Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 4)

Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 4)
In Part 1 of this series, I postulated a formula for some of the “known" elements. The formula suggests that each of this factors can contribute to the success – or failure – of a retention strategy. Related:Top 3 Character Traits To Look For In Your Next HireSuccessful Retention = f (Objective Expectations, Compensation, Training, Recognition, Feedback, Organizational Culture, and…) The objective expectations component was discussed in Part 1. Part 2 discussed the challenging aspects of compensation. Part 3 discussed training. In my experiences training 1000's of managers for a variety of organizations, I've found “recognition" to be a fascinating, and one of the most puzzling, factors.

We Know A Lot About Recognition

One of the puzzling factors of recognition is that there is a lot of powerful, research supported data on the power of recognition. From the powerful, now longitudinal, work of the Gallup organization, initially popularized by the Buckingham/Coffman work in “First, Break All the Rules," the critically fourth step in developing top performers (and teams) was the answer to: In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work. The deliberately strong wording (“in the last seven days") revealed both the power and the paradox of what we know about recognition:
  • Less than one in three employees give a strongly positive answer to this statement.
  • Between one-fifth and one-third of employees “disagree" with the statement.
  • Variation is responsible for 10 to 20 percent differences in productivity and revenue.
And this represents the first point on why recognition is puzzling. We know it makes a difference yet there's strong, majority opinion that it's not happening. Research by the authors of “The Carrot Principle" (Gostick and Elton) clearly supports the power of recognition, identifying significant percentage differences between low and high performing employees:
  • 39 point higher percentage of employees “completely satisfied with job."
  • 63 point higher percentage of employees “agree morale is very high."
  • 65 point higher percentage of employees “who are highly engaged."

But We Don't Do It – Or Know How?

Despite the strong evidence of the power of recognition, there is still the data showing clearly that employees do not feel they are being recognized. A recent article reported:
  • Employee engagement, productivity, and customer service are 14% better in organizations where regular recognition occurs.
  • However, only 17% of the employees indicated that their organizational culture strongly supports recognition.
  • Over 70% of the respondents indicated that they are only recognized once a year (a service award) or not at all. (Bersin and Associates)
Is it just that we don't do it or is it that we don't know how? This is why I find the recognition element such a puzzling factor in the retention puzzle. And it's complicated by the fact there is clearly an abundance of resources and strategies available on recognition. Perhaps that's part of the problem, too many choices. And while there's an abundance of excellent resources for recognition, there are also enough horror stories about failed programs, like oft-criticized and ridiculed “employee-of-the-month" programs. Perhaps managers and organizations want to – but don't take the time to determine the strategically best actions for recognition.

Time To Act

There are many steps that can be taken to improve recognition in an organization. I'm only going recommend two here. The first is training. Managers presented with a deeper understanding of the power of recognition and practicing opportunities for recognition in the unique settings of their organization can make a huge difference. A single manager in a training program I presented a few years ago developed a program customized to his organization – a program that is now being used by several managers in different locations around the country. Successful recognition is frequently very personal. As a 16-17 years old employee, I was approached by one of the family owners of my high school/college employers. He took me aside, told me that he wanted me to know that his father (the founder of the company) and he were aware of my efforts during the soon-to-be completed holiday season. He then handed me a $10 gift certificate to the store. Recognition does not have to be “major;" it just has to be significant – as I'll testify to just from remembering every moment of that interaction what is now multiple decades later. How to you make it personal? Ask! I will fully discuss a format for a “Retention Interview" in the closing article of this series. But here's a starting point. As part of a new employee's orientation (or onboarding), interview the employee. Ask how they've been recognized for their performance in the past (but don't be surprised if they haven't been recognized). Ask how they want to be recognized if their performance clearly exceeds expectations on a project? One thing that is almost guaranteed – you'll be surprised in many cases how easy it might be to generate a story that will be remembered by that employee decades later.

Related Posts

Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 2)Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 3)How To Deal With Difficult Employees

About the author

Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert.