Energizing people with Kudo Cards

Kudo Cards Group Session

In his best-seller “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, Daniel H. Pink explains that the use of rewards and punishments to control employee’s production is an antiquated way of managing people. Dan Pink shows us that most of the 21st century workers migrated from a job with algorithmic tasks (which consist of following a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion) to heuristic tasks (a task in which the worker has to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution), changing the way that they are motivated. So, he emphasizes that external rewards and punishments can work nicely for algorithmic tasks but they can be devastating for heuristic ones. He also concludes that creative workers need to be driven by something that is interesting, challenging, and absorbing to them. Money continues to be important, but is not the priority.

Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”), the Zappos CEO and best-seller author of “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” takes happiness seriously. He says that doing whatever it takes to keep his employees, customers and vendors happy has led his company to profits in the end. He created and formalized the Zappos culture in ten core values that aims to deliver happiness to customers and employees based on his belief that people may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel. Summarizing, Zapponians are great in delivering happiness because everyone at Zappos gets excited about treating each other well, they collectively inspire and motivate each other and they work very hard but they make sure to have a lot of fun doing it. Therefore, they‘ve been able to bring in more great employees and to share the culture with them so the culture scales as they grow.

After all that being said, you can ask yourself how can we energize people motivating them to be great workers and promoting a happy work environment at the same time? Jurgen Appelo, author of books like “How to Change the World” and “Management 3.0”, presents a set of games, tools, and practices in his books “#Workout” and “Managing for Happiness” that encourages this with a better management, with fewer managers.

One of the tools that I usually use to increase recognition of valued work is the Kudo Cards. They are a small and unexpected set of tokens of appreciation for doing a good job that encourages intrinsic motivation within an organization. It is a written and public recognition of a colleague for something he or she has contributed to the team. A Kudo is not just given from the top down but peer-to-peer, across departments and organizations, anyone can publicly recognize someone else’s work. It’s a way to break down hierarchical limitations and to encourage everyone to offer instant feedback.

Kudo Card example (from http://kudobox.co/)

According to Jurgen, Kudos are great because they respect the six rules to reward people:
1 — Don’t promise rewards in advance;
2 — Keep anticipated rewards small;
3 — Reward continuously, not once;
4 — Reward publicly, not privately;
5 — Reward behavior, not outcome;
6 — Reward peers, not subordinates;

There are a lot of tips and variations of how to use Kudos and some case stories are described at the M30 website. For the experience showed in this post, I decided to present this practice to the team as an energizer in an Agile Retrospective meeting.

The first step was a quick conversation to congratulate all of them for our great work since we started the project. We had taken good decisions together and learned how to increase the quality of our releases, satisfying the project owner needs and respecting the acceptance criteria. After that, I also talked about a feeling that had been bothering me in some occasions, which was when a teammate did a nice job and we didn’t celebrate. Then, I suggested that we all thought about these moments that were missed before creating some notes about them and thinking about how we could say thank you, very happy, many thanks, well done, totally awesome, congratulations and great job to each other.

Four days later, the expected day arrived. At the beginning of the meeting, I explained what Kudo Cards are and invited them to transform their previously written notes in these tokens to recognize a valued work that was made by them.

Writing Kudo Cards

Thirty minutes later, we started to delivery the cards and …

Sharing Kudo Cards

We had a very special moment remembering how each of us contributed to the success of the project reinforcing how each team member is important in this journey. Like Jurgen says:

Teamwork can only emerge as an outcome of people’s individual contributions to that team..

By now, all team members have access to Kudos to delivery to a peer whenever they want. The culture of to praise a good job was increased and we are witnessing even more happiness in our work days. Ah, and now we also have even more beautiful desks too.

Thanks guys for all these moments and by allowing me to be a different kind of manager. Without your contribution, none of this would be possible. I’m very proud to be part of this team. :D

Next steps:
 — Use the system with remote team-mates with http://kudobox.co/;
 — Create and personalize our own Kudo Cards;
 — Create system of points to exchange them for some simple gifts;
 — Formalize a place to put some Kudos to the Human Resources co-workers. We are thinking about a Kudo Door at the entrance of their room;

Wow, I’m very happy to be tweeted by Jurgen Appelo :D

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