Raphael Crawford-Marks is the CEO of Bonusly, which helps companies foster supportive, collaborative, and high-performing teams. We recently talked with Raphael to hear his thoughts on the evolution of employee recognition programs and learned why today's app-based worker engagement systems are so much more effective than the rewards programs of the 20th century.
Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to co-found Bonusly?
My cofounder and I first started Bonusly as a side project. We were fed up with the hierarchical, rigid recognition programs at our respective workplaces and set out to design software that would facilitate the free exchange of frequent and authentic recognition between colleagues in order to create a more healthy and productive workplace.
What specifically do you think is wrong with the conventional and traditional ways that employee feedback is handled?
In the modern workplace, the tone of all communication – feedback included – is mostly neutral or negative. It's either "Joe, I need this report next Friday" or "Joe, I needed this report last Friday, where the heck is it?" There's no incentive or structure to support regular positive feedback in the workplace. A performance review, if done well, would provide both positive and constructive feedback; but most companies only do those once every 6 to 12 months, if at all. Feedback is effective when it's timely, frequent, and specific. Most mechanisms for delivering feedback at work don't satisfy any of these criteria, let alone all three.
Is there a link between increased employee recognition/feedback and higher morale within a company?
Yes, there's a clear link. Lack of recognition is consistently cited among the top three reasons why employees leave their jobs. Celebrating successes with timely recognition not only increases the morale of the employee receiving the recognition, but also increases the morale of the whole team since it sends the message that they work for an organization where great work and accomplishments are celebrated.
What types of guidelines do you give to managers and supervisors as far as using the app and distributing feedback and rewards?
Two simple pieces of advice: lead by example, and trust your employees. Managers should set an example by giving quality praise and recognition to their peers and reports. They should also trust their employees to do the same. Also, they should avoid adding a litmus test to recognition ("was that action really worth a 10 point bonus?"). The app is designed to facilitate recognition of big and small things, and the empowerment and autonomy employees feel when they can give recognition is a big part of the impact.
Have you received much pushback about incorporating the employee recognition app from older or less tech-savvy workers?
No. We work with factories, warehouses, retail floors, restaurants, and salons as well as more traditional white collar workplaces. The app is used by boomers, gen-Xers, and millennials. The benefits of recognition stem from human psychology, and that psychology hasn't changed between the baby boomer generation and millennials. There's a great article in the Harvard Business Review that debunks the myth of massive generational differences among workers; it's worth checking out.
Should an employer take any steps or measures to prevent the employee recognition system from being abused in any way?
No steps are necessary. It's a totally transparent system, and microbonuses are just that: very, very small. So when you combine the very limited upside microbonuses with transparency, that's a very strong incentive for good citizenship. That said, we also have reporting and analytics tools that can reveal any careless usage and provide an opportunity for a coachable moment.
What are your recommendations as far as using the information from the employee recognition app in promotion decisions or performance reviews?
An employee's Bonusly record is a great way to combat recency bias in employee reviews. Recency bias is the tendency we all have to only remember what's happened recently. This particularly affects annual or bi-annual reviews since managers tend to evaluate employees based on what's happened in the last few weeks.
With our app, managers can download a report on an employee showing their biggest accomplishments throughout the year. This can help make reviews more inclusive of the entire breadth of an employee's contributions over the review period.
What do you foresee for the future of providing employee recognition by using this model?
Technology that enables frequent, specific, and timely recognition will continue to emerge as the standard for employee recognition. In a generation, rigidly hierarchical or purely time-based recognition programs will be viewed as anachronisms from the past. As social recognition technology matures, people analytics tools that crowdsource insights about organizations, teams, and individuals will be able to leverage the data being created by employees giving one another frequent recognition. This will lead to performance management systems that are both much more effective and also very different from the classic annual review that is commonplace today.
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