Selling Recognition to Top Management

    April 15, 2002

For every recognition program there comes a time when you need to sell top management on the benefits of what you are doing — to gain the support and credibility that comes from top management endorsement. For some programs this is before you start; for others, it is to be able to continue or expand funding. Here are three ways you can influence top management in your organization about the importance of employee recognition:

Bottom line benefits

Probably the best way to influence top management is to demonstrate a bottom line financial impact that will occur from an increase of employee recognition. This is especially true if you have a preponderance of “old line” top managers who feel that giving employees a paycheck should be reward enough to get the best effort from everyone.

Point to the bottom line results that other companies have achieved from having recognition programs that helped drive desired performance objectives. For example:

An Amoco plant saved $18.8 million in two years through the use of various recognition gift programs and contests.

The Travel Related Services division of American Express attributed a 500% increase in net income over 11 years with an ROI of 28%, in part to recognition programs such as the Great Performers poster campaign.

American Airlines, using a points-for-merchandise recognition program, was recently able to purchase a new airplane with $50 million in savings from employee suggestions.

If you can show how other companies have been able to produce bottom line results, even the most hardened top managers are more inclined to listen and consider the concepts more closely.

Studies and statistics

You can also use research, surveys and studies to bolster your case. A few that might help include:

In recent surveys of American workers, 63 percent of the respondents agreed that most people would like more recognition for their work and the same percentage ranked “a pat on the back” as a meaningful incentive.

Robert Half International, the nation-wide staffing firm, recently conducted a survey of why people leave their jobs and found the #1 reason to be a lack of praise and recognition.

According to the People, Pay, and Performance study by the American Productivity Center, it generally takes 5 to 8 percent of an employee’s salary to change behavior if the reward is cash, as compared to approximately 4 percent of the employee’s salary if the reward is non-cash.

Such research and statistics provide credibility to your proposal and make your case seem more fact than opinion.

Pilot a program

You can run a pilot program and come up with your own results and data. This has the advantage of being done with your own employees, performance goals, competitive pressures, and managers. You can also influence the success of a pilot program by carefully selecting
positive, proactive participants and closely monitoring what is done to increase the chances of favorable results.

If all these approaches fail to convince your management that employee recognition makes sense, start a program that doesn’t require any funds at all. Base the program on creative, no-cost forms of recognition such as personal and written thanks, public praise, morale building meetings and information sessions, and so forth. Track anecdotal success stories and begin a case for broader implementation. You will be surprised at how much you can do with so little — especially if you involve those you are trying to recognize in the process.

Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob’s FREE Tip of the Week visit