How Used Kudo Cards and Changed Their Culture

- Practices & Exercises

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by Vasco Duarte

We believe that good management shouldn’t be just about practices, but even more about principles. Management 3.0 for instance isn’t a ‘method’. It’s a concept. On the other hand, in order to learn how to do things, people need concrete practices. Things they can work on, starting next Monday. One of those practical things is using Kudo Cards: cards that you can use to show your appreciation for what your co-workers have done. I wrote about them before, right here.

This time I talked about Kudo Cards with Robert Misch, a great guy who works at a company called Sounds familiar? I wrote about them before. Anyway, Robert and his team are quite keen on trying new stuff. And although they love a lot of the practices they read about, they adjust them to their own situation if it’s necessary. We had a little talk about his latest experiments.

Visible appreciation

“We have 115+ people working here. The last year the company grew quite fast, we almost doubled in size. And although we are still very much agile, we noticed that some things started to be different. We felt something had to change. Starting last Christmas we now hand out a couple of Kudo Cards to everyone every month.”

In the original practice, those cards go in a box and the manager hands them out to the people they are addressed to, making them public after that. Not at They use a big wall in the kitchen where people can put the cards they wrote. “Everyone can read them and it’s a great feeling to get one,” Robert said. It reminded me of The Wall of Honor at Seedbox. At they designed their own cards, adding the company logo (on the flip side) to make it ‘their own’. Did the system work right away? “Yes and no. The first time (at the Christmas party) we slightly overdid it. Everyone wrote cards for whatever people did, there were more than 300 cards! It was great though, we hung them up on a washing line. The next month we had to find another place to put the cards, that became the wall of our kitchen.” Nowadays people are still using the cards a lot. They realized giving regular, positive feedback is good.

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Changing a culture

Robert and his people noticed a couple of things. “People realized that giving feedback is as important as getting it. And that it’s all in finding the right words. What’s even better, we see that our culture is changing.

What started as a great and constructive way to say thanks, now evolved in a new feedback culture.” Robert told me his colleagues feel more self-conscious to give and receive feedback in a straightforward way. “They feel they sometimes don’t need the card anymore, you can also grab a cup of coffee and walk to someone’s desk. To say ‘thank you’, but also to discuss what can be done better. It’s an evolving culture; we need more time to grow but it’s there. We learn how to solve impediments as a team.”

What started as a great and constructive way to say thanks, now evolved in a new feedback culture.

I think it’s brilliant that Robert and his colleagues adjusted this great practice to make it work. And it’s even greater that it triggered something bigger. For me this story is the essence of great management: you are not managing people, you are growing a culture.

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