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How and Why You Should Build a Secret Spy Network to Monitor Employee Behavior

Various communist and fascist governments have demonstrated over the past century that properly incentivising the common people to spy on each other can be an efficient and cost-effective policy if you don’t mind some false positives. As a business owner, I feel like I need to know what’s going on inside my company, but my motivation is a bit different, and I like to think rather more benign.

Walking the gemba is a great way to see how people work and to be available to talk about issues and ideas. Hanging out by the water cooler (or in my case, working at the sofa in the kitchen by the coffee maker) is also a valuable way to be accessible and pick up useful tidbits about the happenings in one’s own company.

But I’m greedy. I want to know more.

In my direct experience, managers can achieve more by recognising and rewarding positive behaviour than they can by rooting out and punishing negative behaviour, and in that, my goal may differ from that of Stalin, but I can still learn from the secret police.

Two years ago I introduced a spy network in Lunar Logic to encourage my employees to spy on each other and report to me. I called it “Kudos,” a funny name that successfully hid my ulterior motives. It works like this:

An employee who catches any other employee in the act of doing something laudable can report the anomalous behaviour via an email to an innocuous address that forwards to me. The secret to my cunning plan’s success lies in strict adherence to the rules:

  • Kudos are given anonymously unless the email gives permission to reveal the source.
  • Kudos are delivered to the offender without judgement. We take every accusation at face value.
  • Kudos are delivered promptly with no avenues for appeal.

When an informant sends an email report, I intercept it and deliver to the accused a thank you card (designed by the brilliant @dotmariusz) along with a token gift like movie tickets or a desk gadget. These are just physical reminders of the real charge — that someone, close by, saw what you did, and liked it. We then tell the whole company what happened via our internal communication system, and to the whole world via our Facebook page.

Since implementing the scheme, I’ve learned that it’s not uncommon for people at Lunar Logic to answer client emails at odd hours and even from time to time help with a problem on a Sunday. They bring cookies into the office and feed them to each other. Sometimes they leave their designated work space to assist others with technical questions without permission. One was even caught recklessly propagating VIM shortcut secrets. Two conspired to sneak into the office after hours and update the firmware on all the company routers. These are all surreptitious activities that would remain hidden under the radar, but for my Kudos spy network. Before Kudos, I had my suspicions, but I didn’t know for sure quite how kind, good-willed, helpful, and supportive these people really are.

As a manager, I tend to see best the end results of my employee’s work and of our company culture, but the details about how we are consistently successful are often lost in a fog of details. Thanks to the Kudos spy program we get to see acts of kindness that have no immediate benefit to the bottom line and acts of courage or vision even when they fail to achieve visible results, and everyone gets to work together to define our shared values and recognise those who contribute to making Lunar Logic the best place I’ve ever worked.

Late Addition: For Jurgen Appelo’s explanation of why this system works, see his article here.

Behold – just a few of the condemned:

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Luis November 21, 2012, 8:57 pm

    Glad to see your program is working. I imagine it would work in a small org where everyone is in the same place. My experience has been that such programs run a high risk of going dysfunctional, especially if the incentives make it worthwhile. I worked for a large corporation that had a kudos program. The incentive was a $20 gift certificate at a local bakery/cafe. Soon, we had local mutual admiration societies among some of the departments, where each month a different member of the department would be recognized. Meanwhile, the poor guy working alone out in left field (and possibly putting in more time and effort to get the job done) was totally ignored.
    My preference was to reward desirable behavior. If you want the staff to work as a team to provide amazing service to customers, then anytime one member of that team receives a glowing commendation from an outside customer, the entire team gets taken out to lunch. No one is singled out, and nobody gets left behind.

    • pklipp November 22, 2012, 1:20 am

      What happened when you gave that poor guy kudos? That would be telling.

  • Gustavo May 19, 2014, 5:26 pm

    Nice way to introduce Kudos!
    I believe in Kudos like a good way to keep motivate people, but it’s no the only one.