It's become increasingly difficult to keep top talent around.

Research published by Gallup indicates that 6 in 10 millennials are open to new job opportunities, and a study by LinkedIn shows that over the past 20 years, job-hopping has nearly doubled in the first five years after graduation.

So how do you build a culture that inspires people to stay?

Christine Porath, associate professor of management at Georgetown University, has studied this topic for years. In a recent article she penned for the Harvard Business Review, she pointed out a single action that motivates employees, helping them generate a sense of accomplishment:

Give them positive feedback.

Here are some highlights to the research Porath cites:

  • A Gallup survey found that 67% of employees whose managers focused on their strengths were fully engaged in their work, in contrast with only 31% of employees whose managers focused on weaknesses.
  • IBM's WorkTrends survey of over 19,000 workers in 26 countries revealed that the engagement level of employees who receive recognition is almost three times higher than the engagement level of those who do not. (The same survey showed that employees who receive recognition are also far less likely to quit.)
  • After JetBlue implemented its first global recognition program, which allowed employees to nominate peers for awards, employee satisfaction increased by 88%.
  • Another study showed that high-performing teams share nearly six times more positive feedback than average teams; whereas low-performing teams shared nearly twice as much negative feedback.

But how do you make sure your praise is truly effective?

Keeping It Real

Praise only works if it's genuine. Nobody enjoys an insincere compliment.

That's why it needs to be a mindset: You must constantly be looking for the positive in your partners, colleagues, and direct reports. Train yourself to truly see the best in others.

How do you do that?

Look for the good: Everyone deserves to be praised for something. Maybe it's the fact that they've stayed loyal to the company for years. Or that they haven't completely given up on a difficult project, despite personal struggles. If you're leading a team, your job is to show appreciation to each and every team member.

At times, that means looking for the potential in others. If you see something in your people that they don't even see in themselves, you create self-fulfilling prophecies.

Then, be specific: Tell people exactly what you appreciate about their work. When you show evidence of paying attention to a team member's efforts, that feels good. It helps them to see that their work isn't in vain. Take time to think about each individual's contribution, then express to them specifically what you value about them.

The Benefits of Praising Employees

Sincere and specific commendation satisfies a basic human craving--the need for recognition and appreciation. It makes them feel important, and needed, and helps them to see their role in the big picture. (This experiment shows how praise can work even better than cash in motivating employees.)

Of course, everyone needs negative feedback, too. If no one pointed out our repeated mistakes or blind spots, we'd never get better.

But that's the beauty of consistent positive feedback: It makes receiving correction easier.

When you're in the habit of giving others specific and sincere commendation, your people will naturally value what you have to say. They trust you as being on their side, and are confident you've got their back.

Then, when it's time to give constructive criticism, they see it as its intended: a way to help them get better. (More here on giving negative feedback that's emotionally intelligent.)

Putting It into Practice

Now's the time to think about what specifically you appreciate about those you work with. The more specific the better. Because all of us have the ability, not only to keep our people around longer, but to help them truly enjoy their work.

And you know what?

You'll find that it helps you enjoy your job much more, too.

Published on: Oct 27, 2016
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