Take away my people, but leave my factories, and soon grass will grow on the factory floors. Take away my factories, but leave my people, and soon we will have a new and better factory.”      

                                                                                                   -Andrew Carnegie

More than one hundred years ago, Andrew Carnegie taught business leaders the importance of developing and supporting their staff.  People are what drives innovation and performance, not their equipment, facilities, or systems.  Without motivated and high-performing employees, it is unlikely an organization will fully achieve its mission.

Has the Social Sector Forgotten About Its People?

Government and nonprofits are no different than manufacturing organizations when it comes to the psychology of the workforce. To truly deliver results that are changing lives and changing circumstances for those they serve, government and nonprofits rely on the motivation and commitment of their staff and volunteers.  The social sector is run by people, for the people.  Therefore, it is critical that government and nonprofit leaders prioritize their staff development and recognition programs.

If your organization is not achieving the financial success and social impacts you desire, it may be time to look inward to how you are rewarding and recognizing staff contribution and performance. 

The lack of focus on employee development in the nonprofit and government sector has been highlighted as the economy improves.  Nonprofits have seen turnover increase from 16% in 2013 to 19% in 2015 (Nonprofit HR 2016 Employee Practices Survey).  Employees have more options to find meaningful work with the emergence of social enterprises and the growth of B Corps.  This means that to keep and retain highly qualified staff, leaders will need to focus even more on increasing staff retention efforts.

It Not Only About Money

Too often social sector leaders blame their lack of resources and inability to pay higher salaries as the reason for this turnover.  Falling into this trap only exasperates the problem, because turnover is not all about the money.  Organizations that recognize and respect their employees tend to retain their workers for longer periods of time because of increased loyalty and commitment.  In fact, four out of five of the top five rewards ranked by employees as the most motivating are things initiated by their manager, are based on their performance, and require little to no money[i].

Attention, Recognition, and Sincere Appreciation Are Very Powerful

High-performing organizations are intentional about how they reward and recognize their employees.  When recognition is combined with performance feedback, service organizations can expect 30 percent gains in improvements[ii].  Effective leaders adopt a culture of gratitude.  Here are 4 things these high-achieving leaders are doing differently that you can replicate in your organizations.

  1. Immediate Recognition. As soon as an employee has accomplished a desired behavior, a leader should provide some sort of acknowledgement and recognition.  The longer the time between the desired behavior and the reward devalues the reward and diminishes the value of the recognition.
  1. Personally Deliver Praise. Recognition should be delivered personally. When a manager or leader takes time to recognize or praise an employee it underscores the importance of the activity to the employee.  It is also important to encourage staff and subordinates to recognize their peers directly for a job well done.
  1. Know Your Employees’ Values. Effective social rewards are valued and meaningful to the individuals who receive them.  Some employees would prefer being recognized in private, while others would like to have the recognition highly visible to others.  Truly taking the time to get to know your employees will help you understand what type of rewards will be most valuable to each person.
  1. Be Specific in Your Praise. The key to effective recognition is to view praise as a direct reinforcement of desired behaviors. “You’re the best” is not as effective as, “Awesome job in going out of your way to make sure the client had what she needed to stay successful in our program”.  Recognition should not be given superficially; it will devalue the genuine praise. 

A personal, spontaneous and sincere thank you for a job well done is the most impactful type of recognition an employee can receive.  Employees see through phony or disingenuous praise.  The best approach is to find daily ways to praise employees on identified performance behaviors.  This not only leads to an employee feeling valued and appreciated, but it also positively reinforces behaviors that have been identified to lead to performance improvements and indirectly to the retention of the employee.

Looking for ways to increase your organization’s employee engagement and overall impact? Measurement Resources is here to help! We offer customized workshops and consulting services designed to align your mission, leadership, culture, measures and performance.

Contact us today for your FREE 20-minute strategy session to learn more!


[i] Graham, G.H. & Unruh, J. 1990. The motivational impact of nonfinancial employee appreciation practices on medical technologists. Health Care Supervisor. 8(3): 9- 17.

[ii] Stajkovic, A.D. & Luthans, F. 1997. A metaanalysis of the effects of organizational behavior modification on task performance, 1975-95. Academy of Management Journal. 40: 1112-1149.