now and are aware of their successes and the current issues with them. You’ve taken professional development programs and courses on the subject. Yet, you are also aware that there is still much more you want to learn.

1. Which Step Are They On: To understand the direction you receive about employee recognition from your manager or senior leader, you are going to have to discover which rung of the recognition ladder they are on.

You can’t pretend to have them thinking with your step 8 level capabilities if they are standing on step 3.

When a senior leader makes statements about the direction the company will be taking with recognition that you are not convinced is the right way, ask good, non-challenging, open-ended questions.

To retort with the challenging question, “Why?” will put your leader on the defensive and you in hot water.

Stephen Covey taught about seeking first to understand and said, “The root cause of almost all people problems is the basic communication problem – people do not listen with empathy.” “

A better way to question an uncertain direction is to ask, “Can you help me better understand the reason for this decision/ or direction?” You will definitely get a good explanation. The rationale given will help you appreciate the thinking of the senior leadership team. It will also provide you with insights on where you might need to improve with clearer communication and education about recognition in your future planning.

Depending on the decision you might ask, “How exactly do you see this impacting our people and the performance results the company needs?” This is a more strategic focus and may raise a discussion on how recognition can help improve business metrics.

With each question answered be prepared to give a short, relevant sound bite of information to educate and inform the leader more about recognition principles. This might actually be to support their viewpoint or simply to expand their knowledge from what you already know from your vantage point on step 8.

2. Step Down To Meet Them

In dealing with a direction you are not in full agreement with you need to understand the leaders perspective from the step of the ladder they are on.

Come down from your step 8 and try to remember what it was once like when you were on step 3. Work hard to see what your leader understands from the step 3 level they are on.

Your goal is not to laboriously push them up the ladder all the way up to level 8 right away. After all, recognition is not their only responsibility to be informed about. Rather, your job is to extend a helping hand and carefully pull them up to level 4 thinking from their step 3.

Your reporting and communication planning should then focus on successively progressing them up the recognition ladder. This will likely take much longer than it took you to climb the ladder because the leader has multiple responsibilities versus your sole area focus.

3. Steady The Ladder For Them

Certainly there will be direction, goals and initiatives directed to you that are spot on with past plans and positively supporting future strategies.

You couldn’t be happier with such direction.

However, you must never be complacent that all is well. After all, it can be quite easy for a leader to fall off the ladder rung they’re on through preoccupation on other priorities. Or what if the leader leaves and the succeeding leader isn’t on the same step as their predecessor?

This is where, good or bad, you are responsible for steadying the ladder for the leadership team.

To keep the recognition ladder secure top and bottom you must continually communicate and educate on what recognition is, the latest scientific and business research, and how recognition can help improve business results.

Consider the following ideas:

  • Hold monthly or quarterly recognition committee meetings where the leader is present or at least have a stewardship meeting with your leader.
  • Send articles and information you receive highlighting points relevant to your leader’s objectives and agenda.
  • Create a monthly email or digital bulletin providing tips for giving more effective recognition and including recognition success stories.
  • Champion at management meetings providing updates on recognition practices and usage of recognition programs.
  • In any meeting you’re asked to present on recognition come at it from the agenda or perspective of your leaders.
  • Be prepared with sound-bite messages to share with leaders informally at any occasion when you might meet them.

No matter where your leaders are at with understanding and appreciating what you do with employee recognition, they are trying to do their best with the time, money and human resources for the good of the company.

If they don’t see things the way you do, it is your responsibility to bring them up the recognition ladder to gain the same view you have from where you’re at.

Question: How have you handled direction received from leaders about recognition initiatives that you have not agreed with? 

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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