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Zion National Park, Utah; photo by the author

Someone recently asked me what I miss most about my time at Smartling. It’s an easy question for me to answer: the Friday morning customer success all-hands, and in particular a tradition we called Hero of the Week.

Hero of the Week is simple. Each team member nominates another for a job well done since the previous week’s all-hands, including a brief explanation of why. Nominations are written on Post-its and typically are anonymous; remote team members submit them using SurveyMonkey. At the start of each all-hands, one person reads the nominations out loud while another tallies them on a white board. The person who receives the most votes takes possession of a trophy until the following week.

The original reason for starting Hero of the Week was to promote earned respect, but I quickly realized that it had other benefits. It served as an icebreaker for the all-hands itself, but also for Friday generally — a point in the week at which even the most hardened workaholics feel a bit run down. Put simply, it lifted everyone — not just the “winner.”

Over time, Hero of the Week developed charming idiosyncrasies:

  • Selecting team members to read and write nominations became a bit of a game. Showing up last to the all-hands might land you on name-writing duty; on the other hand, it could be a get-out-of-jail-free card, allowing you to pick someone else. We kept it lively.
  • If you were a new hire, you were almost guaranteed to be selected to write the names. It was a test — with no consequences — of how well you could spell the many uncommon names on the team. This was the extent of our new employee hazing. Most nailed it.
  • The trophies were plush action figures from Aladdin — Abu, Jafar, and Jasmine — that were gifted by a previous team member (the backstory deserves its own blog post!). We sprinkled amusing photos of the trophies throughout the office and on Slack.

I became so well known for insisting (jokingly) that Abu, Jafar, and Jasmine be referred to as plush action figures that the team gifted me one at my last all-hands: Simba from The Lion King.

Tech-savvy solutions exist— one need only glance at the G2 Crowd Grid to see how crowded is the market for employee engagement software — but there’s something comforting about this decidedly old-school approach that I feel would be lost in the digital ether.

It would be remiss of me not to thank two people who helped to shape Hero of the Week at Smartling: Doug Langdon, my executive coach, and Daniel Trubey-Weller, an early member of the team. Thank you.

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Written by

Chief Customer Officer at Brightflag. I write about issues relevant to and situations faced by SaaS companies as they scale.

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