Why You Have To Convince Leaders About Recognition

In your role, as a leader or administrator of employee recognition programs and practices, you will often find yourself having to convince, and influence leaders, on recognition programs, budgets, and strategizing recognition.

Human resource leaders, as well as recognition professionals, have not necessarily helped the recognition cause along the way.

For too long, recognition professionals have been relegated to the position of party planners and balloon-blower-uppers, which instilled a negative perception of our role. Senior leaders often see recognition as just trinkets and trash, primarily because of the limited budgets they’ve allocated to recognition, which limits what is available for you to spend. Then there’s the persistent argument, that career milestone recognition is a waste of money because these programs don’t move performance and there’s no ROI from them.

How can you overcome these negative stereotypes? What can you do to convince your senior leaders otherwise?

Your Leaders’ Viewpoint

What keeps your senior leaders awake at night?

After surveying over 1,000 C-level executives worldwide, Developmental Dimensions International, Inc., identified the top 10 issues said to preoccupy their attention this year. From the 28 challenges presented to them, here are the top 10 list in ranked order:

  • Developing “Next Gen” leaders – 64%
  • Failure to attract/retain top talent – 60%
  • New competitors globally – 48%
  • Cyber-security – 28%
  • Slowing economic growth in emerging markets – 25%
  • Labor relations – 24%
  • Global recession – 22%
  • Income equality/disparity – 21%
  • Outdated/Insufficient national infrastructure – 20%`
  • Global political uncertainty – 18%

For most leaders, recognition never appears on their radar screen.

Recognition is Soft Stuff

Recognition has been given the image of being touchy-feeling, soft stuff, by the macho old-school leaders. It is rarely viewed as a strategic leveraging tool.

But wait! You can prove to your leaders that recognition does drive employee engagement.

That’s when, whatever keeps them awake at night – their leadership development and talent management issues, for example – can be minimized with effective recognition practices and programs.

Consider the AON’s 2018 Trends in Global Employee Engagement survey. Their results identified how rewards and recognition were consistently listed as one of the top three drivers, and opportunities for improving employee engagement. No matter where the research took them around the world – there was recognition and rewards.

Keep in mind that this survey was conducted with 1,000 global companies, across sixty plus industries, and garnered over 8 million responses.

Overall, rewards and recognition was the number one driver globally. It was number one for Africa and Asia Pacific. For Europe, it was in second place. Rewards and recognition were in third place for North America and for Latin America.

Here is the clincher for employee recognition over and above rewards.

AON reported that for the second year in a row, the Rewards & Recognition dimension is the strongest driver of engagement. However, they also identified how “recognition for contributions (beyond pay and benefits)” was the key factor in putting Rewards & Recognition to the top, with “fair pay” now only providing a supportive role.

Influencing Your Leaders for the Good of Employee Recognition

You know presenting next year’s budget for recognition is coming up. There will be plenty of other departments competing for the same pool of money. From your analysis of industry best practices, you also know that you should get peer-to-peer recognition programs in place, as an example. And, you are aware you need to strategically align recognition with the company’s business goals.

How can you best prepare yourself to convince your senior leaders?

1. Be Thinking Like Them

Learn to think like you’re a senior leader. For a variety of reasons, they are bottom-line oriented people, who have to think strategically. They always view things at the 30,000 feet level.

Meanwhile, you are more operational and at ground level, and right in the trenches. You see the day-to-day happenings and, for the most part, they do not.

When you are presenting arguments in defense of things you are wanting for employee recognition, ask yourself how will this help your leaders. Think strategically, and present your points of view in line with people goals, performance strategies, and how it will impact profits.

Don’t hide under a barrel and ignore their pain points. Acknowledge what the main issues are for the company. Put them on the table and state where you think recognition practices and programs can help.

2. Be Credible.

You need to establish your credibility in the minds of your leaders before you ever have to convince them of your desired need.

Creating credibility requires that you develop a positive relationship with as many of your executive team members as you can. Provide evidence to them, directly and indirectly, of how you and the cause of employee recognition are making a difference for the company.

Know the objectives and results you want to achieve with employee recognition.

Give them evidence of where recognition is at right now for the organization. Dive deeper into the most recent employee engagement survey. Show them where the company needs to improve and how recognition plays a role.

Always come with potential solutions to any and all problems identified.

3. Be Able to Answer Why.

Ensure you can tell your leaders a compelling reason why recognition is important and for the desired need your presenting about. Show them how when recognition is carefully aligned with the company’s strategic initiatives, it can help them reach the company’s goals.

When you give people the why, then the how becomes clearer to see, and easier to implement.

4. Be Pleasant and Professional.

Candidly, you may not always get all that you want. No matter the outcome with your leader, it is essential that you be civil with them after the fact. Sometimes their hands are tied and the decision is not individually made.

Strive to be loyal to your leader, especially in public. It does no good to speak negatively of them behind their back. Circumstances can always change. If you leave meetings positively and speak well of them in the days going forward, a reversal of a negative decision may result at a future time.

Remember, you can still be respectful to your leaders even if you receive a disagreeable outcome.

5. Be a Recognition Expert.

C-level leaders were never intended to be recognition professionals. That is why they hired you. They look to you to be the recognition expert.

This means keeping on top of the latest scientific research and industry findings. Be prepared, by being a ready resource with facts and figures, that support excellent recognition practices and program effectiveness.

I love the quote from American film producer, Jason Goldberg, where he says, “Find your one things and do that one thing better than anyone else.”

Make employee recognition your one thing and know it better than anyone else.

6. Be Articulate.

You’ve got to speak their language. If talent attraction or employee retention are significant issues for your company leaders, then show them how employee recognition can be a great leveraging tool for everyone.

See, and speak, from their perspective and not just your own viewpoint. Always be able to answer a leader’s personal “what’s in it for me”, with whatever you’re requesting of them for recognition support.

It’s understandable that you don’t want to be wrong. However, if you missed something and don’t have all your facts together, request an opportunity to return to the leadership table, and come with correct information or alternative answers.

7. Be Savvy

As unfortunate as it may seem, organizations are political in nature. You must know the political lay of the land and the who’s who in decision making.

Are there allies on the leadership team who “get it” as far as recognition is concerned? Over time, find out who understands the value of recognition and who does not. Strive to form positive relationships with those who support recognition initiatives. Perhaps, one of them can be your executive sponsor.

Know the organizational business strategy very well. Be familiar with the long-range goals and the intermediate action plans for getting there. Find out ahead of any face-to-face leadership meetings, how your leadership supporters view your ideas for recognition in driving engagement and other strategic objectives.

Be right on top of your company’s talent management needs. Look for relevant data from the employee engagement survey and other industry research. Always come with answers for how recognition can impact results and produce a solid ROI outcome.

8. Be Open-Minded.

You cannot know everything. That’s why it is important to be open-minded.

Your face-to-face meetings will be opportunities to gather new insights from your leaders. Listen carefully to their candid advice. Glean whatever information you can from them. Be observant of the verbal tone of voice and any non-verbal body language from each leadership team member.

Be receptive to receiving genuine constructive feedback from their point of view. Ask questions of the leaders present to clarify anything you are not clear on. Learn the why for their responses. This is a chance to hear their thoughts on the subject and sense their emotional reaction.

Understand that your ideas can be great on paper.  However, poor timing, other priorities taking precedence, and other factors, may all contribute to vetoing your recommendations.

Remember, a “no” does not mean never.

Convincing and influencing your C-level leaders, for decisions related to employee recognition, takes time, effort, preparation, and practice.

Recognition Reflection: How do you prepare yourself to effectively influence senior leaders about recognition plans and programming needs?

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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