n:gage Challenge #2: The Winning Entry

First things first. Have you taken the (completely anonymous, less-than-10-seconds) ‘kwench 1-Q survey yet? Please take a few seconds to click a couple of radio buttons if you haven’t already. Thanks :)  Here’s the link (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Kwench1QJan2014)

So now coming to the winning entry for the n:gage December 2013 Challenge (Squeaky Brakes). Congratulations to Chhavi Anand for the best analysis and solution of the case among all the submissions.


Chhavi’s Analysis of the problems with the reward system in Fast Brake:

(Points made by Chhavi are italicized and marked as CA. Plain text is what I have added, as additional comments or notes.)

CA: 1) Individual cash rewards in all geographies; overlooking the fact that the working culture in India(say) where collectivism is popular might not work in Americas(say) where individualism persists.

A very valid point. While making a rewards strategy that spans across multiple geographies, the one-size-fits-all approach often does not work. In many of the Asian cultures, collectivism is seen as a more dominant phenomenon. Things are changing with the impact of globalization and this cultural transition (or muddle as some might say) adds to the challenge of creating a recognition strategy. In a culture where the individual identifies more with the group, rewarding just one person instead of the group might actually have a counterproductive effect.

CA: 2) Giving control of cash to junior manager and team leaders; only top to bottom rewards are designed. There is no peer to peer reward system.

Surveys and research has repeatedly shown that peer recognition is rated far more meaningful and fulfilling than one from superiors. Especially in the knowledge economy appreciation from peers is perceived as more valuable since it goes without saying that the peers truly appreciate the effort or the challenge involved in the solution.

CA: 3) Approval from group presidents; the approval system in rewards might delay the process and lose the charm of reward and recognition.

Right on! Oversight is good, but it should not be crippling. And the moment very tight controls are placed, the fundamental idea behind an engagement initiative gets diluted. The hidden message then becomes ‘we like you, but we really don’t trust you’. Not a very good idea when you are trying to win the trust of your workforce.

CA: 4) Spot recognition; As the name suggests the recognition should be on the spot while the current system is quite opposite. The reward is reaching the deserving employee after one week and cash reward is not taken positively by the employee(as seen by the letter written by Dave). The charm of spot recognition is lost in the time period taken by the reward to reach the employee.

In addition to the delay, the quantum of rewards is another point to be considered. Dave points out that the amount he did get wasn’t much either. The CEO’s desire to reach the maximum amount of people is a good one, but his budget allocation doesn’t follow up on his intentions. You might be better off not giving any cash award with the recognition than appearing as a cheap-skate.

CA: 5) Congratulations Card; It is too formal in rewards system. It does not state the reason behind the reward being given to an employee. Thus it does not serve the purpose of “congratulating”.

True. Recognition has to be personal and reinforced socially to really mean something. A award handed out in a town-hall gets its effect from the fact that the recepient is singled out for the praise and everyone present gets to know about it. The problem though is that town-halls and company-picnics are few and far between events. Luckily technology today provides innovative ways to solve this problem without burning a hole in your pocket.

Chhavi’s proposed solution:

CA: To provide the online platform wherein an employee can be recognized immediately after an achievement. The recognition should not be only from managers/team leaders but also from peers. This prevents favoritism also. The recognition system can be clubbed with the cash rewards subsequently in the process.


This rewards and recognition system will keep the employees motivated. The engineers and sales staff will strive to achieve and break records. As clear from the R&R Budget Details, some budget is not being issued by the managers and if issued, is not redeemed by the employees. There should be proper training/user manual for the rewards and recognition system to be understood and utilized by all the employees in an effective manner.


Join in on the conversation. Leave your congratulations for Chhavi and comments on the solution below.

The n:gage Challenge #2: Squeaky Brakes

n_gage_Post_Header_Dec2013_Important Notes (well, kind of important anyway):

The n:gage Challenge answers should be submitted latest by midnight 29th December 2013. There is no minimum word limit for solutions; it can be just one line or even one word. One of the submissions as advice for Mahesh in n:gage challenge 1, was just two words: ‘Quit – Now!’. While it didn’t win the contest, we were laughing so hard for a very long time. The maximum however is 1000 words. If you hate writing and want to submit a doodled version, an illustration, a mind map, a flow chart – go right ahead. Solutions are solutions.

And now back to the main program: The challenge!

Bhaskar, the HR head of FastBrake was perturbed. He was looking at the MIS of rewards issued and redeemed across various offices and numbers looked quite bad. If there was any interest from the employees, in the awards that were being handed out, it was not evident. And add to that, the email that he just received from a service engineer based in London.

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you for the wonderful initiative of spot recognition that has been rolled out across the organization. Last week, I helped out one of our customers with a rather tricky problem they were facing with our ball bearings and my manager handed me an envelope today.

The card was nice I must say. But may I humbly point out that £5 doesn’t really buy much these days. Buying a pint of beer for oneself at the pub is hardly a celebration, wouldn’t you agree? I do appreciate the gesture though.

Yours Sincerely,


Bhaskar took a sip of his coffee and sat back in his chair. Last month his CEO, Natarajan had approved the largest Rewards and Recognition budget in the history of the company with the mandate that at-least 60% of the staff – globally- should be covered. The company had engineers and sales staff, spread across the Americas and Europe but a bulk of the workforce was based in Chennai.

Bhaskar and his team had decided that in the interest of time and ease of implementation they would hand out cash rewards. Each reward irrespective of the amount would be accompanied by a card with Congratulations printed on it and a printed signature of the CEO. The organization budget was split and allocated to the respective group presidents. They would in turn allocate the budgets to their managers, who would hand out their senior managers based on their requirements. Natarajan’s requirement of covering, a minimum of 60% of the team was clearly spelt out – the aim was not to give big amounts to a select few but to cover the maximum possible workforce.

The president of finance had pointed out to Bhaskar, that giving control of cash to junior managers and team leaders would be an invitation for scams. ‘This entire do-goody warm-fuzzy fad stuff Natarajan and you want is fine Bhaskar – it’s your call. In my time, when people worked hard, they got a bonus at the end of the year.  But remember when it comes to money – there will always be rotten apples’ said Swaminathan, the 55 year old who controlled finance in the company with an iron-fist.

Managers would take the approval of their group presidents for each award and then hand it out. To prevent problems, Swaminathan insisted that employees who received the award also sign a receipt, which would be maintained for accounting purposes and ‘prevent any smart-aleck from gaming the system.’

Bhaskar took another look at the R&R MIS and wondered what he was going to tell Natarajan in the next status update meeting.

The exhibits:

n_gage_2_FastBrake_Company_Snapshot_n_gage_2_FastBrake_Employeedistribution_n_gage_2_FastBrake_OrgChart_n_gage_2_FastBrake_RnR_BudgetDetails_n_gage_Sample_CongratulatoryCard_Dec2013_Disclaimer: Fast-Brake is a fictitious company and all people, events etc. described in this case are for illustrative purposes only and are not based on any real life company or people.

Your solution:

Write up your advice for Bhaskar in less than 1000 words and send it in before midnight of 29th December.(If you are facing issues in using the form, send in your solution to prashant.john@kwench.in in whatever format you choose: text, image, pdf, ppt et. al. )

As always to be fair to all participants, we will not be answering any individual queries. If you feel some information you need to form your solution is missing from the challenge text, make suitable assumptions. Do remember to clearly mention your assumptions though.

n:gage November 2013 – The Challenge!




It was 8 am on bright sunny day in Bangalore, the city which FastVid called home. Mahesh was in early, in-spite of a late night conference call with his Sales heads in Singapore and Los Angeles. In fact it was the call that was bothering Mahesh. His company was starting to stagnate. The sales heads had blamed his tech teams for lack of innovation in the solutions they provided their clients anymore. ‘It’s always the same old thing. I don’t have anything worth talking about when I meet prospective clients’ lamented the President of Sales based out of the Los Angeles office. His APAC Sales head pretty much echoed the same sentiment.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mahesh pulled up the latest metrics from all his departments. Everything seemed to be on track – all of them seemed to be in line with expected trajectory to achieve their annual numbers. The targets seemed almost tame, but both his delivery head and R&D head had convinced him that given the present economic climate, expecting anything more would be impractical. His HR head had warned him of an attrition risk if impossible targets were set and as a result bonus payouts were withheld.

Six years ago, FastVid called a tiny room in Mahesh’s three room apartment its office and had a total of three employees who wrote the first version of their path-breaking video compression software. The growth was explosive. Couple of VC funding rounds followed and in just under five years the company had offices in LA, Singapore and Sweden.  In technology there is hardly any time to breathe, yesterday’s poster child was now struggling to deliver innovative new solutions to keep in touch with the fast emerging mobile wave. FastVid had always maintained high standards of recruitment – taking on only the very best of engineers, most of them poached from the large technology giants where this talented bunch felt lost in the large organizational maze. Attrition was almost zero in the first couple of years and then what was a trickle was now definitely a brook. Mahesh had always believed in paying his team atleast 20% more than ‘market salary’ so compensation was almost never a reason mentioned in the exit interview.  What did come up more often than not is that teams at FastVid had become silos –sales teams often were clueless about what R&D was working on. R&D based out of Stockholm was not happy at how development teams in Bangalore implemented the new protocols and algorithms they came up with. His delivery managers were constantly complaining about how engineers just didn’t seem to be interested in thoroughly testing their code. All they seemed to do was write their bit of code and dump it onto others to use without really thinking about the overall product – it was almost every man for himself.

Mahesh swivelled around in his plush leather chair and looked down on the main road leading to the Technology Park where FastVid had its offices. The morning rush-hour traffic was building up. The sunlight bouncing off the windshields of the hundreds of cars inching their way to all the offices clustered around each other in the Technology Park. Technology giants had offices right next to each other here and in each of those glass offices smart engineers were working away, developing technology that could overnight change the market – much like FastVid had done with mobile video when it was founded six years ago.  Mahesh knew that he needed to get innovation flowing in his organization again, but how?

n_gage_MiniCase_Exhibit_A_ n_gage_MiniCase_Exhibit_B_ n_gage_MiniCase_Exhibit_C_

The challenge:

For the next one week you are an advisor to the Mahesh.

Come up with a strategic plan for him to get the teams at FastVid engaged and get them back to delivering innovative solutions.

Write your plan in less than 1000 words and send it in before midnight of 24th November. (If you are facing issues in using the form, send in your solution to prashant.john@kwench.in in a word/text document)

To be fair to all participants, we will not be answering any individual queries. If you feel some information you need to form your solution is missing from the challenge text, make suitable assumptions. Do remember to clearly mention your assumptions though.

What are you waiting for – Mahesh needs your help!

Note: FastVid, Mahesh and the situation used in this challenge are fictional. Any resemblance to people or organizations in the real world is coincidence and not intended.

Are you ready for the ‘kwench n:gage challenge?

'kwench n:gage challenge

The ‘kwench n:gage challenge invites you to present your innovative solution for an employee engagement related conundrum.

On the 18th of November, the challenge will be posted on the ‘kwench blog.
You have till 24th November to send in your proposed solution.

We will select the best solution and publish it on the ‘kwench blog. In addition to the instant fame you get among the top HR leadership of the country you also get shopping vouchers worth Rs 2500 to celebrate the occasion.

So get out your thinking hats, dust off all those cobwebs gathered around the theoretical frameworks you memorized such a long time ago or just put on your spurs and get ready to take on the ‘kwench n:gage challenge 2013.

Stay tuned for more!