JUNE 1989

How do you get your employees to learn from one another's mistakes? John Thomas, CEO of Dakota Systems, a mechanical contractor in Andover, Mass., decided to go with the light touch.

A few years ago Thomas pulled a $450 "mistake" out of the company's dumpster, mounted it on a plaque, and named it the "no-nuts award" -- for the missing parts. A presentation ceremony followed at the company barbecue. "You can bet no one makes that mistake anymore," Thomas says. "The winner, who was initially embarrassed, now takes pride in the fact that his mistake has saved this company a lot of money."

Another big winner was the ambitious employee who experimented not with 80¢-per-foot copper tubing, but with $12-per-foot stainless tubing -- because it was handy. The award presentation has become an annual event, with the "prizes" on display in the company's conference room. Thomas estimates that the lessons learned from the good-natured ribbing save him about $3,000 a year in materials alone.