Recognise This! – Ongoing, immediate recognition of excellence is as important as career growth and development opportunities to retain top talent.

There are many forms of employee recognition. There’s the formal, social recognition I most often write about in which an individual purposefully notices, acknowledges and appreciates the good work of another in line with company core values. Then there’s another class of recognition in terms of promotion, job function or learning opportunities. Recognition in the latter category communicates to an employee, “I see the good work you’re doing and want to support you in continuing to do so.”

How do you effectively use this latter category of recognition? Sheila Talton, chief executive of Gray Matter Analytics, explained not only how, but why doing so is critical to success:

“One thing I’ve done a lot over the years is to push my stars out. I’ve had a number of people who worked for me who were really good at what they did. And many times, when I would be sitting in meetings with my peers and they’d say, ‘I’ve got to hire somebody to do this,’ I often would offer up some of my people for them to interview. Many of them would ask me why, and there are a few reasons. It’s very important that my team know that I’m invested in their career. Second, it’s the right thing for the organisation. Third, it gives me influence in that other part of the organisation.”

When pressed on why she would do this when many managers prefer to hold onto their stars, Ms. Talton pointed out you’ll lose your best employees anyway. If you’re going to lose them to a new opportunity, it’s better if that opportunity is within your company and not at a competitor.

Contrast Ms. Talton’s approach with the story of Sean:

“Losing high performers is painful, both personally and professionally. Consider the story of Sean, a high-potential employee who left a company after five years because he felt disconnected and disrespected. His direct supervisor did little, if anything, to sponsor him. All the groundbreaking work led by Sean, while apparent to his team, peers, and customers, was invisible to the powers that be. When he pitched requests for additional resources, he was turned down. And when he expressed interest in an opportunity for promotion, he was politely but firmly dismissed. When Sean had finally had enough and landed a better position with a rival, senior managers were at first surprised and then dismayed, as they were barraged with complaints about his departure from his former colleagues. As is often the case with external hires (of which 46 percent fail, according to Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ), lacking organisational context and trusted relationships, Sean’s replacement was struggling, unable to pick up where Sean left off and finding it difficult to connect with colleagues who were holding on to the past.”

Holding your star performers back only results in the inevitable – them moving on to better opportunities anyway and leaving a talent vacuum that is difficult if not impossible to fill (at least in the short term).

All of this does not minimise the critical importance of frequent, timely and specific social recognition to employee retention, however. There’s only so many times you can promote a person, or offer them a new role in different functional group. But you can acknowledge daily excellence and praise employees for it. It’s all about balance between the two:

  1. Recognise and specifically praise ongoing excellence in the daily work (and encourage others to do so as well)
  2. Look for opportunities to seed the organisation with top talent through promotional, cross-functional transitions whenever possible.

How are employees recognised in your organisation? Is frequent, timely and specific praise combined with growth and development opportunities?