Engaging Management in Employee Recognition: Strategies for Leadership Participation and Best Practices

creating an employee recognition program

There’s little doubt that effective employee recognition is one of the cornerstones of a successful business, with 4 out of 10 employees on average disengaging themselves from the workplace if they receive little or no feedback.

However, even if you invest in a high-quality employee reward system, you will also have to make significant effort to keep the managers, or leaders, motivated enough to implement this system – which can be very tricky.

That’s why in today’s article we’re delving deep into best practices for getting your managers on board with your employee recognition program and how important leadership participation is to make your team members feel appreciated, how to keep the managers engaged, how to evaluate your efforts, and, finally, how to improve on them.

Strategies for Leadership Participation in Employee Recognition

Effective employee recognition is impossible without middle-level managers as well as senior executives all being on board – and this is where leadership buy-in comes in.

Leadership buy-in is essentially the active endorsement of team leaders toward a particular initiative; in the context of employee recognition, leadership buy-in means that managers are not only aware of the importance of recognizing and appreciating employees but also actively participate in and support these efforts. They champion employee recognition best, making it a visible and integral part of the company’s culture, not merely an HR program.

However, generating leadership buy-in can be easier said than done as some managers can be resistant to new practices or not particularly good at incentivizing. That’s why, let’s take a look at some strategies a company can employ to encourage their management toward employee recognition.

Providing leadership training

Leadership participation can and should be trained – a good place to start is by creating a customized leadership training program. Training should be practical and actionable, focusing on the importance of employee recognition, its impact on morale and productivity, and effective recognition techniques.

One way to do it is through scenario-based learning. Leaders can be presented with real-world scenarios, such as a team member exceeding performance expectations or overcoming a challenge, and coached on how to provide meaningful and specific recognition in those situations. Such role-playing exercises can be highly effective, especially if you can bring in an expert to comment on the situation.

At the same time, applying bits of theory can also be very insightful for managers – you can try to equip your leaders with an understanding of the psychology behind recognition. This involves educating them on the power of positive reinforcement and its role in shaping behavior. And, of course, leaders should be trained in delivering constructive feedback, focusing on strengths and areas for improvement. Make sure to emphasize the importance of a feedback culture and the connection between feedback, recognition, and employee growth.

Setting the example

Leaders not only serve as role models for their teams but also can inspire other leaders to adopt their practices by setting a good example. To spread the usage of employee recognition, you may want to select a few promising managers as the “early adopters” who would exemplify appreciation in their everyday interactions with team members.

The early adopters can also later evolve into ambassadors who will be at the forefront of your employee recognition strategy ideation. Provide them with an equal amount of reward for their efforts and responsibility for their results, and guide them so that they can guide the rest of the team to the universal adoption of recognition systems.

Encouraging a culture of appreciation

Furthermore, leadership participation should extend beyond individual efforts and become an integral part of the organization’s culture. This way, managers can encourage a culture of appreciation by incorporating it into various aspects of the workplace – from implementing recognition programs with gifts and awards to creating peer-to-peer recognition systems.

On top of that, managers should actively seek feedback from employees to understand what forms of recognition resonate most with the team and adapt their strategies accordingly.

Communicating the Importance of Recognition to Managers

It’s possible that some managers may not see the value of employee recognition straight away. In turn, that can make the activities mentioned above, like leadership training, almost entirely useless – unmotivated and unconvinced leaders won’t engage in sessions too much.

That’s why, above all, you’ll also need to effectively communicate to them why employee recognition is so important – and here’s what you can do.

Strategies for effectively conveying the benefits of recognition to leadership

Use Respectable Studies

You should demonstrate to your managers the direct link between employee recognition and heightened morale, which can be done through science. Use specific data to showcase how recognition positively affects KPIs such as productivity, absenteeism and customer satisfaction scores.

For instance, Great Place To Work gathered 1.7 million employee surveys from 2018 to 2020 across companies of all sizes and saw that for 37% of respondents, the single most important driver of good work was recognition. Another example is research by OfficeVibe, where, among other things, they pointed out that 69% of employees would work harder if they felt their efforts were more recognized by management.

Show Success Stories

If managers remain unswayed by stats and numbers, try discussing a number of success stories that would serve as specific, practical examples of the transformative power of recognition. One famous example is the CISCO Systems’ “Connected Recognition” program, which allegedly saw a 47% increase in peer-to-peer recognitions and a 26% increase in recognition from managers in its first year.

General Electric’s interesting approach to recognition resulted in a 30% increase in recognition activity, with those recognized being 2.6 times more likely to be promoted. This was achieved through their “Applause” recognition platform, which allowed employees to send digital “applause” to recognize their peers and incorporated gamification elements.

Hold Workshops

Lastly, make efforts to organize workshops or training sessions that will focus on the psychology of recognition, its impact on employee motivation, and practical ways to implement it within their teams. Alternatively, you could get more technical and dedicate those sessions to return on investment (ROI) analysis. Together with your team, you may figure out how investing time and resources in recognition initiatives can result in a net gain for your company and prove to yourselves that the efforts are worth it.

Recognizing and Rewarding Leadership for Their Engagement

Leadership and recognition should go both ways – managers must also be rewarded for their efforts, otherwise you risk causing burnout. The following are some of the ways you can do it:

Employee feedback and testimonials

One of the most impactful ways to recognize engaged leaders is through the voices of their own team members. Encourage employees to provide candid feedback on how leadership’s recognition efforts have positively affected them – surveys, suggestion boxes, and regular one-on-one meetings are usually very effective tools. Also make sure that feedback mechanisms are confidential and non-intimidating.

You may even go a step further and employ a testimonial system where employees will share personal stories about how leadership recognition has made a difference in their work. Highlight these testimonials in internal communications, newsletters, and during company meetings to share these improvements with leaders and celebrate their role in fostering a positive work environment.

Public recognition and awards

Another way of rewarding leadership is through company-wide recognition. Consider creating a recognition program with clear criteria for rewarding leaders who excel in their role – if they meet the criteria, they can be nominated for a special award.

So make sure to hold regular award ceremonies or events where these accolades are presented. These events should be inclusive and also fun – you don’t want to make them very formulaic and create a sense of meaninglessness or redundancy. You can also publicly acknowledge the award winners through various channels beyond the award ceremony itself. This can include announcements during company meetings, articles in newsletters, or dedicated sections on the company intranet.

Finally, consider adding financial incentives or bonuses to your program, as this further motivates leaders to actively engage in recognition efforts.

Career development opportunities

Furthermore, you can tie career advancements to leadership’s effectiveness in recognition and engagement efforts. Try appointing recognized leaders to impactful leadership roles within the organization; for instance, beyond the standard promotion options, they can also lead employee engagement committees or initiatives.

The latter will offer managers the opportunity to mentor and coach their peers or emerging leaders within the organization and can be a valuable experience as well as a way to acknowledge their expertise. Also remember that with promotions comes a higher level of both trust and responsibility – grant managers the autonomy to develop and implement their recognition strategies, but also remain healthily demanding.

Evaluating and Improving Leadership Engagement in Recognition

Last but not least, let’s break down how exactly we can measure the success of our leadership engagement in employee recognition:

Tools and methods for evaluating leadership engagement in recognition

One of the primary tools for our purpose here is a well-developed survey and feedback mechanism – something we’ve brought up in this article already. You can design surveys that ask employees to rate how well their leaders recognize their contributions; make sure that these are anonymous and non-intimidating. These surveys can inquire about the frequency and quality of recognition, as well as employees’ perceptions of their leaders’ commitment to fostering a culture of appreciation.

A more quantitative method is establishing key performance indicators related to recognition that can offer valuable insights. You can experiment with metrics such as employee engagement scores, retention rates, and productivity levels as well as track the usage and effectiveness of recognition programs and platforms. For instance, if you were to implement our custom employee reward system, you would be able to see which managers are more keen to use it in their day-to-day recognition efforts, and which are still having trouble adopting it.

Strategies for continuous improvement

Beyond the present, any company also needs to look at how their employee recognition program will evolve over time, to be able to understand how it compares to best practices and understand how to improve it. As your first step in that direction, establish a regular assessment schedule to evaluate leadership engagement in employee recognition – this could be done quarterly, semi-annually, or annually, depending on your team’s needs.

As a part of managing employee recognition programs, you will need to continuously benchmark leadership engagement against industry standards, best practices and your own KPIs. This is where you can leverage technology and sophisticated tools to track and measure those key parameters and get high-quality business intelligence.


So, how to improve recognition in the workplace? You can get managers more involved in employee recognition through interactive training sessions, choosing a couple of early adopters to set the trend and overall fostering an appreciation culture in the company. And if managers show resistance, make sure to get through to them with the help of research and case studies that vividly point out how recognition drives success.

Finally, don’t hesitate to experiment with your employee recognition efforts and let them evolve over time – you can begin with simple “thank-you” notes and develop far enough to set up your own company merch store where your employees can get items for company recognition points.