By Linda Case. Gary Stokes of ADR Builders, a remodeling company in Timonium, Md., is a great gift giver. At a recent dinner for his company and a number of peer remodelers, he gave out unexpected and personalized awards suited to each of the 20 recipients accompanied by a unique and personal gift. It was a wow.

I went over to his wife and partner, Jane Stokes. "What a wonderful job you guys did in finding just the right gift for each person," I said. "Oh, no," she replied. "Gary did it all." His thoughtfulness elevated simple generosity to a special moment for the whole company.

This is a month of holidays and special occasions. It's the time when we express our love and caring for people we know. Often we do that with a gift. Why not do what Gary did and make that gift personal? If you have five employees, it shouldn't be that hard to do. Maybe you own a relatively big company, say 40 employees. Then, you might buy special gifts for your key managers and have those managers decide on, and purchase, fitting gifts for each of their staff.

Now I want to up the ante. How about those special subcontractors who help your company shine? Are there suppliers who go the extra mile for you? Include them in your gift giving.

And let's raise it again by accompanying each of those gifts with a handwritten note, sincerely appreciative and positive. If you're the one with 40 employees, it might take you four hours to do that. That's not much time in the big picture to let each of your staff know you care about them and appreciate their efforts. Four hours is small change when you consider the message it sends your employees.

Gifts that keep on giving

In the course of the coming year, you could give many gifts to your staff. Here are just a few:

* Fire that toxic employee who may get results in his or her job but does it by subverting your company's culture, disregarding your procedures, and riling other employees.

* Take each individual employee to lunch during 2003 for the express purpose of learning more about that person.

* Create a safe psychological environment where each worker feels welcome to suggest solutions and to work toward streamlining how matters are handled at your company.

* Make your company an "intentional learning community" where learning how to be a better person and a better worker is encouraged, funded, and rewarded.

* Give your staff ideals, visions, and missions to believe in. We spend a third of our time at work and want it to count for something bigger than we are.

* Abolish overtime except in a crisis situation. This goes for office workers as well. A third of your life is enough to spend at work.

Recently someone sent me (and many others) an e-mail attachment. You know the kind -- you probably get a half dozen every day. I don't usually read them. This one I opened. I'll share part of it here:

"If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following: 80 would live in substandard housing, 70 would be unable to read, 50 would suffer from malnutrition, one would be near death, one would be near birth, and one would have a college education.

Six would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all six would be from the United States."

Our cups runneth over before we ever open a gift. Don't forget the true spirit of this special season. Happy Holidays to you all. --Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. (301) 490-5620;;