Midway through 2009, Tom Riggs depleted his annual $600 “attaboy” budget when he handed out the 12th $50 bill at Riggs Construction, in Kirkwood, Mo. He distributes the cash at meetings to recognize staff members’ exemplary service, as noted by a client in a survey or card or conversation.

“Our fiscal year starts again February 1, and I’ve been thinking about breaking that $600 into $20 bills,” to keep pace with the praise, Riggs says. He believes that a little positive feedback goes an especially long way in boosting spirits and performance in challenging times.

At Morey Construction, in Signal Hill, Calif., Ben Morey ties a third of potential project bonuses to client ratings of production staff. GuildQuality conducts the surveys, and very high ratings can lead to a bonus of 2% of project cost (with additional 2% bonuses if the project is on time and on budget, respectively).

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Morey says that perpetuating the client-feedback loop has been one of his “best tools” for maintaining morale and productivity. He shares survey results in meetings, and especially relishes placing printed copies of client comments on employees’ desks.

Geoff Graham, GuildQuality’s president, believes that singling out staff to celebrate positive feedback — whether through cash or praise alone — “can be a wonderful thing.” Many of the 550 builders and remodelers he works with do share survey results. “But the last thing you want to do is encourage people to game the system,” he says. A company and staff that are genuinely customer-focused will get the best results.

In Nashville, Tenn., Trace Ventures has suspended the financial component of its employee bonus system until the economy recovers, says Martha Stinson, vice president. Yet client survey results remain a key talking point and a motivational tool at company meetings.

It’s not all about the money, that’s for sure. Notes Riggs, “I think being recognized by the boss in front of everyone is as important as the cash.”

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.