Employee suggestions can be invaluable, but how do you reward them without fostering unhealthy competition? "Employees who make suggestions are like inventors," says Phillip Mayer, president of Luitink Manufacturing Co., in Menomonee Falls, Wis. "They each think their suggestion is the greatest invention since the wheel. They want to know, 'How come he got more money for his idea than I got for mine?' "

Mayer's solution wasn't to dole out lots of cash, but to change the nature of the reward. "We found out that you don't have to throw money out to get employee involvement," he says.

Every month, Mayer meets with the 50 or so employees of his metal-stamping company. He reads all suggestion cards aloud, responds to them, then places them in a box. At meeting's end, he picks a suggestion at random and reads off the name of the employee. That worker steps up and receives a silver dollar for each suggestion made by employees that month. "We turned a competitive thing into a fun thing," says Mayer.

There's another dividend too, he reports: "When they spend those silver dollars, they think about where they got them. So they start thinking of more suggestions."