"When in my past was I recognized for a skill or talent?"

Over ten years ago, I asked myself that simple question in an attempt to discover my calling in life.

Upon reflecting on that question, two different moments came to mind where I was recognized for my public speaking ability. That marked the start of my journey to become a professional speaker. Today I'm an internationally recognized keynote speaker on the topic of generations and the future of work and speak to thousands of people every year.

This transformational moment in my life would not have been possible without recognition from others.

Recognition can become a defining moment. It was for me.
Recognition can shine light on irrefutable and one-of-a-kind strengths. It did for me.

However, recognition is an afterthought in most organizations. It's robotic, impersonal, and ultimately falls flat among employees which completely defeats the purpose of providing recognition in the first place.

How many defining moments didn't happen because managers were too busy, distracted, or didn't think the result or individual was worthy of recognition?

How much employee potential is being capped by managers unwilling to take the time to deliver recognition?

In my recent article, This Has Been a Top Employee Motivator for over 46 Years, I highlighted the magnitude that recognition holds in the eyes of all employees, but particularly for Generation Z. Here are a few ideas on how managers can improve their employee recognition.

8 Ways to Improve Employee Recognition for Generation Z

1. Recognize in Real-Time

The sooner a human behavior (good or bad) is addressed, the more likely that behavior will be corrected (for bad behavior) or repeated (for good behavior). Integrating processes that enable peers and managers to recognize teammates in real-time will help reinforce the appropriate behaviors and/or results. Examples include Slack integrations where teammates can send e-gift cards directly to each other or software platforms like 15five.com or Blueboard.com can assist with providing streamlined recognition.

2. Recognize Company Values

What gets celebrated defines culture. Adding the necessary context around recognition can reinforce the company culture. Tie the recognition to the company's strategy so that the values and company culture can be reinforced with every recognition.

3. Recognize with Creativity

Trade programmatic recognition for personal and memorable. For example, use a pair of high-end headphones to recognize an employee who demonstrated quality listening skills to a customer. Or use a single-serve coffee machine to recognize an employee who customized a solution for an individual client. Make the recognition desirable and a symbol of the behavior to be reinforced.

4. Recognize Visibly and Widely

Use the company blog, vlog, newsletter, podcast, or team meeting to recognize Gen Z. Make the people doing great things visible for everyone else to see and emulate.

5. Recognize Specifically

Be specific about what the Gen Z employee did to receive the recognition and why that behavior or result is important. For example, "Ella, you continually make your colleagues and clients feel valued with your positivity, friendliness, and enthusiasm, so we would like to [insert reward] because that type of positivity is what clients appreciate."

6. Recognize in Every Direction

Recognition received from peers can be more meaningful for Gen Z because it's often their peers who have a better understanding of the work that they are doing. Create environments where peer recognition can occur.

7. Recognize What's Ignored

Many skills and milestones go unnoticed by managers leaving employees wanting more and teams feeling hollow. Recognition--done right--is one of the simplest ways to instill pride in others. Identify new milestones worthy of recognition such as:

  • First direct report promoted
  • Tenth team presentation delivered
  • Fifth employee mentored
  • Third job candidate referred
  • One million dollars of revenue earned
  • Fifth volunteer event completed
  • Second emerging leadership conference attended
  • First course completed as an instructor

8. Recognize Using Better Rewards

Here are a few uncommon ideas of how to better recognize Generation Z... 

  • Grant special access to a leader inside the organization
  • Sponsor their ticket to a conference of their choice
  • Write them (or their parents) a handwritten note
  • Grant the chance to appear on the company blog, podcast, YouTube channel, etc.
  • Offer tickets to an exclusive event
  • Make a donation to a charity of their choice
  • Grant flexibility in how, when, or where they work
Published on: Jun 11, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.