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Get Executive Support

No. 1 in a series of five articles for finding the right employee recognition partner

By Chris Drysdale      Illustration by Abbey Lossing

Whether you’re hiring a recognition partner to improve workplace culture, solve a problem like low engagement, or simply update an ineffective program, you’ll need executive support. That means more than just a casual nod of approval and a budget. Your executive sponsor needs to understand your organisation’s unique people-related problems and opportunities and be all-in, 100% committed to recognition as a solution. Because you’ll depend on them to model good behaviour, champion participation, and lead by example. If you’re convinced of the value of employee recognition yourself, but you don’t have a devoted and enthusiastic executive sponsor (yet), here are some facts and figures that will help you get one.

Rally Leaders

Convince all the leaders you can.

Before we begin, bear in mind that the information in this article will help you identify opportunities to improve culture and convince your leader to support the cause of employee recognition. But why stop there? If you’re looking to affect real culture change, the more executives you have on board, the better.

Consider making the case for recognition not only to your boss, but to other groups of leaders as well—perhaps even to your entire executive committee. Not all leaders will respond the same way. So the wider you cast your net, the more likely you are to find leaders who catch recognition fever. Add them to your front-line recognition champions, and soon you’ll have a small army of enthusiasts to help you promote the cause of recognition in your workplace.

Along the way, remember to let the conversation flow both ways. Don’t just present to leaders, invite them to co-create with you. Have casual conversations to discover how they feel about employee recognition in general. Any preconceived notions, good or bad? Any expectations? Ask your leaders about their business goals and priorities. Then use what you learn to show how recognition can help them achieve the things they care about most.

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Think Like a CEO

Show them the money.

A thriving corporate culture improves business results. And nothing improves culture like powerful employee recognition experiences. That’s the essential business case for recognition in fourteen words. But those words deserve some evidence. So here we go.

According to Gartner, the top priorities for CEOs are growth and profitability.1 No surprise there. After all, an organisation that does everything else right, but loses money, is pretty much a failure. But that doesn’t mean money is the only thing executive leaders have to worry about. They also have to think about where money comes from. And that’s people.


Most leaders agree that the sources of profitability—great ideas, products, innovation, delivery, service—all come from people. And not just any people, but enthusiastic, purpose-driven, healthy, happy, and motivated people. The kind of people you get when your corporate culture is the ideal breeding ground for success. Culture is the heart and soul of your organisation, the sum of all of the values, traditions, beliefs, behaviours, attitudes, and interactions that define your work environment. Culture is all about the day-to-day employee experience—how it feels to work at your organisation. The culture you envision, design, and bring to life is literally the key to a thriving workforce. And a thriving workforce is the key to a healthy bottom line.


Now that you have the building blocks for a discussion with leaders about the value of a thriving corporate culture, the next logical question is what’s the most cost-effective path to a great culture? Recruiting? Leadership training? Remodeling your physical space? Articulating your purpose? Adding a gym or daycare center? Improving pay and benefits? These and hundreds of other things affect culture. But they don’t all share the same cost-to-benefit ratio. Not by a long shot.

The fact is nothing delivers a more instant positive impact on workplace culture as simply and cost-effectively as employee recognition. Recognition delivers more than a return on investment. It delivers a return beyond investment. With the facts, figures, and insights that follow, you’ll be able to convince even the most financially-minded leader to stop thinking of recognition as a “soft benefit” and see it as a driver of success across the organisation. First, read this article. Then, use our handy Discussion Guide to share what you’ve learned with your leader(s).

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Three Must-Haves

ROI no executive can resist.

How can you help show-me-the-money leaders see the light? Focus on the three big returns on your recognition investment: Keeping good people, increasing output, and growing the bottom line.


According to Gallup, voluntary turnover (people choosing to leave) costs businesses $1 trillion per year.2 And those are just the U.S. numbers. Scale that cost out to the rest of the planet, and you can see a worldwide business cost drain. Here's how it breaks down for an individual organisation:

  • The annual overall voluntary turnover rate in the U.S. in 2017 was 26.3% (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
  • The cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee's annual salary (a conservative estimate).
  • So, a 100-person organisation that provides an average pay of $50,000 could have turnover-and-replacement costs of approximately $660,000 to $2.6 million per year.2 Ouch.

For maximum effect, do the math and determine your organisation’s turnover cost before you meet with leaders. It’s fairly easy using the formula above and your own voluntary attrition numbers and average pay.

But turnover has other costs we can’t exactly measure on a spreadsheet.

Losing your best people often means losing your top performers, your best innovators, and your most effective problem solvers—people with the institutional knowledge to grow your business.

Attrition also breaks down team morale and customer relationships. In short, voluntary attrition of your best talent is worth avoiding at all costs. Happily, it can be reduced with a rounding error-sized investment in employee recognition (compared to the total cost of employee pay and benefits). Share these research findings with your leaders:


79% of people who quit cite “lack of appreciation” as their reason for leaving3


Employees are five times more likely to stay when regularly acknowledged for good work3


An effective years-of-service award program alone increases employee tenure by two full years4

Many O.C. Tanner customers have discovered a powerful connection between recognition and retention. For example, a client with tens of thousands of employees recently discovered the money they saved by retaining employees not only paid for their recognition program, but provided a financial rate of return better than if they had invested the money elsewhere.
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A company that produces more with less has a distinct advantage over their competitors. For the labor part of the equation, employee motivation is key. This isn’t about placing stress on employees to produce more, it’s about creating a culture of accomplishment where employees are personally invested in helping the organisation succeed.

Fortunately, giving and receiving employee recognition increase productivity. 84% of employees say the simple act of giving recognition inspires them to think about better ways to get things done. Share these two facts with your leaders to show how recognition improves the discretionary effort employees put into their work:


Organisations that recognise effectively are 53% more likely to have highly engaged employees4


People who are recognised generate twice as many good ideas per month4

Consider your own situation. Can you show leaders data or reference recent company strategy meetings where the need for greater performance was discussed? Combining your organisation’s own opportunities to improve with the data above sends a powerful message.


Let’s get real. There’s no better test of a people initiative than whether or not it improves business results. And studies consistently show that where there’s recognition, there’s profit. Make sure you have a clear understanding of your organisation’s growth goals and connect them to this fact:


OrganiSations that practice recognition effectively are 12 times more likely to have strong business results including increases in shareholder return5

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Elevate Everything

Culture ripple effects.

In conclusion, culture impacts employee motivation in a big way—and 89% of employees say recognition creates a healthier company culture. To understand the full impact of that statement, it helps to understand the six elements that shape a great corporate culture from an employee’s point of view. They are:

  • Purpose (feeling connected to your organisation’s reason for being)
  • Opportunity (providing opportunities to grow and develop)
  • Success (innovating, doing meaningful work, playing on a winning team)
  • Appreciation (feeling valued and appreciated for individual contributions)
  • Wellbeing (providing physical, social, emotional, and financial wellbeing)
  • Leadership (developing leaders who support, mentor, and help employees achieve)

As you consider all the possible things you could do to give those six aspects of the employee experience a boost, look at the impact of just one catalyst, employee recognition:

When you succeed at the six elements of a great culture, you succeed period.
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Research shows that when you succeed at all six elements of a great culture, amazing things happen in the hearts and minds of employees and in the results they produce. Look at these factors of companies that do well in all six elements of great culture:5


More likely to have highly engaged employees


More likely to see innovation and great work


More likely to have increased in revenue over the past year

There you have it: a solid business case for employee recognition. Use our handy Discussion Guide to plan a presentation and get executive support and sponsorship. You can apply these facts to convince leaders, enlist champions, and begin to create a high-performing culture in your organisation.

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