When Recognition is Not Top of Mind
Posted by Roy Saunderson on Fri, Jul 24, 2020 @ 08:13 PM

Too often, recognition and rewards 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?


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 to be 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 recognize and 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 leaders on the topic. Find out their familiarity and comfort with using your internal recognition program(s). Pull off a report with their annual usage and see how well they interact with the program(s). 

Now create a plan and facilitate some goal setting of various practices and actions they accomplish 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 weekly for their work.

It’s fascinating when you look at the organizational culture and start asking employees in the hallway (or instead on a call these days!) if they know the values of the organization. I have repeatedly found that 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 asked.

Review your organizational culture from the explicitly stated mission, vision and values. Compare that with the 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, start doing, and make the culture vibrant and living? 


I’m amazed by the 2019 WorldatWork survey finding that only 49 percent of organizations 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 to achieve.

You need a written recognition strategy to keep it top of mind. When recognition is 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 recognition and reward programs, with key performance metrics such as employee engagement, customer satisfaction and productivity measures.  


If recognition does not happen the way it should in an organization, I will investigate what the expectations have been for giving recognition and rewards.

You expect your leaders to set an 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 significant breakdown cause for recognition not being top of mind.  A lack of accountability.

If you never bring recognition 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 reports of your recognition programs become an essential tool to use with your leaders' performance management. Use your engagement surveys to draw on employee perceptions of their leader and whether employees feel valued and appreciated.

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


The workplace has changed significantly in the last several months, and recognition is not the only thing to address.  

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

Use communication to correct this and make recognition and rewards visible but front and center. 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 schedule allows you to repeat reminders to submit award nominations, stop and say something when someone helps another or do something amazing, and invite people to use your social and performance recognition and reward programs.

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

Topics: employee recognition

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