What does $50 get you? Dinner at
Here's what Kimley-Horn and Associates, a big civil-engineering company in Cary, North Carolina, does with $50: At any time, for any reason, without permission, any employee can award a bonus of that amount to any other employee. No strings.
"It works because it's real time, and it's not handed down from management," says Barry Barber, Kimley-Horn's human-resources director. "Any employee who does something exceptional receives recognition from their peers within minutes." Everyone feels good, in real time.
To make an award, an employee downloads a form, explains his thinking, signs it, and—if possible—delivers it to the recipient in person. The awardee sends the form to payroll to cash it in. There's very little oversight and virtually no abuse. And "when we think of what our clients received for that $55 [the extra $5 is to cover taxes]," Barber says, "we know it's money well spent."
Here are some recent employee awards from the Kimley-Horn archives.
Holiday havoc: When project manager Ted Miller realized his resources were spread too thin to complete a job in North Carolina, he flew in Jay Pudenz from Chicago. Pudenz spent the weeks before and after Christmas finalizing the plan—keeping the project on track. "I know Jay expects shifting [company jargon for on-the-go reassignments], but I also know it throws a wrench in his personal life," Miller says. For Pudenz, the recognition is worth more than the check: "It's great to know another office appreciates your work."
Night shift: Austin-based engineer Amy Lewis was supposed to run client workshops for a transportation system in Michigan. Grounded by a freak Texas ice storm, she briefed fellow engineer Jeffery Dale in a late-night conference call from her home. "Amy had a tough day dealing with the storm and then went above and beyond—and into the night." Dale says. Lewis laughs at being awarded for work "done in pajamas, drinking cocoa."
Call-up: Andrea Pinabell's team was set to map river drainages in Clark County, Georgia, when a colleague's sprained ankle left her a man down. Charlotte-based Frank Masterson drove to Georgia, then spent two weeks hiking 112 miles of streambed. "Frank's response was crucial," Pinabell says. Masterson sees shifting as part of his job, "but for my work to be noticed by project managers is important to me." He also has a wedding coming up, so "I'm going to need a lot of these bonuses."
Awards made by Kimley-Horn employees in 2006: 6,174
A version of this article appeared in the April 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.