Executives are People Too

image of desk with thank you note

Image credit: Glamour

by Brenda Pohlman

Recognize This! – When creating a culture of recognition, all employees must be active participants.

In partnering with new customers, our early conversations often evolve from focusing on recognition strategy and philosophy in support of the customer’s business goals to discussions about granular elements of recognition design like eligibility – deciding who will be eligible to participate in the new recognition program. Inevitably, the client raises the question of whether executives should be eligible as recognition recipients. And it’s often not positioned as a question at all, but rather a firm stance, “Of course, everyone will be eligible except our executive team.” Sometimes that edict cuts pretty deeply into the org chart – “no recognition for anyone who’s a Director or above.” Ouch.

This position is natural. After all, aren’t our executives motivated by different factors and already getting so much out of their work experience? They don’t need to be recognized to feel engaged and appreciated for their work. Appreciation of company leaders is demonstrated by Wall Street in the form of higher share prices. Surely, receiving praise and feedback from colleagues, bosses and direct reports can’t mean much in comparison.

But here’s the thing: executives are people too.

Case in point. I recently read an article in Glamour magazine (online article behind a paywall) about chic office spaces. (Cut me some slack, I was on the treadmill at the gym where I can hardly breathe, never mind take in serious business content!) The writer interviewed Jane Hertzmark Hudis, global brand president at Estée Lauder, who operates out of a large and lovely workspace in NYC. Hudis talked about the personal objects she surrounds herself with – a wedding photo and pictures of the kids. But she also keeps a handwritten note on her desk from boss Leonard Lauder congratulating her on the successful launch of a new fragrance. She was quoted as saying about these things, “They inspire me!”

Here is a well-compensated senior executive of a high profile global company who works in a place filled with style and sophistication, yet when thinking about the elements of that environment that inspire her, she describes a recognition moment!

Apart from the meaningful emotional impact it can have on them, there are practical reasons for involving your executives as receivers in your recognition activities. Assuming that you consider your recognition practices to be so much more than mere practices – that they are part of your culture – then by definition your executives must be full-fledged participants. Culture doesn’t happen independently of your leaders. It’s their behavior and priorities that become the most obvious demonstrations of your culture to the rest of the workforce. If you want recognition to be part of who you are as an organization, then execs have to lead the charge.

And there’s no better way to encourage them to lead the charge than through their own direct participation. For anyone, your leaders included, to champion your recognition efforts in an authentic way, they must experience the power of recognition firsthand. Nothing inspires others to show a little appreciation than to have moments of feeling appreciated themselves.

If recognition makes a difference to a senior exec at Estée Lauder, imagine what a little recognition could do for your leadership team.

Are your executives recognized today at your company? Why or why not?

Brenda Pohlman

About Brenda Pohlman

A senior recognition strategist and consultant for Globoforce, Brenda Pohlman might better be called a Recognition Detective. Brenda spends her days helping customers uncover and assess recognition practices and set new directions to achieve strategic goals. She has spent the majority of her career consulting with companies on a wide range of HR practices including employee engagement, performance management, rewards & recognition, talent assessment, and training. Brenda holds a B.A. in Psychology from Boston University.

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