You can’t take employee engagement too seriously: Achieving it will drive profits and power growth at your firm. It won’t be easy. Across a vast spectrum of industries, workers are skeptical and jaded and disinclined to believe that companies care about their teams. Years of recession triggered layoffs and benefits reductions -- and that sucked the motivation from workers. 

But here’s the secret: Motivating and engaging employees doesn’t have to be complicated, or expensive. I’ve done a few things over the years in this vein, but two of the simple techniques Marlin Steel has developed to attract, retain and motivate top talent recently caught the eye of the Hitachi Foundation, a wonderful non-profit that aims to improve employees’ lives. These two practices can also help you grow in this rebounding economy. 

1. Re-evaluate bonuses.

In my industry, employee bonuses are typically a boring non-event: a $25 gift card at a local restaurant or a ham for the holiday season. They do not inspire employee commitment and focus for your firm's success. Marlin's bonus program offers four elements that are rare and also happen to have the power to improve the bottom line fast. 

Big, Objective, Often and Micro are the four keys to a productive bonus program. First, give employees a check that matters -- which means large. Our hourly workers can get 50 percent of their pay as a bonus. A big bonus will get their attention -- and keep it. Second, the plan must be objective, so that the employee does not feel like they are being gamed. Think black-and-white targets that are achievable, but not easy. Third, the bonus must be frequent; try every two weeks (monthly is probably too long). Many people live paycheck to paycheck, and quarterly and annual bonuses are too far away to focus the mind. They need money for this rent payment or car payment. Lastly, bonuses must be created in the most micro cell possible -- not company or division wide. If every micro cell is exceeding expectations every two weeks consistently, the firm overall will thrive. 

2. Merit matters.

People prefer to work at a place where promotions are not doled out to the employees who play golf with the owner have beers with the division manager; a meritocracy engenders hope, commitment and resilience. Take Marlin's skills matrix. This huge Excel spreadsheet lists every employee’s skills achieved -- and is posted on the lunch room wall for all to see. Some skills are more complex, so they get more points on the matrix. A quick scan of the board reveals which employees are complacent and which have a neverending thirst for knowledge -- which in turn creates more corporate value.

And, put your money where your mouth is: Give pay raises to the teammates that learn a new skill -- they are more valuable, period.