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Effective recognition programs require good leadership

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A leader exhibiting effective employee recognition behaviours while standing in front of a crowd of people.

The impact of leadership on employee recognition

We delve into the crucial link between leadership behaviours and employee recognition.

Understand the role of employee engagement in recognition, the factors that affect engagement, and what leaders need to know to maximise engagement.

Discover how leaders can create an environment where recognition is meaningful and impactful, driving motivation and job satisfaction.

Learn the four most important behaviours for leaders to be effective in recognition, and the best ways to lead recognition efforts.

Key leader behaviours for effective employee recognition

Watch the video to understand how the behaviour of your leaders directly impacts employee engagement and thus employee recognition and rewards.

Step 5 - Best practices for building an employee recognition program

Step 3 - The most effective forms of employee recognition

If you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video transcript

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number four in our five-video series about optimum employee recognition.

This video is all about leadership, leadership for recognition.

What kinds of leadership behaviours works well in respect of recognition.

And this is in the context of five videos which are all to do with an evidence-based perspective on employee recognition.

So, we’ve already talked about why people need recognition, how recognition helps organisations to achieve goals, forms of recognition, leadership skills for recognition is this one, and we’re going to finish off in the last one with providing you with a facilitative leadership program to build effective recognition.

The importance of engagement

So a core concept of this video is that we’ll be dealing with the topic of engagement.

And we’re saying that good recognition is a way of increasing levels of engagement.

Now, engagement can be demonstrated to be a very positive thing for both employees and employers, and it has three characteristics.

When people are highly engaged they are vigorous and energetic, they’re dedicated and committed to what they do, and they get very immersed in their work.

And this is kind of a flow state.

It’s called absorption in the research literature onto this topic.

So imagine if all of your employees came to work and they had these three things, they’re vigorous, they’re committed to what they do, and they get absorbed in their work and happily engrossed in it.

Well, clearly, this is a very positive situation.

Leader behaviours drive engagement

Now, one of the key drivers of what causes people to get into this situation is leader behaviours.

If you get a lot of positive leader behaviours then you end up with high levels of engagement.

And the relationship between engagement and what goes on in a person’s work life is shown in this diagram here (refer to the video).

So when people are highly engaged, they typically have two forms of resources.

Personal resources are things like the genetic stuff that they bring with them to their work, like their personality, their cognitive ability, but also their skills.

And personal resources are sometimes the things that people walk in the door with, but also the things that the organisation builds in them, so their skills and experience and values even can be affected by their employment, and that will contribute to work engagement.

Then there are job resources, and there are a range of job resources.

Personal and job resources are affected by leadership

But the ones that I want to mention specifically today relate to leadership behaviours because leadership behaviours affect the way people perceive their jobs, but they also affect the way that people perceive their colleagues.

And, certainly, leader behaviours affect the way colleagues behave, and it also affects the way people perceive their organisation.

So when people have good personal resources, in terms of the right type of people to be highly engaged, and then they’re led well, that tends to cause them to be highly engaged at work.

Now, we know that there’s a business case for work engagement, people who are highly engaged tend to perform better both quantitatively in terms of the amount of work that they get done, and qualitatively in terms of the quality of work that they get done.

And when people are highly engaged, they also engage in a thing called job crafting where they will spontaneously try to make things better.

Job crafting is where people, through having high levels of work engagement, seek to make things work better.

So that could be that they seek to make their job easier for their colleagues, or they make things better for customers, or it could be that they try to do things more efficiently so that resources are protected.

But all of that has a big impact on people’s levels of engagement, and it also tends to build their levels of personal resources and their job resources.

The impact of demands on engagement

Now, when this happens, you also get this intermediate effect or intervening effect of demands.

And demands are really stress, the degree to which a person is experiencing pressure in their work.

And when people are experiencing pressure, if it’s positive pressure such as the pressure of problem solving and doing interesting work, well that will tend to increase their levels of engagement.

But negative pressure will be things like role ambiguity, and it will be things like people squabbling with each other, which is, once more, why leaders, who are a job resource, are so crucial because leaders can determine their psychosocial environment, the atmosphere that takes place in a work group where people.

If they’re being sponsored by their leaders to act in a collaborative, helpful, supportive fashion that will improve the work environment.

Or if the leaders are not being effective in creating clarity about acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, then you’ve got a problem.

The business case for engagement

Now, here’s the business case for engagement as I touched on it.

Productivity varies with increases and decreases in engagement.

Things like job satisfaction, absenteeism, attraction, retention vary with engagement.

And one of the reasons that organisations around the world are keen on engagement is that external measures can be shown to be extremely closely linked to internal engagement.

So, when people are highly engaged in their work that makes it 50% to 60% more likely that customers will be satisfied with their interaction with the organisation.

So OH&S is affected by engagement, so where there are high levels of engagement workplaces tend to be safer.

Profit varies with engagement.

And so for all of these reasons it’s one of the best predictors of organisational outcomes that’s been found in the world.

Why leader behaviours are critical

I just want to say a little bit about leader behaviours.

Leader behaviours create corporate culture.

And I don’t mean the behaviours of the chief executive, although behaviours of chief executives are important.

But in my local work group that’s what determines my wellbeing.

Corporate culture is not about philosophy, it’s not about values, it’s not about goals, it’s about behaviours.

Now, philosophies and values and goals and all of those sorts of things can help to improve behaviours.

But irrespective of whatever my colleagues have in their minds, it’s how they behave towards me that affects my wellbeing.

Recognition is a behaviour set, and there are behaviours that work well.

So, here’s a piece of research that describes what leader behaviours are and how they can be reviewed in terms of an evidence-based perspective on this.

So this is from a study we measured the levels of engagement of 2,700 people across a range of different organisations in Australia and New Zealand, and we also measured a bunch of leader behaviours.

The most important leader behaviours for effective employee recognition

Now, the leader behaviours that we’ve left with, these 10 (refer to the video), are leader behaviours that were shown to be extremely powerful from a statistical point-of-view.

So, significant leader behaviours, statistically.

But they’re also very important in creating a corporate culture, helping people to learn.

So helping people to learn has proved to be a really key driver of levels of wellbeing and engagement in staff.

And what that suggests is that if you’re going to have a recognition program, why not have recognition for when people learn something new?

Why not have a recognition for when people have shown that they are good learners?

Learning is a really powerful driver of engagement and wellbeing, and that provides an opportunity to build it into your recognition program.


Recognition is of its very nature supportive, of course.

But how about recognising behaviours where people are supportive of their colleagues?

This will, again, help to build a psychosocially sound wellbeing-orientated workplace, but one which is also orientated towards achievement.

Fostering teamwork where leaders are causing people to work together.

Leaders can operate with their staff in a range of different styles.

They can be individualistic.

“”Mary, please do this.

Jane, please do this.

John, please do this.”” Or they can be group orientated, “”Mary Jane and John, could you work together to solve this problem?”” That’s what fostering teamwork is about.

Then we have empowering people.

Now you’ll see this little summary diagram here is in effect a mathematical evaluation of the four most powerful leader behaviours.

And you see that empowering people comes at the top.

What this says is the single most powerful thing that leaders can do to increase levels of engagement is to empower people, particularly at the group level.

“”So, Mary, Bill, Jane, here’s our problem.

Please come up with a solution for that.

I will back you.”” That’s what facilitative leadership is all about, and that’s what empowerment is all about.

The best way to lead a recognition program

So, I’m going to suggest in the final video a method of developing recognition programs.

If you take all of the weight of responsibility on yourself to recognise people, that’s nowhere near as powerful as empowering staff to come up with their own recognition.

That’s what will cause people to be highly engaged in your recognition program.

Then you have creating clarity about performance standards and effective management of underperformance.

And so that’s more in the area of redirection of behaviours than recognition of behaviours, but still very important.

And then you have creating clarity about appropriate behaviours, and effective management of behaviours.

So good leaders are able to create clarity about what performance standards need to be reached.

But then, of course, also what kinds of behaviours are necessary in the workplace.

So that’s the “”what”” of the job and the “”how”” of the job, as I mentioned earlier.

And then two final really important ones, celebrating success, and that’s one of the reasons why recognition works well from a psychological point of view because it is of its very nature a celebration of success.

And finally, optimism and positivity.

And you’ll see that that’s the second most powerful leader behaviour.

Optimistic positive leadership is really powerful in creating a highly engaged workplace.

So, the four keys: empowering people, optimism and positivity, supportive leadership, and helping people to learn.

So if you think of the leader behaviours that are necessary to be effective in recognition, these four are really key.

And I would encourage you, at a local level in your workplace, to lead your leaders through a process where you consider how would we actually live out these behaviours?

What will we do to empower people?

How will we demonstrate our optimism and positivity?

How will we be supportive of people?

And how will we encourage people to learn?

And out of all of that, you can develop a very simple but a very effective leadership development program, homegrown if you like.

But these are the key behaviours for recognition.

Where employee wellbeing comes from

Finally, in this video, just want to talk a little bit about where wellbeing comes from.

You know, Mark Griffin originally came up with this idea that employees live in four worlds, and Cotton & Hart pursued it in 2011.

But the idea of the four worlds that employees live in is the world of the job, the team, the leader, and the organisation.

And what research has shown is that the proximal, proximal means close to me, distal means far away from me.

The proximal is far more powerful than the distal.

So an organisation is in effect a concept.

For most people it’s an idea, “”I work for this company, I report to the chief executive.

Sometimes I don’t even meet the chief executive in a big organisation.”” It’s an idea.

Whereas, “”The job that I do, the team that I belong to, the colleagues that I sit next to every day, the leader who leads me day-by-day, that’s really proximal.”” So 80% of people’s wellbeing comes from that local team.

And that’s why local recognition schemes can be very powerful.

So, have your corporate wellbeing schemes and recognition schemes if you want.

Certainly I’m not advocating against that, but unless you create an environment where recognition takes place from my colleagues, from my local leader, you are giving away 80% of the possibility, 80% of the goodness that you might get out of a recognition program.

And I think that’s a really important learning.

So, today we’ve covered the leadership skills for recognition, and the next video that we are going to be leading on to is facilitative leadership to build a recognition program, which is a really practical consideration after you’ve understood the theory of how recognition works, formal and informal.

Now, how do we apply this to create a really strong recognition program?

Create an effective employee recognition program

Step 5 - Best practices for building an employee recognition program

Step 3 - The most effective forms of employee recognition

If you’d like some help with creating an effective employee recognition program, based on your workplace and staff, contact us about our Employee Engagement and Wellbeing surveys.

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