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Recognition as an Employee Retention Strategy

Bob Nelson, Ph.D.
December 18, 2018

Most companies don’t worry about keeping their employees until an employee is ready to quit. Then his or her manager gets concerned and, if you are a good employee, wants to do whatever they can to keep you from leaving.  He or she might even call Human Resources and proclaim “We’ve got to do something about salaries; people are starting to leave!”

Are people leaving just to make a little more money? Probably not.  More likely, they are leaving because they don’t feel valued for the job they were hired to do.  At least that’s what Robert Half International found when they took a deep dive on the topic. They reported that the Number One reason people leave their jobs is “limited recognition for the job they do,” which ranked higher in their research than compensation, career opportunities, limited authority, personal circumstances, and other reasons employees reported.

What might work better to keep employees?  A little recognition. A report by Cicero Group found that recognition is more effective at increasing employees’ performance and engagement than an additional 5 percent bonus.  They also noted that employees who feel well recognized are “more driven and determined, have better work relationships, feel more strongly bonded with their company, and are more innovative and efficient.” That’s a lot of bang for no buck!

If you get your managers to take this simple topic seriously, personally catching their employees doing things right in a frequent and systematic manner, you have a chance to create a “culture of recognition” for your organization that becomes how employees are systematically treated on an ongoing basis: calling out a job well done in private and public ways, making recognition a part of every meeting, celebrating successes in timely ways as those successes occur, and so forth. That was evident from a Maritz Poll that found companies who had a Culture of Recognition not only had employees that were five times more likely to feel valued, but they were also seven times more likely to stay with the company for the rest of their careers!

So what’s it take to make recognition occur with greater frequency in your organization? You have to bake it into your behaviors, routines and activities.  At ESPN, a manager told me that whenever they have a staff meeting, they start the meeting having the group list five things that are going well. Usually that’s easy to do, but sometimes it’s not. But they don’t go to the second item on their agenda until they can name five things. “It’s our homeroom, our touchstone, that gives us the confidence as a group to take on the next challenge,” they told me.

This simple activity was determined to be so important, Bank of America set an organization-wide policy that every meeting, whether it was three or three hundred people, would begin with some type of recognition.  And when I worked with NASA (voted best place to work in the Federal Government) at Johnson Space Center last year in Houston, Texas, it was evident to me that recognition was a critical part of their mission. Whenever a group of managers got together, they would always save a few minutes at the end of the meeting to go around the group and share what each manager had done to recognize someone on their team since the group had last convened.

Each time they did so, you could fell the energy rise in the room and the pride managers had for their people. In fact, managers would often take notes on each others’ ideas. “That’s a good one, Jerry! I’m going to try that with my team.”  They’ve become, as you can become, a self-learning organization on the topic, learning from each other and systematically getting better at recognizing their people each and every day.

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