I apologized for something I did. Word traveled the grapevine, and soon a card arrived in the mail from Craig Durosko of Sun Design Remodeling Specialists, in Burke, Va. The front of the card said, “Hero of the Day!” and inside was a personal note from Craig thanking me for making amends. The card listed other types of actions that could justify getting such a note, including teamwork and conflict resolution.

This card has taken up precious space on my desk for months. I feel good every time it catches my eye. As Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Yet a recent Gallup Poll found that 65% of Americans received no praise or recognition at work last year. Praise is free, easy, and powerful. Lavish legitimate praise in your business, and watch the transformation.

“While money is important to employees, what tends to motivate them to perform — and to perform at higher levels — is the thoughtful, personal kind of recognition that signifies true appreciation for a job well done,” writes Bob Nelson in his book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees. Nelson maintains that there are three simple guidelines for effectively rewarding and recognizing employees:

  • Match the reward to the person. It means more if it has a personal fit.
  • Match the reward to the significance of achievement.
  • Be timely and specific. Reward as soon as possible after the desired behavior or achievement.

Michael Spreckelmeier of Progressive Builders, in Fort Myers, Fla., is always looking for something to praise. Here's a quote from one of his handwritten letters to an employee:

“You are doing a wonderful job. Don't take my word for it. You can see the difference in our company. … You have always been talented and able to get the job done. However, now you are talented, a great manager, and a team player who can get many jobs done.”

That letter is not going in the trash anytime soon.

“Money is appreciated by employees, but recognition for a job well done is very important as well,” Spreckelmeier says. “I love to praise.”

Here are four more great ideas from remodelers:

  • “I keep $25 gift cards in my office and hand them out a couple of times a month to let someone know I value their effort,” says Bob Benedict of Northwood Construction, in Sterling, Va.
  • Two Employee of the Month awards recognize exceptional service for production and administration at Agape Construction, in Kirkwood, Mo. “They get a framed certificate describing what they did and how that exemplifies the core values of the company,” owner Kevin O'Brien says. They also get a $50 gift certificate and their name engraved on a brass plaque in the office.
  • At her monthly full-staff meetings, Janeen Welsh of Welsh Construction, in Lexington, Va., recognizes an employee of the month with a $20 award. If there is not a good reason to award it one month, the dollars build up until someone has done something beyond the call of duty.
  • Patty McDaniel of Boardwalk Builders, in Rehoboth Beach, Del., shares the joy of rewarding. Her production manager has a $750 fund to award lunch, doughnuts, gift cards, or cash bonuses as recognition. Her office manager has $1,000 to reward timely and accurate paperwork.

The world of remodeling seems to push us into a punch list mentality. We constantly look for what is wrong. So I would add another guideline to Bob Nelson's three: Be vigilant about finding what is right; seek it out. For most of us, this calls for a change in our behavior. But what a powerful change, and what a powerful impact on our working environments.

Next month, I will describe more ways remodelers are expressing appreciation and recognition.

Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5620; [email protected];www.remodelersadvantage.com.