At Ideascope Associates, top performers get more than a pat on the back. They might, for example, earn a certificate for art supplies, a party for the office, or skydiving lessons. Such perks are purchased with "IdeaScope Dollars," play money that the management consulting firm's 25 employees earn when coworkers recognize them for doing outstanding work.

Each month, all nominated employees receive $25 to $200 in IdeaScope Dollars to use toward more than 60 possible prizes. The staff helped create the award choices and nomination criteria, which range from the specific ("taking on and delivering a special project") to the more universal ("providing leadership in supporting the company's goals").

Many of the gifts, says partner Bob Krinsky, "provide people with experiences that give them a refreshing outlook on life and that stimulate creativity" -- a nice link to IdeaScope's corporate mission, which is to help clients do innovative strategic planning. In real money, the company invested more than $10,000 in the program last year, but Krinsky thinks that's money well spent. "We grew 39% this year and added seven new people," he says, "and this program acts as superglue. We value teamwork, shared risk taking, and experimentation. IdeaScope Dollars are an enabler of all of those." Vice-president Kim Kelley Raymond noted an unexpected benefit: the program has helped forge stronger relationships among the staff, which is split between offices in Boston and San Francisco. "It was a mechanism that helped us think of ourselves as one organization that happens to have two locations," she says.