The Role of Recognition in the War for Talent

The economy is rebounding. The hiring freeze is thawing. The job market is warming. All signs point towards a full-fledged War for Talent in the near future, putting retention at the top of most HR practitioners’ priority list, with the Q2 2011 Job Forecast showing 33 percent concerned that top performers will look for new jobs and 14 percent reporting that top talent already left their organization this year.

Human capital is the corporate resource highest in demand, and the one that governs future business success, while experience at work is what governs an employee’s decision to stay or to move on to greener pastures. 73 percent of employees surveyed by expect to leave their job for a new employer in the future, showing a detrimental disconnect in expectations and delivery of engagement.

Judging by the results of the American Psychological Association’s recent survey, recognition is a missing link. Only 52 percent of employees feel valued on the job, leaving the majority feeling overworked and underappreciated by their employer. Recognition is not just warm and fuzzy, but a critical management tool that addresses the widespread issue of disengagement and low morale by highlighting contributions and championing future success. Here is what you need to know to use it to your advantage:

It’s not just about money.
Salary will always be important because it fulfills basic needs, but a culture that is characterized by values, challenging work and appreciation for employee contributions is what differentiates a company. Harris Interactive recently proved the value of recognition in a survey in which only 43 percent of respondents said they receive adequate non-monetary rewards and recognition at work. Recent studies of the Class of 2011 Gen Yers identified career advancement as more important than salary in their job search.

The transaction of a paycheck is not a thank you and it is not enough to constitute engagement. Today’s employee wants to contribute on a meaningful level and be recognized for doing so, fulfilling a higher need to feel valued.

It guides behavior.
What gets recognized gets repeated. Recognition is not only validation for a job well done, but vocalizes and makes clear what workplace behaviors are most desirable and will strengthen an employees’ performance. Top talent is a group that is generally characterized by intrinsic motivation, and will push to see themselves advance. They are highly capable of taking in feedback and applying it to future tasks to improve.

Towers Watson found that companies with strong manager performance in recognizing employee performance increases engagement by almost 60 percent. Recognition is a win-win practice, showing employees that they are valued for their contributions and helping managers champion a results-oriented and high-performance team.

Specific and meaningful are requirements.
The difference between saying “good job” and “the connection you made between our pay-for-performance model and ROI was the breakthrough needed to bring this client on board, and you added enormous value to the company.” Recognition should be more than a pat on the back or a high-five. It won’t be remembered or influential unless it is tied to a specific performance.

Aside from being specific and timely, recognition should be delivered in a way that is meaningful to the recipient. An e-mail or handwritten thank you note might be fitting for one employee while another may prefer public praise during a department-wide meeting. A LinkedIn recommendation or a shout-out on Twitter might work well for another. Smart and effective managers take the guesswork out by asking their team how they like to be recognized and then delivering on it.

Make it part of everyday communication to ensure your top performers don’t take flight. Gallup’s Q12 advice that employees should be individually recognized once every seven days to increase engagement. Towers Watson research found a stark difference in retention levels between engaged and disengaged employees, with only 9 percent of disengaged employees having no plans to leave their organization, compared to 43 percent of engaged employees.

Talent is undoubtedly in high demand, and moments of authentic and meaningful recognition play a part in a company’s ability to retain top talent in the recovering economy. Start preparing now to ensure your top performers don’t take flight during the War for Talent.

Razor Suleman is CEO and Founder of I Love Rewards, experts in employee rewards and recognition solutions. He can be reached at [email protected].