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How to Get (and Keep) Buy-in for a Recognition Strategy and Program

March 2, 2020

Whether you are a new hire or tenured employee, as a project manager it is essential to have trust, cooperation, and buy-in to make any project or initiative a success. So how do you gain buy-in and whose support is essential for long-term implementation and successful execution? According to a recent Competitive Focus article, there are two components of gaining support from stakeholders: acquiring the emotional or psychological commitment from stakeholders, and acquiring the needed financial resources necessary to implement your program.[1]

Gaining buy-in for a recognition program from leaders and key stakeholders requires a formal plan to solidify your ideas and effectively share them with the audience. A formal plan can help to identify gaps or nonessential elements. An often-overlooked element of gaining support is honest, authentic communication. Communication—especially what and how you communicate—may change based on your audience or stakeholder. Keep in mind that an organizational change has many stakeholders at different levels, from the C-suite to frontline employees and teammates. As you draft your plan, it is helpful to know your audience, key stakeholders and their interests. Your stakeholders will ask, “What’s in it for me?” Keep the answer to that question in your mind as you progress through gaining buy-in for your recognition program. Finally, maintaining buy-in is dependent on continuous communication, sharing results and being agile and open to improvement.

1. Develop and present a formal plan that focuses on results

Recognition is not one size fits all and the many motivators can be as unique as the people in your organization. Before you begin to develop your plan or while it’s in the early stages, conduct an analysis or focus group to help you better attain an understanding of what motivates each stakeholder. What motivates one team may differ from what motivates another. Senior managers may be motivated by performance incentives, Millennial and Generation Z workers may be driven by health and well-being rewards. This work upfront, will serve you well as you pursue and maintain wider stakeholder buy-in[2]. A Tech Republic article finds a correlation between project and company goals and stakeholder values and motivations is essential to establish higher degrees of buy-in. Keep in mind that it is unlikely to be able to meet every de-facto motivator for various stakeholders [3]. Communication, open dialogue with stakeholders and transparency will help to forge collaboration and determine factors to help drive buy-in and partnership.

When preparing to present to your stakeholders and leaders, align your recognition program to what is important to your company objectives, goals and what the company wants to achieve. Present tangible cultural and business benefits that will have a positive impact and illustrate value. A recent SHRM resource, listed numerous benefits to recognition programs that validate ROI:

“Organizations adopt employee recognition programs to raise employee morale; attract and retain key employees; elevate productivity; increase competitiveness, revenues and profitability; improve quality, safety and customer service; and reduce employee stress, absenteeism and turnover.”[4]

Strategic Roadmap

In your formal plan, clearly express the vision and illustrate the strategic roadmap of your proposed program. Your overall plan may include sub-plans. For example a communications plan is essential to any project, change or organizational process or program especially those that impact culture. Acts of recognition must be tied to company values in order to build a sense of belonging that matters for organizations. For example, a program that embodies company values — such as going the extra mile for the client, being a team player, or suggesting an innovative idea that helps the company — will ensure alignment across the organization on its mission, driving value over time. If organizations focus on listening to employees and using that input to create a positive workplace culture, they will deliver on the promise of employee fulfillment and business success [5]. Returns from well received recognition programs that are often achieved include lower employee turnover, greater employee trust and positive revenue growth.

Aligning Your Recognition Strategy with Business Objectives

Dr. Rohini Anand, retired senior vice president corporate responsibility and global chief diversity officer of Sodexo established Sodexo’s award-winning diversity and inclusion program. According to Dr. Anand, “Developing a recognition program that is strategically aligned to your organization’s mission, values and core business, is key to establishing executive support. In addition, building a supporting process that is aligned with a cost/benefits analysis could be effective to illustrate the relation between the proposed recognition program and business objectives. It along with the following three elements should be components of the formal plan for the recognition program.

Audience or Stakeholder Analysis

Identifying your audience: A Stakeholder Analysis identifies the key people who need to be on your side and supporting your project to secure success.
As mentioned earlier, your stakeholders could include members of the executive team, peers, individual contributors, end users, sales and marketing. A co-facilitator or your initial project team can help identify stakeholders. Depending on the organization, a project champion could serve in lieu of a co-facilitator. A project champion is often a high-ranking and well-regarded executive that serves as sponsor for the initiative helping to remove roadblocks and navigate the organization.[6]
There are valuable benefits of using a “stakeholder-based approach.”[7]

    • Stakeholders’ knowledgeable input early in the project can improve the quality of the project, and give them a sense of ownership in ensuring the recognition program actually comes to fruition and is successful.
    • More powerful stakeholders can provide access to more financial-based, time-based and people-based resources.
    • When stakeholders are regularly involved — even if it’s simply reporting on progress to them, it is more likely that they understand what your project team is doing and are kept abreast of the project status and benefits.

This knowledge expedites their involvement if needed because they are already up to speed.

This approach helps the project lead predict what stakeholders’ reactions may be and ensure that you are actively marketing the project in a way that will win their support [8]. Also, it helps to proactively address any concerns or questions that the stakeholder(s) may have. In turn, the stakeholder can confidently address concerns or questions that leadership may have and provide timely updates.

Based on a Wall Street Journal article and Deloitte research, the starting point to developing an influencer strategy is mapping where you will need to spend time and effort convincing others to support your program. To be effective, determine who among your critical stakeholders is likely to be a supporter, a neutral party, or blockers of your priority initiatives. Frame your influencer communication strategy based on the delineations you interpret. [9]

The Role of a RACI: A RACI chart is a useful tool to create clarity and evaluate audience, message and motivations. In his project management research and conference paper, Ernest Baker makes the case that Project and Process requirements must often receive the same diligence. Project teams frequently focus on technology and process and neglect the people. Such oversight is dangerous and counterproductive in HR and culture change projects and program implementations. Although the project may have succeeded on the product side delivering what was promised, many implementations fail on the process side by not keeping stakeholders—including employees and end users—informed about what was going on within the project. Such failures leaves the stakeholder with a bad impression of the project team, which may lead to rejection of the completed product or program. Baker asserts that stakeholder management and communication are project deliverables and deserve as much attention as any other deliverables. [10]Sample RACI Chart



Resource A Resource B Resource
1 Deliverable
No. 1
2 Deliverable
No. 2
3 Deliverable
No. 3
4 Deliverable
No. 4
5 Deliverable
No. 5


RACI Legend   Brief Description
Responsible R Responsible for completion of task or deliverable
Accountable A Is accountable for completion of the task
Consulted C Consulted by those responsible for advice and expertise
Informed I Kept updated on progress and notified when tasks are completed

Opportunity and Communication Matrix

Use the identified stakeholder groups as column headings.

For each person in your audience, consider a broad variety of preferences and issues, including:

Change How does this project represent a change to this person/or group?
Goals What are this person’s goals and objectives?
Fears What fears does this project present for this person?
Risks What risks does this project pose for this person?
Communication preference Does this person want the big picture, face- to-face meetings? Or does this person prefer lots of data and time to mull it over?
Needs What are your needs with regard to this person? Do you need cooperation, resources, commitment, or an understanding of how this project fits into this person’s plans for the company?
Shared interests What areas of common interest do you share with this person? Research shows that simply citing mutual interests at the beginning of a discussion increases the likelihood of agreement.
Project Requirements
Things that define the features and function of the program and the project's end product (The ‘What’)
Process Requirements
How you keep stakeholders informed about project progress, any problems, or constraints, etc. (The ‘How’)



  • Execute your plan. Launch communications, hold meetings, prepare evidence, send relevant messages, and listen for the feedback that will help you to take corrective action. Continually focus on short and long-term strategic goals in order to keep your program aligned with corporate objectives, vision and mission. [11]
  • Increase the value of your program and gain greater buy-in by demonstrating quick wins and their significance.

2. Communicate often and keep stakeholders informed

Nothing is more important to the success of a project than effective communication. The more effective the communication; the better the management of the project. A project manager spends approximately 90 percent of his or her time communicating—to stakeholders, to team members, providing status or clarification [12]. In presentation to the Project Management Institute presentation, Rajkumar asserts that “communication is a vital element of a well-managed project" [13]. From conception to implementation and beyond, communication plays various critical roles in successful programs. The project communication plan sets the standard for communications and tempo determining when communication takes place. The project manager maintains control of the information and program narrative through the communication plan. A well thought out plan bestows additional credibility to the project manager. Clear, timely communication is critical to keeping stakeholders informed.

All communications should have well-defined objectives and purpose. With it, the project team can set program expectations early on and throughout the program lifecycle. It also helps to drive consistency on project management and information, so all stakeholders are on the same page. Communication ensures productivity and guides the project team to the desired outcomes. Regular communication keeps your stakeholders informed and allows the employees working on the project to remain productive. When communication is clear and consistent, stakeholders, team members and influencers put more faith and credibility in the program and its lead [14]. A Program Execution article outlined Raj Sharma’s four categories of program and stakeholder communication that contribute to support. This delineation plus clear, timely communication will help to achieve and maintain buy-in. The four stakeholder communication categories identified include: [15]

  • Awareness: Creates general knowledge of the project and how the program will benefit each stakeholder, end users and the company. Successful methods to communicate awareness may include intranet, videos, brochures and SharePoint sites.
  • Program/Performance: Keeps stakeholders aware of the stage and progress of the project. These communications such as tables, SOW, presentations, relay information on contracts, schedule, budget and more.
  • Change Management: This refers to communicating directly with the front line users whose jobs will change with project implementation. This includes outlining change requirements, any incentive programs, implementation timelines, etc.
  • Knowledge Transfer: Perhaps considered “lessons learned” these types of communications are often a byproduct of a post mortem, debrief or program review. Here project managers share key findings, best practices and lessons with stakeholders in easily accessible communications. Knowledge transfer communications are also vital as they help define or illuminate any needed program changes and help determine what is working well and where improvements should be considered as in ‘Step 3.’

3. Simple steps to maintain stakeholder buy-in and engagement

Keeping buy-in is dependent on continuous communication, sharing results and being agile to change and open to improvement. Program deliverables, project requirements and stakeholder expectations can differ greatly. Steps to maintain stakeholder buy-in are equally varied. However certain steps or tactics can contribute to a greater degree of assent. Some of the tools used earlier in the planning and development phases will be equally useful to secure continued approval and engagement of key groups such as RACI matrices, communication plans, and written messaging.

In Securing and Maintaining Stakeholder Buy-in Through Project Management Practices Aziz asserts that active engagement and facilitating stakeholder participation are effective approaches to maintaining buy-in and engagement from this important group. He lists five successful approaches project leaders can integrate into their plan to attain maximum buy-in. [16]

    1. Make team members feel valued by soliciting their expertise and listening to their professional and expert opinions.
    2. Establish trust among all members of the team, encourage dialogue and collaboration enabling understanding and interdependencies between their contributions, and an environment to openly discuss and debate project elements.
    3. Enable stakeholders to develop a sense of ownership and belonging to the project by providing printed reports and briefs the stakeholder can post or physically present. This provides ownership of the plan rather than having it dictated to them.
    4. Encourage transparency and the absence of politics in the processes of planning and decision making.
    5. Bridges gaps between various stakeholder groups (e.g., the project team and the customer, or the project team and the environmental stakeholder where relevant) by making the team feel valued, enforcing the sentiment that the work has been performed collectively through collaboration and with buy-in and consent.

During program development, throughout implementation and beyond, maintain communication, be open to collaboration, listen to the spectrum of feedback and be agile in making improvements to your program. Maintaining stakeholder engagement requires “conscious awareness of all those impacted by your business" [17]. Identify these key influencers and learn what motivates them. It will strengthen your program, validate your team and contribute to a stronger company.[18]

These efforts and a solid plan will help you get—and keep—buy-in from leaders and key-stakeholders for a recognition program that will benefit your company, your end users, and your culture.


[1] Competitive Focus, Gaining Support for Your Project, 2017.

[2] TechRepublic, 6 Ways to Increase Buy-in From Project Stakeholders, 2018.

[3] TechRepublic, 6 Ways to Increase Buy-in From Project Stakeholders, 2018.

[4] SHRM, Managing Employee Recognition Programs, 2019.

[5] Inspirus, What’s the True ROI of Your Organization’s Recognition Program?, 2019.

[6] MSI, Role of Six Sigma Champion, 2017.

[7] Project Smart, The Secrets to Getting Stakeholders on Your Side, 2011.

[8] Project Smart, The Secrets to Getting Stakeholders on Your Side, 2011.

[9] Wall Street Journal, Influencing Stakeholders: Persuade, Trade or Compel, 2018.

[10] Project Management Institute, Planning effective stakeholder management strategies to do the same thing!, 2012.

[11] Competitive Focus, Gaining Support for Your Project.

[12] Project Management Institute, Art of communication in project management, 2010.

[13] Project Management Institute, Art of communication in project management, 2010.

[14] Small Business Chron, How Important are Communication Plans for Project Managers?.

[15] Program Execution, Mastering Stakeholder Buy-In: 4 Steps to Gaining and Maintaining, 2015.

[16] Project Management Institute, How to Secure 360 Stakeholder Buy-In and Sustain It?, 2014.

[17] Forbes, How to Care for Your Stakeholders for Better Business Health, 2018.

[18] Forbes, How to Care for Your Stakeholders for Better Business Health, 2018.

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