Many remodelers give clients some sort of holiday gift as a thank-you for business. Michael Spreckelmeier, owner of Progressive Builders, in Fort Myers, Fla., elevates this tradition to a higher level. His system builds upon company culture by having staff work together to customize gifts for clients, to personally deliver those gifts, and to set goals and build team spirit. Here's how.

SPECIAL DELIVERY In mid-December, the company sets aside part of a day to assemble and deliver gift baskets. “We purchase wholesale fruit, buy beautiful baskets, shop for high-quality chocolates and coffee and, if the clients have pets, [buy] a gift for each pet,” Spreckelmeier says. He and his superintendents then hand-deliver the baskets that same day. Some clients are surprised to see the company owner at their door. “I tell them I can't deliver all the baskets, but [that] it was important for me to deliver this one,” he says.

A week later, the entire staff assembles for a day of education, year-end review, and year-ahead goal-setting. The 2007 “Fun Day,” as Spreckelmeier calls it, will be held on December 21, followed by a paid company closing until January 2.

The day begins with presentations from three employees, based on a conference they each attended. “They pick a subject and teach what they learned,” Spreckelmeier says.

After lunch, attention turns to personal and professional goal-setting. Each staff member completes a two-page sheet that sets goals for the coming year. (Spreckelmeier defines a goal as “a dream with a date attached.”) And, rather than completing these forms before Fun Day, Spreckelmeier believes the exercise is more effective if done on the spot.

The group also reviews last year's goals and declares agreed-upon goals for the coming year.

BEYOND PRAISE Next, it's on to strengths and weaknesses, with an emphasis on the former. Everyone's name goes into a box. A staff member draws a name and, Spreckelmeier says, “I [then] have one minute to praise them.” He is as specific as possible but isn't allowed to suggest areas for improvement or use the word “but.”

“This exercise is a blast,” Spreckelmeier says. “As it unrolls, I've been able to remember the first job the [employee] worked on, or the date they started, or something personal.”

Then comes the twist: The employee must agree with the praise and follow it by saying “But …,” giving a 20-second summary of something he or she plans to improve on during the next year, such as following up on phone calls.

Spreckelmeier wraps up the day by reminding staff that there's much more to do in the year ahead, and that when he next sees them, on January 2, “it will be like an ordinary Monday” with everyone showing up on time and getting to work. “But before you go,” he tells them, “here's another way of thanking you.” He then distributes bonus checks to every member of his staff.

SHARING SUCCESS Although Progressive Builders' year-end tradition is generous, it's just the high point of a year-round emphasis on culture and team-building. For instance, Spreckelmeier often gives employees handwritten cards to thank them for something they taught, learned, or improved. The card may contain a check, along with a special message, such as “Thank you for your dedication to excellence.” Formal bonuses, in fact, happen two or more times a year; last July's total was more than $30,000. “I have no regrets about sharing success with the team,” Spreckelmeier says.

There's still time to be creative in your holiday traditions. Don't just mail cards or deliver gifts, but find ways to integrate your generosity into a process that inspires your clients as well as your team. And from me to you, have a wonderful holiday.

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5260; linda@remodelersadvantage .com;