Talent Management

By Sarah McVanel & Brenda Zalter-Minden

Employers, take note. Your talent has a lot to say about how well you are recognizing them and the impact it is having.


When Canadian survey company Metrics@Work analyzed their database of almost a quarter million staff engagement surveys from hundreds of companies, the results on recognition were disheartening.

According to the analysis, the highest average recognition score of an organization was 80 per cent satisfied and the lowest 29 per cent – a huge range. Imagine how much more those top-rated organizations are getting from their talent than those with extremely dissatisfied staff. Think about your own work history. Have you given your best in jobs when you have felt undervalued compared to when you have been able to bring your gifts, passions and virtues to work with you every day?

Keeping top talent at the top of their game

Organizations are missing an opportunity right in front of their noses to increase engagement. Of all the variables that are commonly studied in employee engagement surveys, rewards and recognition was the fourth most correlated with it in the database (behind trust in the organization, satisfaction with senior leadership and continuous quality improvement). In fact, all of these variables correlate with each other, so one could argue that a more tangible focus on recognition would be an effective way to increase trust as well as satisfaction with senior leadership. For those who work in continuous improvement cultures, you know employees’ ideas and solutions form the basis of the improvements every day; these gains must be acted upon and celebrated to encourage a culture that values solution finding.

Retaining top talent

If this doesn't seem like sufficient evidence for the business case (let alone the human case) for recognition, think about what type of company you would want to work for. Employees are 25 per cent more likely to remain in the organization when they are recognized; it would stand to reason that employees stay in their department and working for their direct supervisor when they feel what they have to offer is valued and needed. There are many factors that contribute to someone deciding to leave the organization, and not everyone has the luxury of doing so, but if a team or organization has a significant turnover issue, or is beginning to trend upwards, it is worth considering how recognition in their work areas and as an organization-at-large could play a role in rectifying issues.

How is this not part of the broader discourse of business, like work-life balance? Recognition is part of any total rewards strategy; when companies, industries or provinces are in tough times, it might become the way to meaningfully reward employees.

Workplaces staying at the top

A common thread in the story of top-rated companies in Canada is not that they’re the largest or most famous of companies, but that they have a strong focus on recognizing and leveraging the best in their people. Organizations don’t need to be huge to make major inroads in cultivating healthy organizational culture. The gains are not just notoriety, but getting the best from talent, which also translates into healthy bottom lines.

Some major differences in organizational characteristics associated highest satisfaction with recognition. Employees who were the most satisfied with how well they were recognized report that they are:

● Engaged in their job overall
● Engaged with the broader organization
● Involved with and participate in decision-making
● Satisfied with senior leaders
● Trustful of the organization
● Continually seeking to improve how work was done (as was their whole team)
● Innovative (as was their whole team)
● Satisfied with communication
● Regularly receiving performance feedback and performance was managed well
● Satisfied with opportunities for advancement
● Likely to stay with the organization

Creating retention cultures through recognition

According to the data, the top three ways employees say they want to be recognized are through a verbal thank-you (89 per cent), private praise (84 per cent) or a written thank-you (82 per cent).

Gifts, bonuses and other incentive programs only go so far. If they are part of your compensation structure, then that embeds them in the culture; however, what happens when you have a bad year or work an industry that doesn’t allow such structures? If your recognition program is resting on only a small segment of your total rewards framework, your house of cards may fall at a time when you need your talent to help you through difficult financial times – when value is monetized by something that is outside of your control, you’re on shaky ground. Adding to that, it’s not what gets everyone out of bed in the morning, let alone motivates them to bring their full discretionary effort.

What can every organization build into its culture, and every member contribute to –whether staff, middle management or senior leader? The basic recognition fundamentals: verbal or written thank-yous, and personal, private words of praise. It goes back to treating people as the valued asset that they are – in good times and bad.

So what can we do if we don’t work for a top-ranked company? We can start by recognizing those around us, regardless of our role. We can ask people how they want to be recognized. We can use what they say and the methods most commonly valued as often as possible. We can tell others how we want to be recognized and for what. We can look at the ways we do corporate recognition, and suggest (or adjust if we are responsible for it) a balanced approach that includes more personalized and meaningful strategies.

If nothing else, focus on this: do more of what is already working. Where is recognition happening already? Where is recognition part of daily discourse? Where could we experiment with different recognition strategies and settings? All the effort you put into meaningful recognition will come back to you in dividends.

Sarah McVanel specializes as a talent and engagement culture expert and professional speaker. Brenda Zalter-Minden is a trainer, consultant and facilitator specializing in solution-focused approaches. They recently co-authored a book, titled Forever Recognize Others’ Greatness: Solution Focused Strategies for Satisfied Staff, High Performing Teams and Healthy Bottom Lines.