'Thank -You' Is Nice, But This Is Better
By Cora Daniels

(FORTUNE Magazine) – "Be our guest" sounds like a slogan for a hotel chain, but when someone says it at Scitor, it means "Thanks for the great job--now have a night out on the town...on us!"

The small "Be our guest" bonuses--usually between $100 and $300, although some have gone as high as $800--are given by employees to their co-workers for doing something beyond the call of duty. What qualifies as beyond the call of duty at the Sunnyvale, Calif., systems engineering consulting firm is up to the giver. There are no hard-and-fast rules for bestowing the bonus, and no one's manager has to approve. The giver simply fills out a card indicating the amount of the bonus; the recipient then charges the bonus to his expense account.

By common use, the bonuses are awarded for things like staying late--really late--on a project, meeting an impossible deadline, or pitching in when you don't have to. About one-third of Scitor's employees received at least one "Be our guest" card last year, and the company spends about $7 million a year on all its bonus programs. Also popular are customer-satisfaction bonuses, which allow managers to immediately reward team members with $1,000 to $1,500 in cash when clients praise their work.

"Companies expect a lot from individuals, but without people there wouldn't be a company," says Scitor's president, Terry Petrzelka. "People can get a salary anywhere, but only good things can come from giving them a little more."

Sure, it's easy to dismiss these statements as platitudes--especially given that Petrzelka's voice drips with "I really do care" sincerity--but that would be a mistake. After all, this is a place that strives for worker equality (Petrzelka answers his own phone) and where a Scitorian (its word, not ours) code of conduct gives every employee the power to make decisions without the approval of a supervisor. It is also the place that is sending all its 650 employees and their spouses to Hawaii to celebrate its 20th birthday. (Ready to send your resumes?) And Scitor is a place that is doing well by doing good. Its revenues, now at $153 million, have grown at least 28% a year for the past three years.

The "Be our guest" cash award comes enclosed in a thank-you card that encourages employees to pamper themselves in any way they know how. Most use the big tip for a fancy dinner, a show, or a day at a spa. Ed Matsumoto is a member of Scitor's information systems team and thus gets what might be termed an unfair advantage. He racks up cards by fixing computer glitches and recovering files for grateful co-workers. Matsumoto is in the habit of saving up his cards, and over the years he has used them to buy his mother a VCR and his brother-in-law a tool chest. This past year he managed to save up $1,150 worth of cards. He thought about getting a big-screen TV but bought himself a deluxe refrigerator instead.

"It's easy to take people for granted and not even say thank-you," says Matsumoto. " 'Be our guest' is not just thank-you, it's a little special." True. But next time, Ed, go for the TV.

--Cora Daniels