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Dear WW: I just lost a really talented worker to a higher paying competitor. I don’t control salaries in my company. Is there anything that I can do to prevent this from happening in the future? – SIEVE

Dear SIEVE: Did you hear about the Kentucky man who recently cashed a $200 bill? Walked away with $192 and change. A $200 bill? Yep, complete with a picture of George W. Bush. The local Dairy Queen took the bill, no questions asked. Ironically, the Secret Service said they couldn’t prosecute the counterfeiter because the bill was so crude it would be difficult to prove it could be confused with real money.

Unfortunately, most companies are equally crude when it comes to rewarding employees. They don’t realize that it doesn’t take a suitcase of bills to keep your best people. What it does take is finding out what’s important to your people and giving it to them when they’ve earned it. The questions below will help you get started. For more, check out Bruce Tulgan’s book “Winning the Talent Wars” (Norton, 2001).

Reward resultsMost companies claim to want achievement, yet their pay scales reward everything but. Pay is based on hours worked, on seniority, on years of experience and even what department an employee works in. If you really want achievement, develop clear performance standards for every employee, and then reward people for exceeding them. Develop a pay scale that pays certain amounts for average performance and higher amounts for excellence.

Rewarding consistentlyMost bosses reward excellent performance occasionally. Great bosses reward it ALWAYS. Sound impossible? Unaffordable? Then change your mindset. Instead of looking for underperformance, look for excuses to reward people. And don’t use only money. Let people sit in for you at key meetings with higher-ups. Give access to special training programs or that coveted closer parking space. Small “free” rewards given often can do more to keep good people than one annual raise.

Control over rewardsIf you want your rewards to be meaningful, involve employees in setting them. Involve employees in setting personal goals (e.g. 10 percent more sales than last year, a big project completed before deadline, smoothed relationships with teammates). Let employees track their own performance, discussing it with you in frequent reviews. When reward time comes, give them a reward they’ve had a hand in choosing. It will be far more meaningful than something you’ve selected for them.

Do you fight to get your people what they deserve?Whenever I talk about compensation to groups of bosses I hear the refrain, “But that’s all I can do. Paychecks are out of my control.” Fight for more money for your people. Offer your department as a pilot program for a new approach to compensation. Be creative and forceful in bringing the bacon back to your best people.

Stop offering counterfeit motivations to your people. Find the cash and other perks to keep them fired up.

Bob Rosner is the author of “Working Wounded: Advice That Adds Insight to Injury” (Warner Books and Time Warner Audio Books, 1998), a speaker and founder of the award-winning http://workingwounded.com. E-mail him: bob@workingwounded.com.

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