Many HR practitioners and leaders struggle to get executive buy-in for recognition initiatives. Gaining support is a strategy in itself.

by Roy Saunderson

Remember CEOs and all senior leaders put their pants on one leg at a time in the same way everyone else does. They’re people first, and they have a job to do. Securing executive buy-in and support is as much a process as any other HR practice.

When you are responsible for recognition, your job is to obtain senior level support for making employee recognition an effective organizational strategy—plain and simple. Keep the following in mind:

• Give Them a Clear Picture. Your mission is not as impossible as you might think. Exceptional senior leaders are foremost visionaries whose mandate is to inspire other leaders to follow them to achieve specific goals. Find a visionary leader. Give them your vision.

Give them just the CNN headline version of your vision and allow the scroll advisory underneath to explain your goals and expected results. Keep it short and sweet, and work on capturing their heads and hearts.

You must give C-suite leaders your vision and mission for your recognition initiative in one short sentence during those hallway or elevator encounters. This will happen many times before you get to a boardroom meeting. Get them thinking about how much they need to do this and how they might regret it if they fail to.

• Take Care of Business. Senior leaders have a core responsibility to produce results. Their bottom line is to increase business to generate a target income level at a minimum cost and expense and to produce a healthy profit and good return on investment for any shareholders.

Organizations less focused on profit look at different metrics to gauge success. You just have to remember it’s still a business and not a feel-good, save-the-world exercise.

Specify in your proposed recognition strategy the desired results to be achieved. Spell it out, and identify measurable, realistic, and attainable indicators. You want them to invest in employee recognition because it will improve business results.

There are musts in executive buy-in, and one is aligning your recognition plans with the overall business strategy. If it doesn’t fit, you might as well forget it.

• Let Me Present Exhibit A. Think of detectives such as Sherlock Holmes, those from “Law & Order,” or the latest “CSI” TV shows. Come to the table prepared with as much foolproof evidence as you can to state your case before the executive team.

Collect measured performance practices, and assess management capabilities in skills such as effective recognition, giving and providing performance feedback. Take time to find convincing facts and figures first.

Draw on satisfaction surveys and employee engagement scores, and calculate potential loss from turnover costs, both direct and indirect. Figure out productivity losses from the number of employees that indicate how engaged they really are. Do your research, and present valid information. Good planning with solid facts will win the day for you.

• “Be Prepared” Still Works. Do not expect a cakewalk once armed with your strategy, metrics, facts, and rationale. Senior leaders are paid big bucks to analyze, scrutinize, and evaluate every facet of any decision. Your next step is to just listen.

Expect the unexpected by anticipating every possible permutation and combination of concerns, questions, disputes, and even rejection. Sometimes timing may be off. Work your proposal through with others who know your leadership team. Predict beforehand based on respective roles and personalities the kind of challenges you will receive. Executive buy-in will always be easiest with those who are known to be respected leaders. Get their endorsement. Anticipate and, like the Boy Scouts’ motto says, “Be prepared.”

• Keep It Front and Center. Let’s assume your hard work has paid off and your recognition strategy or program has been approved. Never let your recognition strategy get off the executives’ radar screen. Gaining executive buy-in is one step, and maintaining it is another. Make all the implementation steps highly visibility by providing constant updates and frequent communication.

You can manage executive expectations by providing regular status reports using every available modality, whether written, verbal, or electronic. Keep those CNN mini-reports primed and ready for those brief, face-to-face exchanges. Remember, the success of any corporate initiative you undertake will always be proportional to the degree of executive buy-in you achieve.

Tags: Engaged Workforce, Multi-process HR, Performance Management & Rewards, Sourcing

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