Employee Engagement Featured

3 Steps to Get Executive Buy-In For Recognition Programs


William James, one of the foremost psychologists of the 20th century, said, “The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated." Showing appreciation for our employees is one of the most powerful actions we have as HR and people leaders.

Before we can even start recognizing our employees with an impactful and structured program, our executives have to be our champions and supporters.

Below we lay out the three key steps to get your executive team on board with an employee recognition program.

Step 1. Broaden the Conversation

Too often, we fall into the trap of just focusing on numbers and data, such as the ROI of any new program. Although important, potential ROI is no longer the whole conversation. Ensure you are prepared to cover your bases here, know your numbers and the potential ROI but don’t stop there. Now more than ever, company culture, connected teams, and office community are strained. There is a growing need to ensure our teams connect, have a sense of community, and feel that their work is recognized and appreciated.

At its core, employee recognition is about your people. Shift the focus to the impact of recognition on your teams. Communicate how it will connect employees and empower managers to better engage their teams. Show that timely and relevant recognition will promote behaviours that you are hoping to instil as an organization. You can always start with a simple program that focuses on timely and relevant recognition. Simple is powerful.

Step 2. Find the Budget

For every new program you want to implement, one of the first questions asked is often: “How much will it cost?” Thankfully, successful employee recognition doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, you may be able to pull from existing funds. Let’s look at two possible areas where you are already spending on employees but might be missing the mark or have a low impact.

We often see companies already paying for employee recognition but don’t even realize it or track how effective it is. We call this the Hidden Manager Spend. We hear from clients time and time again that once they connected with their finance team, they saw how much was expensed by managers for employee recognition with no strategy, organization or tracking.

They would see expenses submitted from their managers and leaders for lunches, gift cards, small gifts, or other team members’ rewards. Not only is this style of recognition unstructured, fragmented and overall has a low effective rate, but it may also leave you exposed and non-compliant with tax laws in your region. Often you can find the budget because it is already there. You just have to dig for it.

Next, look to the often Neglected Benefits Package by auditing your current total rewards program. Where are your dollars being spent, and how impactful is each dollar? There are table stakes, like insurance and dental plans, but how many of your employees are fully utilizing your benefits plan? Run a survey and see which benefits are most important to your teams, then contrast the survey results to what your team uses often. Can you work with your carrier and broker and find a cheaper program that still covers everything your team cares about and uses? You can usually pull budget from under-utilized programs with a low effectiveness rate and refocus that money into programs with a higher impact, like real-time recognition.

These are just two ways to extract a budget for recognition. It is important to remind your executives that recognition is not just another cost, but should be viewed as an investment in your teams. Recognition doesn't need to be complicated or expensive and that the most successful programs are the ones that keep it simple. Remember: saying "thank you" is always free.

Step 3. Make the Pitch

So, you've crunched the numbers on ROI and built out a case for employee engagement, culture, and community. Now it's time to pitch your program to your executives.

First things first, know your audience. Hone in on what YOUR executive team cares about. Is it more team collaboration, promoting the new diversity and inclusion programs, recruitment, learning and development, or making sure managers are on top of their projects and working with their teams?

Align your pitch to what your executive team is most concerned about. Maybe recognition has been highlighted in multiple employee pulse surveys. Use the trends you've gathered from manager feedback around value alignment and giving timely recognition. Be prepared with data and know how to tie it back to employee recognition.

Make sure that you start your program small, don’t promise the world or 5/5 eNPS scores. Start with one department and a minimal budget, set realistic goals, and come back in 3-4 months with the progress tracked and directly correlated to your program. Run surveys, talk to employees, get feedback and above all else, involve the executives (after you have obtained approval).

Be prepared to handle objections and leave the meeting with a “No” to your budget proposal. We often hear from clients that their CEO or CFO will often say, “We already pay people to do their job.” Employee recognition is not about giving rewards and recognition for doing the job. It is for going above and beyond the role, reinforcing company values, or promoting behaviour that you want to see as an organization.

It can be as simple as “Thank You”

If you've done the work, your chances of approval are high. Once you're able to run a trial, you're well on your way to building out a culture of recognition. But remember, an excellent foundation for any program is to start simple, get your managers and executives to recognize their teams with a "thank you" or specific accolade for a great project finished.

Guusto is every HR professional’s dream come true. Simple and impactful recognition meets performance and budget tracking, and best of all, a day’s worth of clean drinking water donated for every gift you send.

Get in touch with our team if you’re interested in learning more!


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What's Next?

A major factor for the success of any recognition program, once it has been approved, is ensuring a high adoption rate of your managers. In our next blog, we will explore the 6 Steps to Increase Manager Adoption

Hope you’ll join us for the discussion. Is there something you want to explore further? Leave a comment below or connect with me on LinkedIn. 

Muucho Guusto,


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Noah Warder

Written by Noah Warder

Noah is the Head of People at Guusto and loves sharing his insights, experience and knowledge when it comes to HR and People practices. He is always up for a conversation on how best to support employees to make safe and inclusive work cultures.

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