Management 3.0 Practices: Kudo Box

How to nurture intrinsic motivation and gratitude

M30 facilitator Ralph van Roosmalen’s kudo box.

Incentives ensure that people stop doing things just for the joy of the work, but rewards that trigger intrinsic motivation are more effective, most sustainable, and usually cost less money.

Rewarding your employees based solely on outcomes is not sustainable for your company in the long run. Managers often use this type of extrinsic motivation (money, grades) when they want people to work harder, longer or more effectively. This is dangerous and often kills intrinsic motivation. While failing to pay your employees on time is a sure demotivation, beyond this basic agreement kept met, today’s workers are more motivated by internal motivators.

The Management 3.0 Practice of the Kudo Box is fully focused on intrinsic motivation brought on by all team members, not just top-down bonuses. A kudo is a token or gesture of thanks — sometimes called Hero Awards, hugs, Rippas (that’s what Virgin calls them) — and it’s a way to write thank you notes and other notes of acknowledgement that then can be collected in a box and read aloud. (Kudos can also be handed to teammates or hung up on walls — the kudo box is a decorative idea, not a restriction.)

Get your own deck of Kudo Cards!

And of course when you do take time to read these kudos aloud, it’s a great reason to celebrate too! When kudos are withdrawn from the box and read, people often clap and cheer — some even have champagne or cake!

Plus, many companies decide to offer a little something for kudos and use the Kudo Box like a raffle box to pull out one or a couple weekly winners of anything from gift cards to the local cafe to maybe a Friday afternoon off!


Remember, all successful rewards that encourage intrinsic motivation have these six things in common:

  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.

Not a manager? That’s OK! We believe management is too important to be left just to the managers. Anyone can help transform an organization.

More tips & case stories of Kudo Box in Action:

Get your own deck of Kudo Cards!

Check out our Leadership Resource Hub to learn about all the Management 3.0 practices. And read about more intrinsic motivation tools in Managing for Happiness.

The Script for top Kudo Box video:

Thank you for watching this video. Well, that was easy. Saying “thank you” is not that hard, is it? How much more difficult can it be to write it down? How hard can it be to put the “thank you” message on a note or a card and give it to another person?

Well, it turns out that it’s easy for some, but difficult for others. In Poland, I first came across the idea of a Kudo Box and later I’ve seen the same practice elsewhere in the world as well. With this practice, the employees in an organization are asked to write personal thank-you messages for their peers.

Kudo cards are simple cards that play the role of a physical token of appreciation. The cards can be placed in a box, and every now and then the kudo box is emptied and the workers celebrate those who had received a card. Maybe once per day, or once per week, the implementations vary across organizations.

At some companies, those who received a compliment from a colleague can choose a little present such as a dinner for two, a movie ticket, or box of chocolates. At other companies, there is a draw of the kudo cards, and the winner gets a slightly bigger prize. And I’ve heard of businesses where, instead of little presents, the employees simply bask in the glory of their fellow worker’s appreciation. But no extrinsic rewards are handed out.

The details differ, but the principle is always the same: get people to say, “thank you” in a way that has meaning for both the sender and the receiver of the compliment.

Many times, I have heard the suggestion from successful entrepreneurs that you should write one thank-you note per day, by hand. Many times I have read that giving something to another person not only generates happiness for the receiver, but even more so for the giver.  The science of positive psychology confirms that positive minds are more productive and more successful than neutral and negative minds. And systems thinkers and complexity researchers know all about reinforcing feedback loops: you often get more of what you focus on. Therefore, focus on the positive, not the negative. In other words, it all makes sense.

But how? How do we get creative workers to be thankful to each other? Everyone is always so busy, busy, busy. No time for reflection, no time for appreciation. Well, here’s what works for me: I have a daily recurring task in my task list that says, “say thank you.” I consider it part of my regular work, and every day I am confronted with it. I admit, I’m not always able to think of someone who should get a card. But at least I take a moment to think about it. And that’s what you can do as well: lead by example.

To get other people to write kudo cards, it helps to make the practice as visible as possible. Make sure there’s no way for people to ignore the box or the cards.  I’ve heard of companies placing the box strategically near the coffee machine. Others have decided to make a kudo wall in a central corridor  where everyone sees the cards several times per day, each time they pass by. And of course, offering little presents may help to get people to adopt the practice. The extrinsic motivation is probably small enough not to hurt anyone’s performance, but it may be large enough to grow a culture of appreciation and positivity.

I recently had a workshop in Australia where one of the attendees said that she still kept the kudo card that she had received in one of my previous workshops, two years earlier. It was just a simple thank you note, but she was happy with it, and she kept it for years. That’s what a simple “thank you” can do.

So, go ahead. Write a kudo card now. Make someone happy, and make yourself a bit happier too. Oh, and thank you for watching this video all through the end. I really appreciate that.

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