What Do Leaders Have To Do With Recognition Programs?

I conducted research a few years back on employee recognition across the public sector in North America, for both the U.S. and Canada. This Survey Findings of the Effectiveness of Employee Recognition in the Public Sector revealed some interesting insights on the role leaders have with recognition programs.

Nothing drives cultural practices better than exemplary leadership from the top. Managers who responded to the survey said that 93 percent of them reported senior leader involvement in recognition programs was very or extremely important. The large majority, or 75 percent, said they were extremely important.

As to the actual involvement of senior leaders, only 21 percent were very involved, with another 53 percent being somewhat involved. 

One could surmise leaders play an important role in recognition programs. Yet, what exactly can they do that makes such a tremendous difference? 

  1. Set the expectations for why others should use the programs. 

Too many organizational leaders have not set any expectations at all to recognize their people. Even when they have recognition programs in place, their leaders don’t even use these recognition programs.  

Enlist your leaders to promote and encourage the recognition strategy of your organization. You can help them understand how recognition programs strengthen people strategies and drive business results. 

2. Become exemplary users of the recognition programs. 

Outstanding leaders are usually highly regarded because of the way they model positive behaviors. With recognition they are usually role models and. They go online and use the recognition programs to acknowledge and praise staff for things communicated to them by their direct reports. 

You’ll find they schedule in time to visit top performing departments and teams to commend them for their work. They block out time to handwrite thank you cards and notes to staff who are going above and beyond. 

Their presence at award events is more than just showing up. They know employees and express appreciation for their work and contributions. Influential leaders value their people, and these employees value their leaders.  

3. Provide ongoing feedback on the functionality of programs

Your leaders may have raised the bar and set the expectation to give better recognition more frequently. But it doesn’t end there.  

You want at least one member of your executive leadership team to give you feedback on the organization’s recognition programs. They will often hear concerns from other leaders and managers first. Request they give you these comments to address.

Leaders can also give their strategic concerns for the organization. Perhaps there is a way that they can leverage recognition programs to achieve certain strategic initiatives. 

4. Hold people accountable for using the programs properly.

Nothing changes without accountability. 

And nothing progresses, either, if you are not responsible to give an account for your stewardship.  

Leaders are busy people, and recognition is not their sole responsibility. Leaders should have the opportunity on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to meet with recognition program managers. They can learn how programs are being used; where improvements might be needed; and learn the plans made to address concerns and quality improvement. 

In addition, they have direct reports with whom they meet. In these one-on-one meetings, they can talk candidly about their staff and how well they are recognizing them. This gives them a chance to review recognition program usage, and the goals required to improve recognition.

5. Endorse the resources for reinforcing recognition programs. 

It’s your leaders that approve and sign off on your budget allocation for recognition programs. 

Whether funding for new programs or enhancing existing ones, or staff resources to administer the programs, leaders who understand what it takes to run recognition programs, will be on top of the costs and resources needed. 

Sometimes monies are needed in communications or learning and development to help promote, educate, and support use of your recognition programs. 

6. Support the education and training needed to better use the programs. 

Recognition programs, like any other tool in the toolbox, are only as good as your ability to use them properly. 

This necessitates education on recognition giving principles. You need to know why recognition is important, how to give it the right way, and understand its impact on people and performance. 

Likewise, tutorials, guidance, and training are required to know how to use each of your different online recognition programs. People need to know how to apply recognition principles with using recognition programs. 

Having a leader who supports the need for recognition education and training is essential. You may have internal resources to draw upon or you many need to enlist the help of external contractors to help you.

7. Set the consequences for people who do, and do not, use the programs.

Leaders are the ones in position to go beyond feedback and hold people accountable for recognition giving.

Employee recognition must become a part of your performance management process. Your recognition programs also produce usage and analytic reports. These tools enable leaders to drill down on manager performance and their recognition abilities.

As with any performance review, there are consequences for recognizing well and when recognition does not happen as expected. 

When managers have a hard time recognizing employees, it might require them to do a learning and development plan to improve. Others might benefit from mentoring from a more proficient peer. Some could require a short period of coaching. 

Those competent with recognition giving and program usage could receive the opportunity to sit on the recognition strategy committee. You might place a manager in the emerging leader program when recognition proficiency is coupled with other positive growth signs.

From my research in the public sector, managers want senior leaders to be involved with recognition programs. Managers in the private sector also want leaders to be a strong contributing factor to employee recognition success. The actual degree of participation of senior leaders with recognition programs remains low and needs a lot of your attention.

Recognition Reflection: How involved are your leaders in participating in, and strategically directing, your recognition programs?

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