Kudo Cards - the value of peer-to-peer feedback
Updated: Jun 5, 2022
I guess I felt that as Head of Product, it was taking some control away from me. There was nothing rational about it, but I also didn't take the time to fully understand its value. Kudo cards remained a passing thought in my mind for several years. It wasn't until I myself experienced it, with no pre-planning or explanation, that I began to value it. It was in the course of a Management 3.0 Foundation Workshop I took with Bogdan in the winter of 2020. We just finished a 2-day workshop that was fun, interactive, filled with practical knowledge and insights, and we were getting ready to wrap it up. Bogdan asked everyone to fill the cards, thanking and celebrating everyone. He purposefully excluded himself, which is wise in retrospect, as the facilitator of a workshop is an authority figure, and a natural "magnet" for kudos, whereas Kudo cards are meant to be peer-to-peer and bottom-up. He wanted us to experience it for ourselves. What are kudo cards? It's simply a specific thank you/celebration/pride that you express towards your teammates/anyone else you work with. We all wrote them, more than 1, and in the end he tallied the count and declared the winner (whoever had the most kudos). It was I. There was some physical reward, a bottle of sparkly wine, but I passed that on to some old friends in Kyiv later that night when we met to chat and celebrate (in what would turn out to be my last visit to Ukraine, due to pandemic and now the war).
What stuck with me was the recognition of people I only met 2 days ago for the first time. The shared experience we've had and their words meant more to me than any reward. In fact, 2 years later, I keep those cards with me, in my physical notepad, as a reminder. Here are the cards (albeit in Russian).
I don't often look at them, but the value of that workshop as a whole remains with me in part due to them. Daniel Kahneman, in his seminal work, "Thinking Fast and Slow", talks about our system 1 and system 2 thinking, and how we remember things.
"The author's significant discovery was that the remembering self does not care about the duration of a pleasant or unpleasant experience. Instead, it retrospectively rates an experience by the maximum or minimum of the experience, and by the way it ends. The remembering self dominated the patient's ultimate conclusion" (source). That means the end of the workshop and the maximum of the experience (not just for me, for for everyone who received kudos) framed it in memory as positive.
I took that practice back to the teams at Otakoyi. We used KudoBox.co and wrote each other kudos in our work chat. I wish I could share them with you as well, they were specific, they were spontaneous and they were from the heart. This is something that A: you can start using today. B: will bring more value than any tangible reward you as a manager can give an employee. Implemented at the teams level, encouraged by the scrum master, or agile coach, or even the team lead themselves, it's a valuable tool to help people move from being a group to being a true team. There's no need to wait for a once/twice a year 360 feedback session, when you can hear people's feedback every other week or so. As a scrum master/agile coach or any other facilitator of this practice, your job is simple. At random intervals tally up the cards, declare the winner/s and give them a varying, small reward. A chocolate bar, a snack, a desk toy, or anything else you know your team likes. If you wish to measure the effect, it's simple, ask people "when was the last time you felt appreciated/valued at work?" at constant intervals during your 1-on-1 talks. I would be remiss to forget the flipside of having teammates that never received kudos. In a participation trophy world, we'd expect everything to be equal. It never will be. Some team members would perhaps find themselves in this position and it's worth talking to them and asking why. Even better, just wait for them to talk to you or their teammates about the lack of positive feedback. One final thought. This won't work in a "group". When your team isn't cooperating, but is a team in name, there's little point in this practice, in my opinion. Some people may thank their friends, but otherwise, if cooperative and visibility are low, start with that, before you introduce any sort of 360 feedback tool at group visibility level. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!