Last month, I shared 3 ways to optimize your employee referral program. We know that employee referrals are powerful--they bring in quality talent, reduce time to hire, and help ease the burden of recruiters. In a 2014 CareerXroads survey, referrals were the top source for hiring and companies said they filled 20 percent of their openings through employee referrals. After establishing a referral program, the next step is to incorporate referrals into the company culture. In a referral culture, employees are expected to refer qualified candidates and employees expect their employer to consider their recommendations. Creating a referral culture requires employees at every level to invest in the program. Here are some tips to get employees involved and make referrals a priority.

Involve executive leadership.

Initiatives start at the top and leaders need to be invested in the referral culture for it to take hold and thrive. Executives first need to know the details of the program and understand its importance so they can guide employees through the process. Specify what managers should tell employees about the program and how they should motivate employees to participate. As the program starts to grow, measure the impact of referrals and keep leaders up-to-date on its progress. Set aside time in every meeting with executive leaders to discuss the program so they know what is working and what isn't. Let them know what they can do to help improve the success of the program.

Recognize top referrers.

For the program to work, employees need to be invested as well. A little recognition will go a long way when establishing a referral culture. In a survey conducted in February 2015 by Kronos, 55 percent of respondents said receiving a '"thank you" from their direct manager gives them high levels of satisfaction at work. Recognize and reward top referrers to get employees interested in the program. Rewards don't always have to be about money--monetary rewards will bring in a large quantity of referrals, but won't guarantee quality. Couple the monetary incentives of the program with timely recognition and more fun, creative rewards.

Educate employees.

In a survey conducted by TINYpulse in 2013, only 42 percent of employees surveyed knew their organization's vision, mission and cultural values. How can employees be expected to advocate for the company and bring in new hires without a firm grasp of its mission and values? Educate employees on core values and centralize them as an important part of the workplace. Explain how the mission drives everyday work, decisions, and processes. Make sure they know what sets the company apart from competitors. They need to know the heart and soul of the business and be aware of its impact on the workplace in order to sell the brand to their contacts.

Treat employees as recruiters.

For employees to participate in the referral culture, they need to be kept in the loop and treated as recruiters. They need to know what positions are open, the kind of talent you're seeking, and which skills and backgrounds are the most important. Keep them up-to-date with emails or e-newsletters. Employees should also have access to the insights and analytics of the program--they are critical to success and should be treated as such. Tools and resources should also be easily available to all employees in order to boost social referrals.

Don't ignore referrals.

Always accept referrals, even when a relevant job isn't open. The referral could be the perfect candidate for an open position down the road. Although you may never hire the candidate, accepting all referrals shows the value you place on the program and on the opinions and networks of employees.

How do you motivate employees to participate in your referral program?