There are plenty of fun, cheap ways to reward employees. The trick is to ask them what types of rewards would be most appropriate.

For instance, Tiburon Inc. pioneered a Frequent Flier Program, in which employees earned "miles" for meeting action plan deadlines or for exceeding monthly financial goals and then traded them in for cash and prizes.

Similarly, Albums Inc. has developed a neat performance program dubbed AI Dollars, which allows associates to earn company currency that may be swapped for goodies in the company's gift catalog. Here, Will DeMarco, chop shop team leader, explains how the program works:

"Each month employees rate their own performance in five general areas: attendance, cooperation and teamwork, housekeeping, and a couple of others. We use a scale of 1-5, where 1 means needs work, 3 means meets expectations, and 5 means great, tops. We have half points, too.

"Then people sit down with their team leader to review the evaluation sheet and negotiate scores. What's interesting is that your team leader might not think you deserve as much credit in a certain area and suggest a lower score, so it's your chance to state your case. Once you agree on an overall score, you get a certain amount of AI Dollars, which you can spend or save up. The higher your score, the more dollars you get. So far, it's been working great."

Copyright 1999 Open-Book Management Inc.