"The devil," the old saying goes, "is in the details." And sometimes it's your employees who know the details of your business. It's not always easy, however, to get employees to speak up and make suggestions that could improve your company's performance.

"People are hesitant to complain," observes Mark Gordon, CEO of Synergy Networks, a 50-employee network integration business in Vienna, Va., which had 1998 revenues of $10 million. "They don't want to be perceived as negative."

Gordon came to that realization when his employees were reluctant to fill out a form to report hassles that interfere with their job performance and to suggest solutions. So Gordon added a new component: Now these "hassle reports" are collected weekly, and a drawing is held every three to four weeks for everyone who has submitted a hassle. The winner of the drawing can select a modest prize from a catalog.

Gordon is willing to reward employees who complain because he's found that undetected problems can cost his company money. For example, people who worked in the field reported the following hassle: They had to return to headquarters to recharge a certain piece of equipment, because the company only owned one battery charger. Synergy Networks had been losing thousands of dollars in productivity as employees fruitlessly drove back to the office to recharge their equipment. Gordon reports that the problem was easily alleviated by buying additional chargers that only cost about $100 each. However, without a system to encourage employee complaints and suggestions, he adds, "there was no way for that kind of stuff to bubble up" from the ranks and get managers' attention.