The Most Effective Talent and Retention Strategy May Be Simpler Than You Think


When it comes to managing and retaining talent, sometimes the best strategy is the easiest and simplest to execute.

That's the takeaway from new Gallup research that found that, "in their search for new ideas and approaches, organizations could be overlooking one of the most easily executed strategies: employee recognition."

According to Gallup's analysis, only one in three U.S. workers strongly agree that they received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days. "At any given company, it's not uncommon for employees to feel that their best efforts are routinely ignored," Gallup says. "Further, employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they'll quit in the next year."

The Power of Employee Recognition

This element of engagement and performance might be one of the greatest missed opportunities for leaders and managers.

The analysis by Gallup touches on a lot of different workplace areas that recognition can support, including employee engagement, motivation., loyalty, and company culture. As the analysis of the survey data points out:

Workplace recognition motivates, provides a sense of accomplishment and makes employees feel valued for their work. Recognition not only boosts individual employee engagement, but it also has been found to increase productivity and loyalty to the company, leading to higher retention.

Beyond communicating appreciation and providing motivation to the recognized employee, the act of recognition also sends messages to other employees about what success looks like. In this way, recognition is both a tool for personal reward and an opportunity to reinforce the desired culture of the organization to other employees."

And in case you think that employee recognition is a costly and time-consuming managerial endeavor, Gallup's data reveals "that the most effective recognition is honest, authentic and individualized to how each employee wants to be recognized. Acknowledging employees' best work can be a low-cost endeavor -- it can be as small as a personal note or a thank-you card. But the key is to know what makes it meaningful and memorable for the employee, and who is doing the recognizing."

Where Meaningful Recognition Comes From

When respondents were asked to recall who gave them their most meaningful and in a recent Gallup workplace survey, employees were asked to recall who gave them their "most meaningful and memorable recognition," it broke down like this:

  • The employee's manager -- 28 percent;
  • A high-level leader or CEO -- 24 percent;
  • The manager's manager -- 12 percent;
  • A customer -- 10 percent; and,
  • Peers -- 9 percent.

Also worth mentioning: 17 percent of those surveyed cited "other" as the source of their most memorable recognition.

Gallup points out something that should resonate with executives and top management: Employees REALLY remember when they are recognized by managers at the highest levels.

As the survey shows, nearly one-quarter of those who responded said that their most memorable recognition came from a high-level leader or CEO. And as the analysis noted,

Employees will remember personal feedback from the CEO -- even a small amount of time a high-ranking leader takes to show appreciation can yield a positive impression on an employee. In fact, acknowledgment from a CEO could become a career highlight."

What Employees Remember Most

Gallup also asked about what types of recognition were the most memorable, respondents emphasized six methods in particular:

  1. Public recognition or acknowledgment via an award, certificate or commendation.
  2. Private recognition from a boss, peer or customer.
  3. Receiving or obtaining a high level of achievement through evaluations or reviews.
  4. A promotion or an increase in scope of work or responsibility to show trust.
  5. A monetary award such as a trip, prize or pay increase.
  6. Personal satisfaction or pride in work.

You Can Never Give Too Much Recognition

My take: Gallup's research makes this crystal clear, but managers hold the key to employee retention anf engagement. The more they let workers know when they're doing a good job, the better the employee does. It's a circular system that builds on itself, and it doesn't take a lot of money to make it powerful and meaningful for those who work for you.

But, it also shows that managers and executives need to be engaged and working constantly to recognize employees. This is where the theory of "management by walking around" comes into play, yet far too many managers fail when it comes to interacting with those who work for them. From everything I've read, and observed first-hand from those I have managed, you can't connect with people enough. The more you do it, and the more you tell them when they are doing well, the better they perform.

Yes, it's a simple formula that a lot more managers need to embrace, and Gallup's analysis underlines this as well:

Great managers know that they can never give too much recognition as long as it's honest and deserved. Acknowledging an employee's best work goes a long way toward making him or her feel valued and can lead to other desirable workplace outcomes."