At 23 years old, Barbara Corcoran quit waitressing―just one job of over 20 she had already held―and borrowed $1,000 from her boyfriend to start a tiny real estate company in New York City. Over the next 25 years, she would parlay that loan into a five-billion-dollar real estate business and the largest brand in the business. Best known for her role as a “Shark” on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank, Corcoran’s amazing story, professional expertise, and tell-it-like-it-is attitude is a refreshing approach to success for audiences everywhere. Below, Barbara explains what employers can use–other than money–to motivate their staff:

Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement–no matter what form it comes in, says ABC’s Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran.

During her time running The Corcoran Group, a real estate business that she co-founded in 1973, Corcoran said she learned that recognition motivates better than money.

Frankly, I never really had the money in those early years,” Corcoran said. So she used other kinds of rewards to encourage a hardworking staff while the firm started up.

For example, one year she decided to award her employees a big gold ribbon if they were able to get a million dollar listing. Not surprisingly, when she announced the reward everyone rolled their eyes. Everyone except for one of her youngest and newest salespeople.

“[He] was sitting there bright eyed, bushy tailed. Didn’t even know yet that sales was hard. And he saw the gold ribbon, and his eyes lit up,” Corcoran said.

Not too long after–following some good timing and hard work out in the field–that employee came back with a $3.5 million listing. Not only did he get a ribbon, but Corcoran moved his desk up to the front of the office so that everyone could see it when they walked in the door.

Her other employees took notice. “It drove the sales force to think differently,” Corcoran said.

So use accolades, but use them well. Avoid phony recognition, Corcoran advised. And despite this example, some of the most powerful recognition is given in private, she pointed out.

To hear more about alternative ways to motivate your employees, check out the video here.

By Laura Montini/, 2014