Kudos Organizational System (pt. 1)

Last August I started my first hands-on take on what could be considered a real feedback-oriented agile project. So far I had only started things from scratch and my opportunities to look back and test my assumptions in the real world had been limited. So when we were informed that the company was planning to redesign our Kudo system I saw a chance to apply my knowledge in Design Thinking to help make the dynamic of giving and receiving Kudos better.

The original Kudobox

A Kudo is a way to acknowledge the work of your fellows, if we saw someone giving the extra mile we would go to our Kudobox, choose a design we liked and write a message for that person and why we believed their work was outstanding. These Kudos would be stored in the box and read outloud at the end of the month. Our company also has a reward system where at the end of the year a prize is given to the person who received the most Kudos, we call it “The Golden Kudo”.

This system had been relatively successful , which meant around 4 or 5 Kudos monthly. However, two years without any improvements made the system dull. Also, during this period the company expanded, contracted and its overall culture evolved.

As time went by, people started de-sanitizing to the idea of writing Kudos, and the concept began to attain a set of unspoken rules about what deserved a Kudo and what did not. The whole system became a circle jerk where you recognized people for staying non-paid overtime, gave farewells to people leaving and the ocasional “thanks for investing time helping me solve a problem which affected me and our team”.

So, when the time came to redesign the Kudo cards, we took into account these issues and figured that doing just a make-over wasn’t going to fix these cultural biases, so we figured that maybe we needed to really talk to people and see what they thought of the current system.

The investigation

We wanted to know if the problems we perceived with the Kudobox were also perceived by our workmates, so we quickly got to ask everyone we could find and was available what we believed were the most insightful questions:

  • What do you think about our Kudos System?
  • When and how was the last time you received a Kudo? Why do you think you received it?
  • What do you do with your Kudo cards after you receive them?
  • How do you feel when you get a Kudo?
  • And so on…

Between our team of two people we interviewed eight individuals, and then proceeded to comment our findings with each other.

Above is our whiteboard where we wrote our findings as textual phrases (the ones who stood out the most) and some common behaviors we noticed at a glance.

Taking as a base these findings we started an ideation session which honestly started kinda organically. As we were reviewing the comments on the board we started blurting our different ideas, and that sparked a new system in the mind of my teammate. Just like that, impromptu.

☝️This was the big idea we came up with (more or less) (in Spanish)

Additionally, we wrote down what we thought would be the goals this new system would have over the original, in order to test them after the trial month had ended.

At the end of the month we thought that:

  • The new system would have more Kudos than in a regular month using the original
  • Given the choice to use new Kudo designs or the old ones, they would use the new ones the most.
  • Have at least one Kudo dedicated to someone who normally doesn’t receive Kudos.
  • The Kudoboard informed them of something outside their department/team.
  • If asked, they’d prefer the new system.

After that the implementation was ideated with a “don’t waste time” mindset, in part thanks to our stretched deadline. The next day we presented the initiative and got the green-light for a one month trial and we got to work right away. Getting the materials, deciding where would be the most visible place for the new board, finding a way to actually paste the board and that it didn’t fall… There were a couple drawbacks but the whole process was relatively effortless.

In the next part I’ll talk about what happened once we finished the trial month and how we got our feedback.

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