Praise and Progress

by Matt Poepsel, PhD

There was a recent article from Gallup and talked about bridging the generational gap when it comes to praise and recognition and these sorts of things. The first example of a highlight that’s listed here was that workers want more frequent recognition. Some of the younger workers, then Gen X, or baby boomers, this doesn’t really come as too much of a surprise, or often generational differences and praise seeking is one of them.

The second item talks about how it supports retention and development, this becomes very interesting from a talent optimization perspective. And then finally, that it’s connected to performance. Now you’ve really got my attention. And now I can just hear the generations going, oh, boy, here we go. Everybody gets a trophy, right? We’ve all heard this. And I think what’s interesting is when we think back are in the lens of performance, and coaching and development and directionality, when it comes to doing the right thing.

This is a generation who in terms of Gen X, and some of the younger I’m sorry, Gen Z, and some of the younger workers who have been raised with this, like, if you have a young soccer player, and they pass the ball, and we say, hey, great job passing the ball, like that’s our indication that you’ve done something really well. And so praise has been an indicator of performance. And also that you’re making progress. Nice job, you know, threw a curveball, you weren’t able to do that a couple of weeks ago, but you’ve been working hard at it, these kinds of things, whatever sports analogies aside, I think there’s just so many examples of praise.

So what it means now is that we can choose our own adventure. The first is that we can provide a very clear career roadmap, here’s where you stand here, specifically, Gen Z worker, what you need to work on in order to get to the next level, here’s the timing of that. Here’s what this would look like, really clear expectations, really clear feedback. I talked to a lot of Gen Z leaders, aspiring leaders up and coming employees, and they don’t often have this. And so the second option is to use praise, as they’re used to as progress, an indicator that things are going well.

Now the article points out that they may be seeking praise as much as several times a week, this may seem like a lot for us when we think about praise, you know, with a more experienced workers lens. But understanding that they’re using this to gauge Am I doing the right thing here, there’s a lack of clarity, lack of documentation, that’s an option of something they’re very used to, in order to determine that they’re doing a good job.

The third option is not a great one. It’s saying if you don’t give the praise, you don’t provide that direction that they’re doing well in their careers, they’re going to leave, you know, they have choices in the marketplace, they’re going to take them and then you’ll have a job advertisement, you get to hire somebody else. And just make the same mistake over again, I wouldn’t recommend that. So it’s important when we look at a talent optimization framework here that inspire is all about existing employees.

And there’s a very important inspire activity that talks about creating new jobs and career paths. I like to think of praise as being a guidepost, if you will, along the career path. When we offer praise that says you did a great job with this, I could see real progress with this. This is the type of thing that I do at my level, you’re starting to emulate that to trying to make sure that the praise is not just vague, but it’s very specific. And it’s very aligned with job expectations for the job you have, or aspiration toward the job you want. That’s winning praise that I think we can all get behind.