The Power of Recognition: Retaining your Talent


Let me ask you a question. What would your leaders say about the state of affairs in your workplace? Do employees believe in your organization that recognition is important? If recognition is important, how do you retain your talent using recognition as a key strategy? Finally, what does recognition look like in your organization?

Let’s take a look at a few facts. Only 4% of 90,000 applicants annually at Southwest Airlines are actually hired. That’s only 3600 lucky people! What makes Southwest Airlines so popular that 90,000 people would compete for 3600 jobs? I contend that Southwest Airlines is a great place to work and that people are recognized for the contributions that they make to the organization.

A New York Times study revealed that 25% of employees reported being driven to tears in the workplace. 50% of those individuals call their place of work a place of verbal abuse and yelling. 30% say that they are regularly given unrealistic deadlines and 50% indicate that they have to work 12 hour days just to get all the work done. What is happening in the American workplace today that leads employees to such poor opinions about their workplace?

There’s more! The Harvard business review estimates that ‘presenteeism’ (that is lost productivity that occurs when employees come to work but perform below par due to any kind of illness, low morale, or poor work attitude) costs the United States $150 billion annually. These folks are “present, but not fully accounted for…” In a 1999 study sponsored by the Employers Health Coalition, researchers calculated that the costs of lost productivity are 7.5 times greater than costs due to absenteeism.

This article explores the critical role that employee recognition plays in organizations today. In addition, I hope to provide readers with some clues on how to increase your organizational effectiveness and to make the business case for increasing the strategic significance of recognition in your organizations today.

We have all seen many talent management models from great leadership thinkers in recent decades. They all champion some form of organizational design that supports vision, planning and forecasting, succession planning, recruiting and staffing, and so on.

I have included a step in a model that I use that suggests that recognition is a key element of effective talent management for organizations.

Recognition can be a strategic force, a superior communications methodology, and emotional bond between management and workers, a commitment builder, and an impact on your bottom line.

Organizations must embrace the fact that recognition is critical to their success. It must be accepted as an organizational value.

Interestingly, creating and implementing a recognition strategy in your organization doesn’t have to cost much, but can yield huge dividends. The fact is, without proactively doing something about the absence of a clear recognition strategy in your organization, the negative effect in your business can be significant.  Those individuals in the organization that feel that they are not recognized are essentially hidden employees doing just enough to get by. Many of them grumbling and complaining, and they pass their behavior along to new employees insuring a continuous negative impact on the organization’s bottom line.

Here are more facts to consider. A Lynn Learning Labs 1998 survey indicated that 88% of employees of feel that there is not enough acknowledgment of their work. Further, a Hewitt Associates global study estimates that 54% of the workforce in low-performing companies is disengaged. A Conference Board’s 2005 study indicated that two out of three workers are not motivated to drive the Company’s business goals. Guess what? If employees are not motivated to drive your organization’s business goals, whose goals are they promoting?

Interestingly, management doesn’t have a clue as to the impact of poor recognition practices in the workplace. The same Conference Board study indicated that 65% of US workers reported receiving no recognition for good work performed (2003). What’s surprising is that over 50% of managers agree that they do not recognize employee performance! Even worse, nearly 75% of managers do not see a need for a companywide approach to managing employee performance. No wonder we’re having such massive turnover in organizations. It’s not all driven by layoffs and reorganizations or mergers and acquisitions. Even in a recessionary environment like that of 2009 there were still employees (albeit not as many as in prior years) who decided to jump ship because they weren’t being valued.

A Gallup Organization study on recognition concluded that a properly designed and implemented recognition strategy can:

1) Increase individual productivity

2) Increase employee engagement

3) Result in higher retention rates

4) Result in higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers

5) Yield better safety records and fewer accidents than those experienced by organizations without recognition initiatives


So how do you know when you’ve succeeded at implementing relevant recognition initiatives in your workplace? There are some tried-and-true indicators. Employee turnover should be lower and employee feedback scores in organizational surveys should be higher. Safety issues and claims should decrease while increase in quality scores in feedback should result. As your recognition initiatives become implemented you should see an increase in satisfactory customer service and a corresponding increase in productivity as well. The definition of success can and does vary from organization to organization. You need to determine what the right success measures are for your work environment.

A final thought. news magazine stated that working for a boss an employee dislikes increases the chance of heart disease by 16% and the risk of stroke by 33% (2003)! Implementing full recognition initiatives in the workplace may not improve your employees’ medical condition, but it will create less stress and strife in the work environment. I encourage you to learn as much as you can about the power of recognition and how you can use it as an inexpensive strategic opportunity for your business. Books like ‘The 24 Carrot Manager’ and ‘Managing with Carrots’ are excellent in helping you understand what it takes to quickly engage your employees and keep them that way. The Jackson Organization has written a white paper on recognition that contains great insights into the impact of recognition aligned with the organization’s bottom line. (Just ‘Google’ them.)   Starts helping your organization today by identifying what you believe are the first three steps in the process of developing and implementing strategic recognition initiatives in your work environment. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Poll other organizations out there similar to yours who are willing to share their practices with you. Your employees will thank you for it through greater productivity results and higher retention. Good luck!   The Gallup organization has conducted studies that say, as much as 30% of the average workforce is actively disengaged. That means these employees are not working to fulfill the organizations agenda, but rather their own.


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