Exit interview surveys show that the two leading reasons why people leave organizations center around lack of communication and lack of recognition. Yet despite the overwhelming and consistent evidence, companies often fail to embrace a culture centered around recognition, appreciation, and gratitude.
There’s a saying that goes, “What you want for yourself, give to another.” Most of us would agree that we perform better when we feel confident about our work, encouraged and appreciated by our immediate supervisor, and secure in our performance. The simplest standard to follow is this: “Are your employees doing their best work every day?” If you truly feel they are, then congratulations on your successful leadership style! They likely would describe themselves as feeling appreciated, respected, and encouraged.
More often that not, however, reality shows that a large swath of workers would leave their current employer if another, relatively similar opportunity came along. (Read that: similar title, compensation package, and general level of responsibility and authority.) Why the rush out the door for something that won’t necessarily catapult their career to new heights? Likely, the reason for leaving your organization may have to do with burnout due to the workload, a need for change, or more likely, a sense that the individual is treading water career-wise and doesn’t get much recognition or appreciation for a job well done.
Fear not: There are a number of simple solutions that you can provide by demonstrating role-model leadership yourself. First, talk about recognition and appreciation with your team. What should it feel like? How can we all get better at acknowledging everyone’s hard work and accomplishments? Second, discuss what I call “Favorite Boss Syndrome.” How would team members describe their favorite bosses from past positions? You’ll likely hear answers such as, “She always had my back. She made me feel confident in myself. He challenged me to do things I didn’t thing I was ready for, and he seemed to have more confidence in me than I had in myself at the time. She always made me feel included and that my suggestions were important.” Then state that you would like an opportunity to become that type of boss to your team. Further, you’d like them to become that type of boss to their own teams—either now or at some time in the future when they supervise people.
Third, discuss the idea of what it means to practice “Coaching Leadership” or “Selfless Leadership.” That indicates that you’re willing to put others’ needs ahead of your own and expect them to pay it forward with their peers and subordinates so that your department or team develops a reputation for growing the strongest leaders. A coach or mentor guides, directs, encourages, and helps focus those who report to them. That’s vastly different from a traditional manager that directs, commands, authorizes, and orders. Let’s face it: We’d all rather be coached than be commanded, and it makes it easier for employees to assume greater responsibilities, especially in terms of preparing for their quarterly and annual performance reviews because they’re in charge of managing their own careers.
Fourth, consider engaging in “stay interviews.” Rather than conducting an “exit interview” once someone tenders notice, meet with your direct reports in advance—especially your highest performers. Ask them to grade themselves on a “happiness” scale of 1 to 10. Ditto for their ability to positively impact the organization and build out their resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Then close the meeting by committing to something like this: “Sara, I’d like to become that coach and mentor to you that you’ll remember for the rest of your career. I’ll want your help in determining how to best support you going forward, and that includes both your performance and achievements at work as well as in meeting your professional development and career goals. I want to make sure that you feel like I have your back, I recognize and appreciate your contributions, and I can help you develop into the professional you want to be.” It’s amazing how such a seemingly small gesture goes such a long way in increasing employees’ confidence and self-esteem.
Top leaders always focus on paying it forward in terms of growing other leaders. They realize that what makes a “best boss” is an individual one-on-one commitment. And they create an environment where others can motivate themselves by treating them respectfully as adults and encouraging their career and professional success. Introducing a recognition plan that’s selfless, transparent, and in everyone’s best interests will cut down on your exit interviews because no will want to leave. Recognition equals retention. Demonstrate appreciation not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it has a concrete business outcome that will always work to your and your organization’s benefit.