Bosses: One Small Step for You -- One Giant Leap for Employees

Last Updated Aug 15, 2011 8:44 AM EDT

"The plant manager wants to see you," my supervisor said.
Great. 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. So as we took the five-minute walk to the front I tried to think which of my, um, less than professional behaviors had been noticed.

My supervisor knocked on the open door to announce us. The plant manager looked up, looked down at a note pad, then looked back up and said, "Hello, Jeff. Thanks for stopping in." (Like I had a choice.)

It turned out he just wanted to congratulate me for a number of productivity improvement suggestions I made. He didn't know what those improvements actually were, though, so he explained how shop floor employees were the real foundation of the company. Then he went to what I later realized was his go-to, standby 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, so it was pretty neat he wanted to congratulate me in person. I could tell he looked at his note pad so he could remember my name, but hey, that was okay.

A few years later I was in a different role helping to start up manufacturing operations for a new demand-print initiative. One day, to everyone's surprise, the company CEO came to our facility. Instead of looking around or talking to our manager (who literally sprinted out of his door to try to greet him) he headed straight for me.

"Hello, Jeff," he said. "I'm John. I'm in town for the Board of Directors meeting and wanted to meet you and say thanks for everything you've done. You're ahead of schedule, the customer is delighted, productivity is better than we expected... I can't tell you how much I appreciate all the hard work. Do you have time to introduce me to everyone?"

I am as cynical as they come -- okay, probably more so -- but at that moment I could not have been more proud, of myself and of the rest of our group. I was genuinely pleased. It was awesome.

Now compare the two situations.

In the first, I was summoned to the plant manager's office. His time was clearly more valuable than mine. Sure, he wanted to congratulate me, but only if it would require 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 a special effort. He went out of his way.

He took the step.

The difference in how employes respond when you take the step is huge. Praise should reward, motivate, and inspire. 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 employees, take the step. Make the effort. Go where they work. Congratulate them in front of their peers. Let everyone see that whatever they accomplished is worth your time to recognize.

Reward effort with a little effort of your own -- especially when that effort only means taking few step.


Photo courtesy flickr user U.S. Army South, CC 2.0
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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.