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How to Identify and Retain Top Performers with Rewards and Recognition

Employee retention is a key goal for every company, but it’s important to drill down into this metric and make sure you’re doing a good job of identifying and keeping your top performers. These employees deliver 400 percent more productivity than the average worker, according to statistics published in Harvard Business Review (HBR). The researchers state, “Our workforce strategy goal should be to double down on retention tactics for high performers,” and further explain that, in many cases, managers aren’t meeting the needs of their top talent. The first step to nurturing your best workers is to make sure you know who they are; and a simple way to discover top performers is through rewards and recognition programs.

Look for active recognizers

The right rewards and recognition program can help determine top performers – but you may be surprised by which statistics you should look at. As to be expected, the hardest working and most talented people are likely to receive the highest amount of recognition from their supervisors. They are also likely to be recognized by their peers, since the ability to work well within a team is another important component of productivity. However, when you’re seeking out the truly top performers in your workforce, it’s also important to identify those who are most often recognizing others.

According to a recent Achievers study, employees who were promoted turned out to have a track record of actively recognizing their peers. In fact, before being promoted, these high performers sent an average of 3.8 times more peer recognition than the average employee. In this way, employee rewards and recognition programs provide two separate metrics for  identifying top talent: those who receive the most recognition, as well as those who give the most acknowledgments to others.

Tie recognitions to company values

Your organization probably took significant time and effort to craft a mission and values statement.  This statement is more than mere words residing on a wall, a website, or welcome pamphlet; it can serve as a dynamic tool for shaping your employee recognition program. By tying recognitions to your company’s core values, you can see which performers are embodying those values most authentically. This approach is sometimes termed “Management by Objectives,” and it feeds employee motivation by helping every member of the organization feel that their contribution is truly meaningful.

High performers have unique needs

The workplace factors that keep your super-skilled employees motivated are somewhat different from commonplace worker needs, and it’s necessary to be aware of these differences. While competitive salaries are important, HBR research points out that using regular compensation as a method of delivering employee rewards can potentially backfire and cause resentment among coworkers. On the other hand, high performers care significantly more than average about having their efforts noticed, recognized and rewarded. These rewards can be in the form of social or financial recognition, but in either case, your top talent is especially eager to receive praise, financial incentives and frequent feedback. This is another reason that if you’re in the habit of only providing annual or semi-annual evaluation sessions, the employee engagement levels of your top performers is likely to suffer.

Why you need to focus on high achievers

While highly skilled employees are slightly more satisfied with their jobs than the average worker, one in five say they’re likely to leave their current position within the next six months. Furthermore, if and when your top employees do decide to move on, their skills will lead them to easily find new opportunities. Given the high levels of productivity and the contributions these extra-competent workers make to the workplace environment, losing even one of them can be a blow to your company.

Help your top performers fulfill their potential

Employee retention is only one of many reasons that HR professionals and managers should invest in the effort to nurture high achievers. Equally important is  assisting in their career growth and providing them with development opportunities to help them reach their full potential. A major component of nurturing employee success is to  ensure tasks remain challenging and varied. High achievers “live for the challenge,” and seek to overcome obstacles and solve problems as a source of personal accomplishment. So make sure to provide them opportunities to stretch themselves through varied and challenging assignments.

Employee recognition best practices dictate that recognitions will be most meaningful to these talented workers if they reflect on an achievement that was truly praise-worthy. High achievers are tireless, curious, full of passion, and internal drive. If they’re recognized they want it to be for something substantial and worthwhile. In other words, don’t praise them for minutiae such as arriving on-time or keeping a clean work area. Instead, provide detailed and specific feedback that focuses on the positive impact they are making through their diligence and pursuit of excellence.

The right HR technology can be your ally

Identifying top performers can help your organization discover who your most engaged employees are (and vice versa), allowing you to effectively leverage their skills and enthusiasm as a positive force in the workplace. HR tech is steadily evolving, and data gleaned from a cutting edge rewards and recognition platform can now provide you with valuable insights to help you identify and retain your top performing employees.

To learn more about how employee recognition can help you identify and retain your top talent, as well as having a positive impact on your entire workforce, download our eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Employee Recognition.

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How to Empower Leaders to Become Engagement Champions

Creating an engaged workforce is critical to business success. Engaged employees positively impact retention, absenteeism, productivity, customer ratings, profitability, and many other business outcomes – as outlined by Gallup. Sadly, only 32% of U.S. employees are engaged – meaning they are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” And the numbers are even worse beyond our borders, with engagement standing at a mere 13% worldwide! While leading organizations are aware of the problem and are actively seeking solutions, many are not seeing a good return on their engagement investments. As customer training manager at Achievers, I often work with organizations who are excited and committed to improving employee engagement, but they don’t really know where to start. I think part of the problem can be solved by clarifying who’s responsible for improving day-to-day employee engagement.

While I completely agree that HR is responsible for managing many of the programs and practices that impact and measure engagement, we can’t stop there. So who exactly has the greatest potential to influence day-to-day employee engagement in our organizations? Leaders. Leaders at all levels, especially at a senior level, have an obligation and a responsibility to drive employee and business success by becoming engagement champions. It is a commonly accepted business truism that people leave managers, not companies. Managers are the people that employees must interface with on a daily basis and with whom they have their most meaningful and impactful interactions with (both positive and negative). Because of the outsized impact they have on employee engagement, leaders and managers must learn what levers to pull in order to foster engagement on their teams.

It has been found that one of the most effective ways to drive engagement is through recognition. In fact, when asked what leaders could do more of to improve engagement, 58% of respondents to a recent survey replied “give recognition.” But employee recognition is just one piece of the employee engagement puzzle, albeit an extremely important one. What else can leaders do to help them become an engagement champion? Josh Bersin’s Simply Irresistible Organization model highlights five elements that drive employee engagement, and I believe leaders should use this as a guide in their role as engagement champions.

Josh Bersin's Simply Irresistible Organization model

Josh Bersin’s Simply Irresistible Organization model

Employing Josh Bersin’s Simply Irresistible Organization model and embracing employee recognition is a great place to start for leaders hoping to become engagement champions. [Josh presented the Simply Irresistible Organization model at the Achievers Customer Experience (ACE) conference back in 2014. You can watch his full presentation here if you’d like to learn more.] But how can organizations help accelerate their leadership’s path to becoming engagement champions? To begin with, they can use the following strategies to coach, develop, and support them on their journey.

Train leaders

Leaders need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to drive employee engagement. Training should focus on why it’s important, how it can benefit them in their roles, and what they can do to improve engagement. This could take the form of short videos, bite-sized eLearning courses, formalized training sessions, intuitive reference materials, or other ways you train leaders. Leverage the expertise of your L&D team and align any training with their initiatives and programs.

Communicate frequently

Since leaders are often busy people, they need to be reminded on a regular basis of practical tips for engaging their team. The model above provides a starting point, but regular communications can help to reinforce what you expect of leaders and the ways in which you are supporting them, including: training, technology and mentorship.

Enable them with simple tools

As Deloitte points out, “people are overwhelmed with the volume and always-on nature of messages, email, information, and work related activities,” so it’s important that engagement tools are easy to use for employees and leaders alike. Leaders need tools to frequently measure engagement, provide actionable insights, and support their engagement efforts.

When considering who to partner with to support your engagement initiatives, there are many to things to consider. First, you need to identify your needs. Many current software solutions focus on only one aspect of employee engagement, such as recognition or pulse surveys. Others, like Achievers, offer a more complete engagement solution. One that enables social and points-based recognition, results-based incentive campaigns, wellness initiatives, innovation programs, pulse surveys, actionable insights, and more.

Next, you should consider what you want the employee, leader, and administrator experience to be with your software solution. The Achievers platform is designed to be an intuitive experience for all users, regardless of what device it’s accessed on. Finally, you should consider only those providers who will be a true partner on your engagement journey. Since its founding in 2002, Achievers has partnered with hundreds of organizations to improve employee engagement and positively impact business results.

By clarifying who’s ultimately responsible for day-to-day employee engagement and empowering leaders to become engagement champions, organizations can create an engaged workforce and see business success. To learn more about how to become an engagement champion, download The Ultimate Guide to Employee Recognition.

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About the Author
Mike VickersMike Vickers joined Achievers in January 2014 to lead customer training and education. He has spent over six years designing and implementing learning and performance strategies for organizations of all sizes. Mike is passionate about transforming organizations through effective learning solutions, innovative technology platforms, and modern HR practices. Connect with Mike on Twitter (@MikeVickers) or LinkedIn.