3 ways to nurture and retain star performers

6 min read

While lockdown restrictions are easing, the threat of COVID-19 is not quite over and the transition from remote work into the workplace can be the cause of extreme stress. During this uncertainty, conversations about productivity and performance can be difficult but are necessary.

Very early on, I spoke to some leaders who were concerned about how to manage performance remotely — their main concern being how to ensure employees maintained productivity even though they were no longer working in their traditional (probably supervised) environment.

It is clear that being forced into remote working or high-pressure frontline work environments has been challenging for leaders who have traditionally relied on extrinsic, carrot-or-stick motivators to keep their employees productive.

But employees who are fueled by intrinsic motivation are more likely to thrive in an unsupervised and uncertain environment. The leaders who have been willing to embrace a different approach and use this time to cultivate freedom and trust will reap the returns long-term. Instead of increasing supervision, leaders can improve visibility by increasing and enhancing communication and encouraging recognition of individual and team contributions.

Amplify top moments

Tapping into the power of frequent, social, peer-to-peer employee recognition can create a work culture where employees are not only more connected and more motivated, but also more productive, regardless of facing challenges that are beyond their control.

Here are some of the ways you can support leaders to raise and retain top performers across your organization:

1. Use strategic reward and recognition to drive innovation and growth

Late last year, Josh Bersin released a report titled "Increasing Employee Engagement through Strategic Recognition," and in it, he said:

Strategic recognition is a powerful driver of employee engagement that aligns human needs to business values and goals.

Like Bersin, I’ve always advocated for a structured approach to employee recognition — a strategic reward and recognition program connects employees to thousands of behaviors that drive growth for your business all through the year and also provides business leaders with visibility of what and who is driving that success.

While your immediate priority might be focusing on getting people back into the workplace or into some semblance of regular work, tapping into the power of strategic R&R might be the advantage your teams need to boost morale, improve culture and re-ignite innovation as your teams return.

Now may be the perfect time to look at where your company’s R&R strategy falls on Bersin’s Strategic Recognition Maturity Model:


While celebrating employee milestones or annual awards are a good start, the more mature your R&R strategy, the better your chances are of improving employee engagement, productivity and loyalty. To create an environment where employees are naturally encouraged to give their best, create a reward and recognition program that keeps leaders accountable for the culture they create, and provides the tools and opportunities to recognize the contribution each employee makes to achieving the company’s mission.

Discover even more employee recognition best practices in the Bersin Report »

And we know, in this climate, the meaningful work leaders should want to recognize includes the behaviors and achievements that will help support our business to continue to succeed. Which means, more than ever, we want to shine a spotlight on the values and behaviors we want to see repeated.

There are countless things to recognize employees for. Consider employees who are:

Working extremely hard to keep their work environment sanitized and safe
Providing excellent quality of care and service to patients, customers and their colleagues
Doing everything they can to increase connection even as we socially distance ourselves from others
Innovating and helping to keep the business viable
Maintaining productivity among their teams or as an individual
Living company values and achieving the organization's mission

Using technology to recognize and reward employees who are working in dispersed environments provides connection between your people, and provides your team data you can act on.

2. Leverage engagement analytics to gain visibility of your star performers and future leaders

Having the right data points in your engagement analytics is a critical factor in building a mature, effective reward and recognition program. For example, you can use your program to identify employees who are sending the most recognition — these employees are the ones that you may want to focus on retaining.

Why? We know that employees who recognize their peers regularly, and engage with the social recognition news feed with comments and likes, play an important role in the culture of your organization.

They are likely to be influencers and their input and enthusiasm are valuable assets to your business as it grows.


Employees who provide specific, genuine recognition to their team members demonstrate proactiveness and the managers who do this regularly show an understanding of how to keep their people motivated and connected to the values and mission of your business. You can encourage desirable behavior by recognizing those managers too!

A strategic approach to employee recognition can provide a cultural read on your organization while influencing it at the same time. Using tech to deliver an R&R experience means that even in remote working conditions, you can run a report, and quickly identify the teams that are "culturally fit." For example, you can see if people in the technology team are not recognizing one another or if the team as a whole has not been recognized, and that may show you that you need to provide some support.


3. Create a ripple effect: Amplify the moments that motivate your people

In today’s uncertain environment, the employees who experience frequent communication and a sense of community and connection with their peers are indicating the most satisfaction with their employers. Giving employees the opportunity to recognize and reward each other at any time, from anywhere, is a powerful way of increasing the positive touchpoints they have with each other at work.

A recent study published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management shows that peer-to-peer recognition from co-workers boosts the benefits of being recognized by leaders in the business. To help generate that "ripple effect," you can also use technology to amplify those nitty-gritty moments of success that would otherwise be forgotten, and shine a spotlight on teams or individuals in company-wide communications.


The green button above allows people to send an eCard immediately from a company-wide blog post. Managers and co-workers can also comment on these blog posts, tag other team members and spread the congratulations to other parts of the business. Not only does this widen the impact of one positive moment or individual contribution, it also enhances employee visibility across the business, giving your people opportunities to develop or "move up the ladder."

Strategic recognition boosts employee motivation in real-time, creating the environment to set your people up for personal and professional growth.

As our businesses start to gear up once again, and we want to encourage individuals to connect, innovate and bring their best to the table, a little bit of recognition can go a very long way. Now is the time to strengthen and improve how you thank your people for how they contribute to your success as a business — and this may be the very thing that keeps them contributing well into the future.

Kylie Terrell

Kylie Terrell is our Australia Director of Consultancy and is RG’s resident advocate for employee recognition. She loves creating “wow” moments and looking for creative ways to make her coworkers and clients feel special.

Australia Director of Consultancy

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