When Recognition and Rewards Are Not Top of Mind

How do you get leaders to be more aware of the importance of recognition and rewards? 

Too often, recognition and rewards and the programs you have in place are not top of mind for many people. And when employees themselves are not on board with recognizing others, you know you’ve got a problem. 

What does it take to raise the importance and value of recognition and rewards? 


While recognition should not be the sole responsibility of your leaders, it is still leadership that sets the tone and example for the entire organization. 

Some leaders are far more administrative in their actions and not personally connected with employees. They must learn to be leaders. Visionary and inspiring. Otherwise, this apathy can cause senior leaders not being exemplary with recognition.

I can see this in leaders not approving award/reward nominations right away, or not at all, when an employee wants to reward another employee that requires approval. Poor leadership happens when leaders do not start recognition comments or recognition experiences and practices in their daily lives. 

Leaders must become the face of recognition. 

Have a candid conversation with the leaders you report to on the knowing—doing gap that can occur with interpersonal skills like giving recognition. Find out their familiarity and comfort with using the online recognition and reward programs you have. Pull off a report with their annual usage and see how well they use the programs. 

Now create a recognition and reward plan and facilitate some goal setting of various practices and actions they plan on doing on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. Provide them with whatever coaching, resources, and education they need. 


Your organizational culture will drive recognition practices and recognition will reinforce your culture, values, and beliefs.  

You can sum culture up as the way you do things in your organization. So, how is recognition done in your organization? Is it done well or poorly? Too often I’ve seen where only a third of employees say they feel recognized on a weekly basis for the work they do.

It’s fascinating when you look at the organizational culture and start asking employees in the hallway if they know the values of the organization. I have repeatedly found when values are short and succinct, and integrated into planning and decision-making, a majority of employees can tell you most of the values when stopped in the hallway and asked.

People recognize one another for living the organizational values and they share stories of exceptional actions of employees in all team or staff meetings.

Review your organizational culture from the explicitly stated mission, vision, and values. Compare that with the hidden culture and reality of how people live the culture. Does the organization need to revise the values or other elements? Is there a need to conduct focus groups to find out what collectively everyone needs to continue, stop, and start doing, to make the culture vibrant and living? 


I’m always amazed by the WorldatWork survey finding that shows for 2019 how only 49 percent of organizations they surveyed have a written recognition strategy. They also found that 97 percent of those organizations align their written recognition strategy with their business strategy. That’s the clincher and something all of us should strive for.

You need a written recognition strategy to keep both recognition and rewards top of mind.

When recognition and rewards are not top of mind, you’ll see it manifest with leaders not seeing the connection of recognition and rewards as an important driver of engagement, performance, and retention.

Dig into your human resources or people strategies and see how they include and mention recognition and rewards, if at all. Advocate with your leaders to highlight the strategic strength of recognition and rewards driving results.  

Consider conducting a pilot testing to correlate usage of the various non-monetary and monetary, or near-cash, recognition and reward programs, with key performance metrics such as employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and productivity measures.  


If recognition and rewards are not happening the way they should in an organization, I will investigate what the expectations have been for giving recognition and rewards.

This is where you expect your leaders to set the example for recognizing all staff at all levels of the organization. It’s when leaders get out of their offices and connect with employees personally that recognition happens. The leading indicator of more recognition happening is the number of interactions a person has with their direct reports. 

I have seen exemplary leaders connect with employees in the cafeteria, hold group sessions with staff to hear how the organization could improve, and their full presence and participation is always at all award and celebration events. 

Leaders of organizations must set the expectation for all their direct report leaders to follow their example and consistently recognize their staff and reward high performance. 

Assist your leaders with the specific goals and objectives, the wording they may have to use, as they communicate the expectation with their direct reports for recognizing and rewarding staff. 


Here’s a big breakdown cause for recognition and rewards not being top of mind.  A lack of accountability.

If you never bring recognition and rewards up in your one-on-one’s or leadership team meetings nothing will happen, and nothing will change. 

Roger Connors, co-founder and former CEO of Partners In Leadership says, “When properly approached, accountability can really be the low-hanging fruit for optimizing organizational performance and accelerating organizational change efforts.” 

Let the drill down reports of your recognition and reward programs become an important tool to use with performance management of your leaders. Use the engagement surveys to draw on employee perceptions of their leader, whether employees feel valued and appreciated by their leaders.

Accountability must also mean giving positive feedback and reinforcement of exemplary recognition given by leaders and the positive impact made when they gave rewards appropriately and with communicating their appreciation for the work done well. 


Lives are getting busier in the workplace and recognition and rewards are not the only thing to address on the job.  

When we get overwhelmed with work tasks and people concerns, it’s easy to overlook recognition practices and consistently use your recognition and reward programs. This is especially the case when recognition and rewards is invisible with no wall-space to see your programs on a day-to-day basis. 

Use communication planning to correct this and make recognition and rewards not only visible but front and centre, too. Ensure you have visibility on the front page of your intranet site with captivating graphics and branding leading to your programs. 

Create a recognition communication calendar to highlight and take people with links to interesting and helpful articles, videos, and other educational resources. Having a calendar allows you to repeat reminders to submit award nominations, to stop and say something when someone helps another or does something amazing, and to invite people to use your social and performance recognition and reward programs.

These and many other ideas and methods will help put recognition and rewards at the forefront for leaders and employees alike. 

Recognition Reflection: What does your organization routinely do to keep recognition and reward programs top of mind?

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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