One of my favorite rituals at Coda is the Golden Shovel Award. It is an internal award for employees that have done some unglamorous work that is not part of their core job - often behind the scenes - that improved the lives of their colleagues or customers. I will explain our rationale and how we structured the award below. Judging for Golden Shovel (or any similar type of award) can be a very time consuming process. After trying different ways of judging, we have settled on a specific voting method we call Meeting the Bar voting that has simplified and sped up judging for us and that I will explain below. And last but not least, we have implemented the entire nomination and voting process in Coda. Create a copy of this doc if you want to run a similar process with little effort at your own company.
Internal Awards for unglamorous work
At every company some employees go out of their way to make the lives of their colleagues or customers better, often through unglamorous work behind the scenes. By the nature of the work it is less visible (compared to, for example, building and launching a new feature in the product). To nurture a great company culture, it is important to find out about that work, reward and celebrate it, and thus create the right incentives for others to follow that behaviour.
In my 14 years at Google, I have seen and helped create and run different awards for this type of behaviour. The Google Shopping team had an award called the Shopping Hausmeister (caretaker) award that was awarded for cleaning up the codebase and similar tasks and was neatly integrated into the code review process. The Google Travel team celebrated quarterly similar achievements with their Ingenieurskunstexzellenzkuhauszeichnungspreisverleihung (this simple German word can only be crudely translated into english as the award ceremony for the cow award for engineering excellence (because the award for some reason was a cow (not a real one, silly, one carved out of Swiss wood))).
Here at Coda we created the Golden Shovel Award which builds on those awards with some improvements and is designed to cover all job functions (not just engineering). We have awarded it for example to an engineer for cleaning up the codebase, one for slogging through invoice and revenue data backlogs, a recruiter for organizing Black History Month, and a marketing manager for helping another team with hiring and training.
Coda Golden Shovel Award
The Golden Shovel Award is based on peer nominations; anyone can nominate anyone including themselves at any time (we always accept nominations). Unglamorous behind the scenes work is often not seen by upper management, and we found that this process works well to surface this type of work.
Once we have received 15-20 nominations (which takes about a quarter typically), we run a judging round to evaluate and pick the awardees. We want the award to feel significant and scale with the company, so the bar needs to be high but without an artificial limit on the number of awards. Judges are volunteers from every part of the company, and in particular, we ask previous recipients of the award to be judges in future rounds. To avoid any conflict of interest, nobody currently nominated gets to be a judge in the current round. We also give the manager of someone who is nominated the chance to veto an award - while this is extremely rarely used it acts as protection against awarding work that maybe was done at the expense of someone’s main job.
I am pretty proud of the actual award itself. It consists of multiple components. First, we present the award in a company-wide meeting to allow everyone to applaud for the great work done.
Next, we have the physical award for people to put on their desks. We use a custom engraved quality wooden block. I find it helpful that the physical award is stackable because that makes it more meaningful to win multiple times and build a tower.
We also have a monetary & social component - awardees are encouraged to take their family or friends out for dinner and drinks and expense it. The idea here is to make sure their family & friends are aware of their excellent work for social recognition.
Judging these types of awards can be tricky and time consuming. On one side we found it important to have a large and diverse set of judges. But we also wanted to avoid having long meetings for the award and a process where the loudest or most stubborn person dominates the results. We tried different methods to facilitate the judges reaching a decision and have come up with a voting mechanism that is somewhat unique but very efficient and focuses the judges' time on the hard decision. I have written about it
We do not have a firm quota for number of awards but the goal is rather that we want to make sure every winner has met a high bar. This is why I call this the Meeting the Bar method. For each nomination, the judges can vote either
Yes (they are convinced this should get the award),
Maybe (they are not opposed but not entirely convinced either),
No (they are against it),
or indicate they have no opinion on a particular nomination (e.g., lack of insight or conflict of interest).
Judges vote asynchronously on all the nominations. Once the votes are in we use the tool on the results page to evaluate the votes.
If a judge expressed they have no opinion for a specific nomination we do not count their vote - the decision for that nomination is based only on the votes of the remaining judges
If a nomination only has Yes, it is clearly above the bar - no need to discuss it further.
If it has only Yes and a few Maybe votes, it is also above the bar - no need to discuss it further.
But if it has few Yes and many Maybes, it did not convince the judges enough. The default decision here is to not give the award for lack of conviction. In this case however, we give the judges with the yes votes a brief chance to lobby and try to convince others to switch their vote to Yes.
Nominations with only Maybes did not convince enough and we dismiss them directly.
If nominations receive mostly Nos or No/Maybe we dismiss it directly as well.
We tend to focus almost all our discussion time on discussing controversial nominations that receive Yes and No Votes to see if the Yes faction can convince the No faction (and if they cannot do this within a reasonable time, we do not give the award).
Using Coda for the Process
If you are interested to introduce a similar award at your company, or you want to streamline running your existing award, create a copy of this document
and look at the instructions of the next 3 pages in this document.