Kelly Vogan used to hand out a $20 bill whenever an employee volunteered a good idea or solved a vexing problem. “It became a hassle to carry around the cash,” says the president of Vogan Associates in Silver Spring, Md. So he upped the ante to gift cards worth $100, $200, or more, depending on the idea.

Most ideas involve construction solutions. And some even border on genius. Recently, for instance, Vogan's kitchen and bath division was doing a high-end kitchen remodel that entailed significant plumbing work. The kitchen was located above a finished basement, so Vogan's estimate included tearing out the basement ceiling to approach the plumbing from below.

Plans changed when longtime lead carpenter Tom Stine figured out a way to reroute the pipes in such a way that the remodeler didn't have to touch the dry-wall. “The plumber didn't even think of it,” Vogan says, adding that the idea not only saved time and “a lot of money,” but the client saved his basement. Stine received three $100 gift cards — two to The Home Depot and one Visa card good just about anywhere.

Separate from Vogan's incentive bonuses, the gift cards are discretionary. “They never know when to expect them,” he says. “They're for thinking outside the box and going above and beyond in getting the job done. I want to reward that kind of behavior.”