What It Means To Be An Executive Sponsor of Recognition

If you want to get recognition strategically connected to your organization’s business plan, then you are going to need an executive sponsor. Having an executive sponsor is your key to getting recognition on the senior leadership table and raising the profile and impact of employee recognition throughout the organization. 

But what exactly does an Executive Sponsor do? 

Learn about their role, and how they can help you give the boost you need for employee recognition. 

What is an Executive Sponsor?

An executive sponsor is a senior leader who will often chair your recognition steering committee as often as they are practically available. They act as the project sponsor for recognition and reward programs on the senior leadership team of your organization. They are ultimately responsible for the business success of the project or program. 

Benefits of an Executive Sponsor 

When you can create a recognition steering committee because of the size of your organization and availability of staff to take part, it is probably a good idea to seek an Executive Sponsor.

You might revisit recognition because of poor scores on recognition related questions on your recent engagement survey. Or feedback from employee focus groups puts recognition on your radar because of a lack of recognition. You have formed a recognition steering committee and even have some candidates from the emerging leadership program participating. 

An Executive Sponsor is exactly what you need to set the stage at the initial meeting where you lay out the project and goals. They can set the vision and tone you need to launch the project or recognition initiative and get everyone excited to be a part of recognition. Imagine being invited to join your recognition steering committee by a senior leader.

They can give you the right business angle to take with all you present. Together you can show them how recognition can support reinforcing the achieving of various strategic objectives. Executive Sponsors will keep you aligned with the business strategy and plans on the horizon.

Having seen many projects presented at the C-suite, they can guide you in defining what success or failure looks like. They’ll steer you in determining the objectives and key results you need to reach your desired outcomes.

An Executive Sponsor provides visibility for the cause of employee recognition at senior leadership meetings. They can get you the resources you need, keep you apprised of strategic direction, and provide you with insights on what other senior leaders think about recognition and how to communicate with them.

Speaking of communication, an Executive Sponsor can be the face and voice of recognition when changes are being made. They can defend program changes and support alternative ways of doing things. As a positive example in using recognition programs the right way, they can encourage other leaders to be engaged. They are a real asset in removing barriers and connecting the dots on the impact and benefits of recognition.

They become your cheerleader in leadership and management forum meetings for the cause of recognition. They can build support for what you want to achieve and tell you who to network with because they have already spoken to them first to pave the way for you. 

Responsibilities of the Executive Sponsor

As the project manager or program owner of recognition, you need to share what you expect for the Executive Sponsor, and together negotiate what they feel they can or cannot do.

They will need to know what time commitment you think you need from them. They cannot pretend to attend all meetings, so expect infrequent attendance. In the meantime, how will you communicate with them, so they know all that is going on? Set standards on the frequency and type of reporting they expect from you on recognition programs, their success and failures, and employee perceptions of recognition.

Find out how they want you to handle problems when they come up. And at what point do they want you to escalate concerns to their attention? Remember, your role is to execute the plans of the project and an Executive Sponsor’s role is to govern and provide leadership.

Finding an Executive Sponsor

Hopefully, the senior leader your director reports to will be the ideal person for you and your director to meet with to find out their availability to act in a sponsorship role. If you have open rapport with this leader, they may even recommend an ideal leader if they don’t think they are the best fit.

If you need a more positive advocate, rely upon grapevine connections and find out who understands recognition well and is an exemplary giver of recognition already. Find a senior leader who has strong people skills, is passionate about employee experience, and talent management. Look for a leader passionate about employee recognition.

Before starting a new recognition initiative or considering a Request for Proposal for a vendor run online program, meet with the prospective sponsor. Review with them your vision and goals for recognition and come to an understanding of expectations, if they agreed to become the Executive Sponsor. What kind of senior-level support do you need? How could they help you refine the program or project objectives? What achievement milestones are realistic?

Realistically evaluate the time commitment required together and mediate how much they can take on. Senior leaders will have more than just one project to sponsor. What kind of review meetings do they want, and how often would they expect them from you? Do you sense their personal commitment in supporting you with this recognition project?

In a recognition study I conducted several years ago in the public sector, 93 percent of all managers said that senior leader involvement in recognition programs was very or extremely important. But only 21 percent reported senior leaders were very involved in recognition programs.

Having an Executive Sponsor will help turn similar patterns around in your organization.  

Go find yourself an Executive Sponsor if you don’t have one already. 

Recognition Reflection: Is there a senior leader who will act as a champion of employee recognition in your organization?

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