People Hack

Friday 4th October 2019 is a day I will remember. Maybe not for the rest of my life, but for a long time.

It was the day of the People Hack, the very first Hackathon for Agoda‘s People Team. The mission: come up with a way to scale Smart Recognition for 5,000+ employees (and growing) in 50+ locations around the world.

I’ll tell you why it was such a memorable day for me. But first: a confession.

I didn’t join the Hackathon because of a burning desire to have a lasting impact on my company. No. I joined because I wanted the free jacket.

And in the weeks leading up to it, I didn’t actually plan to come up with an idea. I was going to listen to the pitching fire (45-second individual pitch) at the start of the event then pick the team whose idea I could identify with most.

But as weeks became days, I changed my mind. The organiser was concerned not enough people would pitch their ideas, so I promised I would.

I don’t think of myself as someone with great ideas. Innovative is a word I do not label myself as. But I am a strong believer in effort. So I set aside time in my schedule to come up with an idea. I read the information pack the organiser sent, twice. I did some Googling. But even as I started writing my 45-second pitch, I still didn’t know what my idea was.

I started by jotting ideas around the kind of recognition I wanted to see: spontaneous, face-to-face, private. As ideas emerged and evolved, I stumbled upon what I really wanted: people.

I wanted people to play a key role in driving recognition. I launched a mobile learning program at my old company earlier this year. Uptake was difficult, and completion was painful. I didn’t think a tech solution would work – too much friction for people to adopt a new thing.

Somewhere in that jumble of thoughts, a word emerged: network. I am a strong believer in the power of networks. And from then I settled on Recognition Champions. I will build a network of Recognition Champions.

Partly because I wanted people-driven recognition. But if I’m honest, it’s mainly because I had no idea what kind of recognition scheme would work. So my scheme was to outsource idea creation to other people – the Champions.

In the pitching fire, I sold it as having the people on the ground coming up with awesome ideas “because they know what makes the people they’re working with tick”. The company is so diverse – departments, offices, cultures – who are we, 35 people in a room, to decide for them what kind of recognition they should get?

But really, it was all about outsourcing. It always was.

I put a lot of thought in the pitch, crafted it down to the last second. I wanted a really good pitch. I wasn’t too confident in the actual idea, but I wanted to be confident in my pitch.

And, somehow, it worked.

Against all expectations, four people joined my team. I was standing there in the corner trying to decide which other team I should join, and one-by-one, the four came up to me. Some joined because they liked my pitch. One or two actually joined because my idea resonated with them.

I’m not going to recount the day in detail. Suffice to know that from around 11am to 5pm, there was a design-thinking workshop, a Pitching 101 session, and brainstorming time. By 5pm, all teams must have a 7-minute pitch deck and be ready to pitch their team’s idea to the committee comprised of senior members of the People Team, including the Chief People Officer himself.

The committee would select two teams, whose ideas will actually be piloted by Q1 2020, with a reasonably big budget. Oh, and also some pocket money to have a celebratory team dinner.

And our team won second place.

My idea of not coming up with any idea won second place. Like, wow.

But that’s not the coolest part of the day. The coolest part was by far the brainstorming sessions – working with four other people who at the start of the event were strangers to me. We had so, much, fun. We bounced ideas, challenged one another, and laughed. There was a lot of laughing.

Thanks to them, my non-idea took shape. Together, we came up with what it would look like, how we would recruit our Champions, work with them, recognise them. How we would measure success, come up with numbers to show the impact we could have. By 5pm, we had a pretty solid framework.

And I pitched it. Afterwards, many from my and other teams came up to me and said what a great pitch it was. I’m happy with that, but I’m also a little sad that that’s where the focus went.

The focus shouldn’t be on the pitch, or the idea. It should be on the team. Without the team, we’d have nothing. I don’t think the team realises that. So it’s my little mission for the celebratory dinner to convince them of the pivotal role they played in the birth of the Recognition Champions.

And from now is where the real work, and the learning, begin. Pilot by Q1 2020. Recognition Champions are a Go!


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