The last thing you want to do in the middle of an industrywide labor shortage is lose your top talent to a competitor — or to anyone else, for that matter. So, what’s the best way to keep them? If your answer is more money, better benefits, more time off, tuition reimbursement, flexible scheduling, 401(k) matching, or a company-paid car, you might be right, but you’re probably wrong. These are temporary motivators that can be found everywhere — tiny darts aimed at giant bullseyes. So, what’s the secret then? Employee recognition. And, guess what … it’s completely free and easy.

I bring this up after reviewing the Most Critical Player Award nominations. Choosing a winner was a hard decision — really hard. But I wish it would have been just a little bit harder.

The strategy for my first read-through was to place each submission in one of three piles: yes, no, and maybe. The end result was one no, three yeses, and a lot maybes. That was the part I wish would have been harder. You see, with the maybes, there was nothing wrong with them to make me rule them out. The problem was, there was nothing there to cause that involuntary gut reaction to scream “Yes!” and direct my hand to the appropriate pile.

A few outliers aside, all of the maybes had one thing in common: The applicants did not craft their responses around why the individuals they were nominating should win the award; they either focused on their companies or gave short, generic answers.

You might think I’m biased because I’m a writer, but there’s a great learning opportunity here for all of us — me included — and that is: The words you choose to say (not the thoughts behind them) form the messages you put out. Recognition is about making employees feel like the company is lucky to have them, not the other way around.

Let me share some examples with you of the recognition I received.

  • “Paul is a truly inspiring leader who uses a servant leadership style to transform teams from low buy-in to high performing and happy. This type of environment encourages people to work for [us] and our customers as well as for the mutual benefit for the team.”
  • “The investment in workforce development and training at [our company has produced enormous results and exceeded all expectations due to his leadership and passion. One final note on life safety goes far beyond the normal sphere of influence. Of the 2,000 veterans who have come through this program, 12% of them were homeless when they were hired. On average, 20 veterans die per day due to suicide, and homeless veterans are five times more likely to commit suicide. Don’s leadership in this area has allowed us to change the lives and, in some instances, save the lives of many veterans. This takes life safety to a new level, and it is why I am so proud of Don.”
  • “We have 40 data centers in 20 markets around the country and 282 frontline workers who are serving our customers there. Our customers rely on us to stay open and operate 24/7/365 forever. During the stay-at-home orders around the country, our essential workers, like Bart, continued to staff our data centers, keeping them up and running smoothly. They manage the systems and ‘remote hands,’ a program that has expanded more than 200% since February. This service allows our workers to conduct any service needed by our customers to check on their equipment, connections or anything in the data centers. We are there when they can’t be.”

The point is, employees don’t feel special when they work at companies that are recognized by people. Employees feel special when they work at companies that recognize their people. If you don’t see the difference, then, labor shortage or not, you’re going to have a difficult time retaining talent.

So, with that, I’d like to take this opportunity to announce Mission Critical’s inaugural Women in Technology contest. I’m looking forward to the biggest yes pile I have ever seen, but I need you to help me build it — submit your nominations now through Dec. 31.