Great employees make your life as a manager much easier.It makes sense to show that their efforts are recognized and appreciated. You might find, however, that shareholders don’t always back your desires to reward your best people. Here are a few ways to work it.


Great employees are very rare. When you find them, you have to do everything you can to make sure they feel valued and that their efforts are rewarded. The definition of a great employee varies significantly, but the key qualifications are (in no particular order):

  1. They make you look good
  2. They have excellent critical thinking skills, can accurately see a few moves ahead
  3. They pay attention to detail
  4. As we say in Boston, “They are wicked smaht.”
  5. They work well in a team and display leadership qualities
  6. They get it done. No complaining about roadblocks with these folks.
  7. They are open to learning new ways to do things
  8. They make the customer feel good

If you have an employee who has these qualities, then she is a keeper. It is your responsibility to make sure she is rewarded appropriately. To do this, you need to understand the ins and outs of how your company rewards employees so that you can manipulate the heck out of it.

There are always little things like gift certificates to a local restaurant for an employee and his spouse or buying the employee a Playstation 3 when a project gets completed on time, within budget, and exceeds customer expectations. These little things provide immediate reinforcement for desired behavior. You must put thought into these. Know what the person likes. Who is his favorite band or sports team? Get two tickets, a limo, hotel and airfare and provide a memory that he will never forget.

These are all $500 to $800 investments that pay you back in spades. Bonuses happen once a year and can only vaguely be tied back to a killer performance during a project. Deferred gratification loses its ability to reinforce behavior the more detached it is from the time the behavior was observed.

The challenge with these rewards typically is the culture of the company. Other departments may not have as enlightened management as you and will complain to HR and others. Be aware of this before going down this path. You don’t want to start something that gets canceled later on. This would have a detrimental affect. It may make you look like the hero trying to fight the good fight, but remember, that good fight is against your company.

Also, understand raises. Typically, raises are determined annually around budget time. Many companies come up with a flat percentage that will be distributed based upon performance appraisals. If the IT department gets 3%, you will need to give someone 1% to give your superstar a 5% increase. But even a 5% increase can seem paltry for your great employee. Sometimes the bonus pool works the same way. To reward your great employee this way can be difficult.

Better to promote. Great employees typically go above and beyond the job description. The help desk guy who stays late to get project work done is a good example. He is making a contribution above what he was hired to do. Look at a systems administrator role or project manager role or something along those lines where you can afford them the opportunity to be paid for the higher value work that they do. Promotions allow you to better justify a significant increase.

To do this, you also have to understand that the CFO and the CEO report to others. They report to investors, boards of directors, share holders, etc. You must be aware of these relationships when considering changing your operating budget like this. These governance bodies look down on Increases in general and administrative expenses in specific.

Your CFO and CEO typically have to fight for these changes. Good CFOs and CEOs don’t mind fighting for a good cause, so make sure that the great employee has exposure to these folks and that you document how this individual contributes to the company and share it with your senior executives. Show where they are in your succession planning goals. But make sure they have to fight this fight only once.

Requesting a mid-year promotion or something along those lines is very difficult to accomplish, primarily because you are asking the CEO and the CFO to go back in the ring more often than they have to. Your job is to make it easy for them to say yes.