Managers: Hidden recognition leaders

The success of recognition programs ultimately rests on managers’ shoulders

The future of people management looks and sounds pretty daunting. Organizations need to populate their growing corporate structures with new employees who have different generational values. Exacerbating the situation is the fact there’s a rapidly diminishing labour pool, a wave of retiring baby boomers and global competition that means employers need a higher level of performance and engagement from employees.

In light of this looming crisis, there are three things that need to be top of mind for all people managers — recruitment, retention and engagement. Recognition has a vital role to play in all three of these.

Recruitment: Recognition is a great messenger. People love to be celebrated not just for what they do, but also for who they are. When their behaviours support and align with the corporate values, it’s a great opportunity to reinforce and communicate those values. New employees are picky about who they work for, so there’s tremendous market value in being known as a great place to work.

Retention: Recognition is a great relationship builder. It provides the opportunity for genuine, sincere expression between managers and their people. And, as HR knows, people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

Engagement: Recognition is a great motivator. It drives performance, encourages innovation, increases emotional wellness and impacts client satisfaction. People will repeat the behaviours and activities that get them recognized, acknowledged and sincerely praised.

Praise and recognition are, therefore, important functions of every leader within an organization. So, why is it a constant battle to get middle management to buy into the strategy and to effectively and consistently use recognition programs?

All managers, regardless of their level, fall into one of two categories depending on how they intellectually and emotionally approach their management tasks and duties: administrators and leaders.

Administrators: Many managers feel their mandate is to manage the business and regard their job of managing people as an unfortunate, but necessary, evil to accomplish the task at hand. The people who report to them are just another resource needed to get the job done.

Leaders: Fortunately, some managers feel their job is to manage people and to help them be personally successful in accomplishing their business tasks.

The difference between administrators and leaders is enormous. Administrators contribute to, and support, bureaucracy because policies and procedures provide them with a sense of control, comfort and allow them non-interpersonal tools to keep subordinates in line.

Leaders use a different set of tools. Instead of bureaucracy, they contribute to a culture of innovation, high-performance, teamwork and enthusiasm by using communication, empowerment, accountability, caring and recognition.

So why are so many managers content to be merely administrators rather than true leaders? There are a variety of reasons:

Belief: They don’t really believe in the effectiveness of sincere praise and recognition. Even if they intellectually grasp the concept, praise and recognition is an emotional intelligence. When managers don’t believe in it, it’s usually a sign they haven’t personally experienced much sincere praise and recognition. Personal experience is the key. One way to make believers out of them is to ensure they’re consistently and frequently getting that sincere praise from the top.

Communication and messaging: Many managers don’t really understand the correlation between their department’s business performance and the recognition needs of the people they work with. Managers regularly get communication on business goals and performance expectations, but do they get communication on the necessity and value of recognizing their people? Do they truly understand the strategic purpose of recognition programs? It’s not enough just to announce a new recognition initiative or to send out a one-time memo about the value of recognition. The value of praise, recognition and celebration needs to be constantly communicated in everything the company says and does until it becomes woven into the fabric of the corporate culture.

Training: Many managers simply don’t know how to praise people. Organizations would never launch a new operational process or management tool without giving some kind of formal training. Yet too often companies launch recognition programs and expect managers to automatically know how to identify and give recognition. That doesn’t work, because the instinctive ability or inability to give recognition is a learned behaviour.

Tools and resources: It’s a common mantra in many organizations that “people are our most valuable asset.” But managers often complain they don’t have the time or budget to recognize their people. Managers must be given the tools to do the job properly. But “I don’t have time” is a poor excuse, usually from an administrator-type manager.

Writing and sending a quick thank-you card takes less than three minutes. Gathering staff together at the beginning of the day to highlight and acknowledge extra efforts takes less than 10 minutes. Reading through resumés and conducting interviews to fill the positions vacated by the employees who left because they felt undervalued, unappreciated and unrecognized takes a lot more time than that.

Accountability: Often, managers don’t really get evaluated on their use of recognition even though everyone knows that “what gets measured, gets done.” For a recognition strategy to truly become part of the corporate culture, it’s imperative to evaluate and review the efforts of managers to ensure they genuinely understand the importance of recognition.

Managers who, after being shown the way, still don’t get it or refuse to recognize employees effectively should be directed towards the exit door before their people head there in droves.

Gordon Green is executive vice-president of recognition and reward strategy at Montreal-based Rideau Recognition Solutions. He can be reached at (905) 648-9873 or [email protected].

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