Do These 2 Things or Watch Your Best Employees Leave

Person helping another climb a growth chartRecognize 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 organization. Third, it gives me influence in that other part of the organization.”

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

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

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

7 Responses

  1. Isabel Savoie says:

    Thank you for writing this fantastic article. As I was reading the Sean story, I saw myself and you could’ve changed his name for mine.

    This article will help me write a letter of exit to the company I am leaving. It has great suggestions for improvement and I will be using it in the future to help build retention within HR.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge,

    • Derek Irvine Derek Irvine says:

      Isabel, I wish you the best in all your pursuits. We are all deserving of a workplace that appreciates us and our efforts.

  2. john russell says:

    Pity Rolls Royce didn’t employ someone like you.

  3. Curtis Reip says:

    If only my company actually gave me and my co-workers some sort of recognition, pay-raise, or promotion. Half of my co-workers and managers are fantastic people, and they have to deal with head-corporate leaders who aren’t even there for their own personal needs. Most have kids and families, and don’t even bother to look into anything to help them out. Strictly about the money. It’s saddening really. This is probably the most inspiring,factual, and straight to the point article I have read yet, if most corp orate leaders of big businesses would actually read this article and take it to heart, you would have not only more happy employees, but have more happy and healthy families as well.
    Thank you!

    • Derek Irvine Derek Irvine says:

      Thank you for this comment, Curtis. You are right. All workers – regardless of industry or job type – bring work home with them. Our work experience colours how we interact with our family and those we love. It’s inevitable. When we are not in a position of leadership, however, we still have the power to change our corner of the workplace world through kind words, appreciation and assistance for others.

  4. margaret says:

    If only my grandson’s former employer had seen this he would still be with them. He was promised the earth at the interview – promotion within the team, cross promotion to other areas of IT work within the company, specific training etc, etc, but absolutely nothing materialised They used him when his arrival with the firm coincided with a new contract which he had already been dealing with direct for the customer, but as soon as they lost that contract he was ‘thrown to the wolves’ ; he was blocked by his team leader for every single internal post he applied for. In the end he was on sick leave for several weeks with very severe depression – and she even wanted more proof than the doctor’s certificate!

    • Derek Irvine Derek Irvine says:

      Sadly, this is a common thread of “bad bosses” – the impact is much more than a poor work experience. It actually makes us sick. I hope your grandson is in a more fulfilling, appreciative environment now, Margaret.

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