"Come with me," my supervisor said. "The plant manager wants to see you."
Ever been summoned to the corner office? It's like going to the principal's office except worse, since the principal can't fire you. During the five-minute walk I tried to think which one of my, um, less than professional behaviors had been noticed.
We arrived and my supervisor knocked on the open door. The plant manager looked up, glanced down at a note pad, then looked back up and said, "Uh... hello Jeff. Come in."
It turned out he wanted to congratulate me for some productivity improvement suggestions I made.
He didn't know what those improvements actually were, though, so he talked about how shop floor employees were the real foundation of the company. Then he went to what I later realized was his go-to teamwork speech about the three-legged stool (if one leg breaks the stool tips over), and sent me on my way.
At the time I was tickled. I had never spoken to him before and thought it was cool he congratulated me in person. I knew he needed to look at his note pad to remember my name, but hey, that was okay.
A few years later I was in a different role in charge of manufacturing operations for a new project. One day, to everyone's surprise, our CEO showed up at the facility.
He headed straight for me. "Hi, Jeff," he said. "I'm John. I'm in town for the Board of Directors meeting and really wanted to meet you and thank you for everything you've done. You guys are ahead of schedule, the customer is delighted, productivity is better than we anticipated... I can't tell you how much I appreciate all your hard work. Do you have time to introduce me to everyone?"
I am as cynical as they come--probably more so--but at that moment I could not have been more proud of myself and of our team. It was awesome.
Now compare the two situations.
In the first instance I was summoned to the plant manager's office. His time was obviously and explicitly more valuable than mine. Sure he wanted to congratulate me, but only if it required minimal effort and as little disruption to his day as possible.
In the second, the CEO of a 30,000-employee company came to see me. He made the special effort. He went out of his way.
He took the step.
The difference in how employees respond when you take that one step is huge. Praise should always reward, motivate, and inspire to the fullest extent possible. Make employees come to you, or inconvenience them in some way, or somehow implicitly show your time is more valuable... and the impact is much less powerful.
Every time you praise an employee, be the one who takes the step. Be the one who makes the effort. Go where she works. Congratulate him in front of his peers.
Let everyone see that whatever he or she accomplished is well worth your time to recognize.
Reward your employee's effort with a little effort of your own--especially when that effort only requires taking a few steps.