puzzle-526419_1920We’ve long known that the way to impact or change culture is to change those actions and behaviours that will result in a more favourable culture. Many leadership teams have, in earnest, focused on culture change versus focusing on critical components of the work environment that will result in the desired culture. While there are many elements that contribute to culture, this article will concentrate on recognition and its impact on engagement and ultimately culture.

Recognition is one of the most consistently misunderstood and misused terms in business. With all good intent, businesses set out to create an engaging recognition program. At the heart of many of these programs is the belief that ‘one size will fit all’, or ‘sort of fits all’. The results of these programs are woven into management incentive and bonus criteria with business metrics often reflected in balanced scorecards and dashboards.  It also becomes a line item on many leadership meeting agendas. All of this pulling from the precious time and focus of very busy people.

In a recent Korn Ferry article in HBR (September 2016), What Science Tells Us About Leadership Potential, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic states:

“Culture is key because it drives employee engagement and performance. However, Culture isn’t the cause of leadership so much as the result of it. Thus leaders create the explicit and implicit rules of interaction for organizational members, and these rules affect morale and productivity levels.”

Recognition should be about establishing the right behaviours that support a Culture of recognition not just a program of recognition. However, this appears to be quite difficult.  Numerous marketplace engagement surveys that identify the best organizations to work for, still have recognition as one area that rarely scores in the higher ranges.   We spend many hours trying to get better at recognition.  We know the value of effective recognition on engagement and ultimately culture.  So why are we not better at this?

It seems simple enough. But if you ask 10 people to define what recognition means to them you will get 10 different responses. Recognition can range from a public pat on the back at an all-staff meeting to financial rewards to an opportunity to, work on a special project to a note from senior leadership– just to name a few. Recognition is very personal. This means that programs designed to recognize ‘an individual’ must be individualized. (Obviously, different from group/team or company based programs).

Here are a few things to consider when creating a program designed to recognize/reward individuals that will help create the engagement you are seeking:

  • Recognize often, those actions or behaviours that are important to business success
  • Get to know the employee – what’s important to them
  • Make recognition ‘personal’ to that employee
  • Respect parameters the employee feels are important
  • Ensure the recognition is timely
  • Make it sincere – be clear and specific on what’s being recognized and why
  • Don’t use recognition to offset correctional behaviour discussions
  • Most importantly, embed recognition in your rules of engagement, expressly linking it to desired actions and behaviours

Effective leaders know that what gets recognized gets done, which will also reinforce the behaviours and actions desired in the workplace. Ensure your recognition program is aligned to those behaviours that will contribute to engaged employees and the desired cultural attributes.

One last thought, many of us are used to looking out for things that are going wrong. After all, if something’s wrong, it needs to be fixed before it damages productivity, or affects the bottom line. But do you actively look out for things that are going right?

Recognition is not just a program, it is the lens through which we view performance.  As leaders, we have the ability to get recognition right which will significantly influence engagement and in turn will impact culture.

For additional information on how to make the Recognition, Engagement and Culture Connection, please contact Lighthouse NINE Group.

Cindy McNichol, CMC
Lighthouse NINE Group
One Eva Road, Suite 209 | Etobicoke, ON M9C 4Z5
Office: 416-607-6919

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