In this episode of the SEO Insider, Seth Price is joined by Raphael Crawford-Marks, founder and CEO of Bonusly, a recognition and rewards platform aimed to enrich company culture. The two engage in a candid discussion about how the transition to virtual workspaces has impacted company engagement and the importance of authentic recognition in cultivating purpose and productivity in employees. Tune in to hear their best practices for enriching connection, relationships, and purpose in a company.
Raphael Crawford-Marks: Cultivating Purpose in a Virtual Workspace
What's in this episode?
- How has the new normal in the office changed the way people connect with one another? (1:26)
- What are some of the pitfalls that you've seen with the program? (5:59)
- The value of employee recognition is not changing overtime. (9:53)
- What have you learned using a program like this for people overseas vs domestically? (13:58)
- How does a bonus fit into the overall compensation plan? (19:46)
- How do you make sure everyone on your team stays involved? (23:38)
BluShark Digital 00:00
Welcome to the SEO insider with your host, Seth Price, founder of BluShark, taking you inside the world of legal marketing and all things digital.
Seth Price 00:11
Welcome, everyone. We are so excited to have Raphael Crawford-Marks here. Welcome.
Raphael Crawford-Marks 00:17
Well, thank you, Seth. I’m delighted to be here.
Seth Price 00:19
Well, you know, Bonusly in my world — both the digital world as well as the law firm world — has been, you know, a topic of conversation. A lot of friends are not just users, but raving fans. Talk to me a little bit about how this came about.
Raphael Crawford-Marks 00:36
Absolutely. Bonusly started as a side project. For me, I was a software engineer before I became an entrepreneur, and I was really interested in creating software that helped employers and employees get along better, understand one another better, and ideally stay in longer, more productive relationships with one another. So the genesis of that thinking was Bonusly which I built as a side project until it was too big to run as a side project anymore, and then raised some capital. And we’ve been growing ever since.
Seth Price 01:15
That’s awesome. You know, we’ve had the founder of 15five on here before. It was fast because each of these are components that, you know — not that Bonusly doesn’t work well in a brick and mortar office — but that the struggles that we have faced in the new normal, where many people have stayed virtual, we now run, as many people do, international teams as well as domestic teams. Our domestic team is not fully in the office and we’re able to hire from around the country. It seems that people are, you know, jonesing for anything that can create touch points, you know? Whether it be communications or culture or esprit de corps. Is this something that like, you know, how have you seen this transition? Where before we were around each other, and you could bring back Starbucks for the office, that’s not a thing anymore… is that has this you know, serendipity sort of, you know, I assume propelled you even further along the lines of this need to connect and share.
Raphael Crawford-Marks 02:22
It has in a way, though, the the pandemic didn’t create any trends so much as it accelerated a couple of pre existing trends is the way we look at it. And what it fundamentally goes back to is: employees are not coin-operated robots. Yes, you need to have fair compensation to get employees to consider working for you. But the reason why people stay at a job, why they put forth discretionary effort for a job has a lot more to do with their feelings than their compensation. And when we were in person, you could get some things that would foster those positive feelings and get that discretionary effort and get those connections sort of for free, if you will, because people were in the office and having sort of serendipitous touch points with one another. Now, we don’t get that for free if we’re hybrid or fully remote. But the need is still there. The need to feel like your work matters, like you are learning and developing and growing in your career. And the need to feel that you are a valued member of the team. We call it a sense of purpose, a sense of progress and a sense of belonging. That’s what employees need to be able to produce and stay with an employer over the long term. And that’s what we’re focused on delivering with Bonusly.
Seth Price 03:47
Let me ask you a question. We’ll take this to a personal side. I know I spent too many minutes and hours worried about points that if I never worried about them, whether it be credit card or airlines, I would probably be better off with a simple Cashback Card, that banked cash. But instead I will do — I’m not willing to do a non connecting flight–but I do all sorts of stuff for things that will get me points. Is there an element to this that if you came up to an coworker and said, “here’s 75 cents,” they’d be like, “what are you talking about?” but the fact that it’s connected in something that isn’t it’s monetizable and there’s a reward to it but doesn’t have a direct… You know, you feel that there’s something more or that can be saved towards something that doesn’t go into your, you know, the bucket, the bottom-line funding that is your personal finances, where the money might be taken up by significant other not spent on you and on what you want… That this is sort of a proprietary non-taxed special world. Does that add to the whole dynamic?
Raphael Crawford-Marks 04:49
It is, you could think of it as additive. The way I think about it is the sort of, you know… For people who don’t know, in Bonusly a foundational mechanic is that every employee has an allowance of points, you can brand it however you want… A company currency. The only thing they can do with those points is give them out in small increments to recognize great work and wins, large and small, throughout the organization. And then as people save up earnings from these points, they can redeem them for rewards that Bonusly fulfills. Really, the way I think about it is those points are the oil that you put in the recognition engine. Right? And, you know, when you put oil in your own engine, there’s no benefit, there’s no value in the oil itself, the value is in being able to get from point A to point B. And so the value of Bonusly is really in creating positive habits around giving frequent, specific authentic recognition in your employee population. And then the sort of lubricant that allows that to happen are the points.
Seth Price 05:59
That’s awesome. You know, I’ll, on a personal note, when I left you were saying… when we talked earlier… you’re an engineer turned entrepreneur. I was a lawyer turned entrepreneur. And when I left Big Law before I started my law firm and what’s now BluShark, I worked for a company called Free Ride, which was an early points program during the first dotcom bubble. Where with commercial base, where like a my points or net sentence where the competitors were they were businesses. I think it’s what Ebates morphed into over time, but you could get points for taking actions online. And it was a powerful piece. You’re essentially lubricating people towards doing things that the businesses wanted. The idea that you’re doing this to sort of help socially engineer relationship, because the piece that I have seen is that you have limited time. That there’s never a moment where you’re saying, “Hey… who can I give a shout out to.” The fact that there’s something attached to it is awesome. And that’s… but the fact is, without that purpose, without having something to do it there may not be one. You don’t have that incentive to, “Hey! I got to… I have to use these in some way…” Which forces you to think about what good deed or what good karma can I push forward?
Raphael Crawford-Marks 07:21
Exactly. Typically, the forcing function is at the end of some big project, there’s a celebration, and you know, maybe the person who led that project is recognized. The problem with that is, you know, say that was a two month long project, what were the daily small wins contributed by, you know, many, many, many teammates that led up to that big culminating event. And wouldn’t you want to have been recognizing all of those along the way. And so that’s what we try to create. Bonusly is an environment that recognizes all wins, large and small, and enables all employees to feel like, “Hey, my work matters and is visible and what I’m doing, what I’m contributing matters to the to the team.”
Seth Price 08:12
You know, let me ask you a question… Because as a business owner, you’re always thinking about, “Okay, these stats based solutions are really cool.” They also add up to being your perceived licenses, you’re now funding it. And I know it works. I just acquired an amazing director of marketing who was at a company that did have Bonusly and he was, like– this is a six figure earner who’s like me– “I need to make sure I get my money out before the old place turns it off.” (The forefront of his mind). So my question is that those the positives, right, obviously, there’s a lot of positive to it… Are there any pitfalls that you’ve seen, or sort of things where there’s a malaise? Where, if you don’t, you know, it’s a tool? Is there anything that you would think that you have learned watching people where somebody who is not using it productively where they might fizz out? And one of the things that you should watch out for whenever doing a program like this?
Raphael Crawford-Marks 09:15
Yeah… So you know, we have a set of best practices that we really encourage our customers to adopt. But, it is a highly customizable program. So it is possible to go afield of those best practices. I think where employers run into trouble is, going back to support points as lubricant, the average sort of dollar value of a piece of recognition and Bonusly is $1, right? So you’re not, you’re not breaking the bank. It’s a few dollars per employee per month in terms of the value of these recognitions being exchanged. It’s not changing anyone’s overall compensation, but some companies feel very uncomfortable with that and want to bring that down to zero. Now, you can do that, there are ways to configure Bonusly such that its points have literally zero value. What happens though is you’re sending a clear message to your entire employee population, “We actually don’t care if you do this, we’re not willing to put anything behind this.” And we have the data that shows that when you go to zero value four points, you get a pretty significant and sustained drop in participation over time. Whereas as soon as you have a tiny bit of value, you know, our number of our exchange rate is 10 cents per point. As soon as you have a little bit of value, you get extremely high participation that sustains over time. There’s no drop over time. And why this matters; Gallup has found that employees who have been recognized in the past seven days are 10-20%, more productive and 10-20% less likely to attribute out than those who haven’t. So frequent recognition is really critical. That’s why it’s important to get all employees regularly recognizing one another.
Seth Price 11:16
You know, it’s funny you say that. I just had an life experience today. I was dealing with a touchy situation with a remote employee whose been with us, probably a better part of a decade, who I don’t speak to regularly and have criminally little contact with… meaning there should be more, but it just happened. And there was clearly angst from a conversation eight years ago. The thought that there’s, to me, the question is great, I can’t undo that in one sense. But the more positive pieces you put in the interim, I assume that like it’s one of those things that there are going to be ups and downs in any business life, people’s whole lives, that are up and downs. We’ve had pandemics. We’ve had all these things… but the fact that there’s a positive piece of you know, I come from the digital side, one of the things that is important within my world is there are two pieces, but one of them is looking at reviews to hot topic in this world. And outward facing reviews are very, very important. And one of the ways you get those is happy employees internally that are doing a good work; and at the same time making an ask at the end and reminding somebody that that’s something you want. You get on every tour that you take, you now get into real estate closing, Jiffy Lube does it. You know, law firms are no different. You know, one of those things, though, that I’ve always found is that there are people that are less comfortable asking for that. And I feel that part of, you know, as I’m going to the HQ is going to kick in heavy here, when I’m dealing with raising kids. Similarly, there are certain tasks that they do not wish to do. Anytime something can be gamified, where you are making the interpersonal piece more than, you know, please do this for me, whether it’s an employee or job, but it’s not that there’s going to be points associated with that specific action. But the moment that they are doing things, recognizing positive attributes, to me, that is going to put you in a position where you’ve lubricated the concept of interaction between people that when good things happen, something happens in return. My big, big wish would be that this somehow creates that ethos that we not in a negative transactional way but that this is life– that we do good things and that things come back to us. That would be my wish, putting on the SEO geek hat for a moment.
Raphael Crawford-Marks 13:58
Absolutely. And what I heard there was, excuse me a little like, I heard sort of pain points in a couple of different areas. One is, hey, we are now remote, or somewhat at least somewhat remote hybrid, we have distributed teams like so many companies are and especially for employees who are remote. They’re not…there’s so much that’s communicated even non verbally when you’re co-located with other employees and remote what we do miss out on as remote employees–and hey, I’m a remote employee as well– is the opportunity to just see like a smile on the face of someone else. If you’ve done a good job there’s even some nonverbal cues. And so those intentional touch points to share how someone’s doing and how their good work has impacted other colleagues and the business is so crucial to do… Especially when they’re not getting regular in person touchpoints. And so having a habit of giving recognition is really important for that. The other one is, yeah, it’s crucial to get, you know, customer customer reviews right? To grow the positioning of your business. And with that recognition can really help make visible what success looks like. Right? So if I’m a new hire at your organization, and I see my colleagues getting recognized for making that ask to get a review at the end of a, you know, relationship, or, you know, call with a customer, that tells me what I need to do to be successful. And so I can emulate that. Right… it makes what success is visible to everyone else in the organization. And I think similar to kids, like you got to be clear, like, this is what success looks like, you got to do this. You have to be very specific.
Seth Price 15:51
I spent a lot of time… How do I, you know, I live in a suburban well-to-do bubble and getting my kids to sort of that social grace. It’s is, you know, trying to figure out not wanting to bribe your kids, but find something that will sort of do your work; lubricate that concept of worth. Yeah. So talk to me a little bit about the differences between domestic and international. You know, we have pushed during COVID since January 2021, opened significant Latin American presence, both at Price Benowitz and BluShark. What have you learned about utilizing a program like this for people overseas versus domestically?
Raphael Crawford-Marks 16:39
Yeah, I think the the first thing we learned which was the lesson that came in the early days of Bonusly because we saw a pretty rapid uptake by international companies pretty early on in the lifetime of Bonusly. So the first thing we learned was… we had a suspicion that, hey, you know, we’re grounding this in human psychology. Human psychology should be human psychology, if it’s foundational enough, everywhere around the world. And we are seeing that that is true. 35% of Bonusly users are located outside of the United States. Even though most of our customers are actually US-based customers, though, we do have a number of customers in the EU and AIPAC and others. But once a company reaches a certain size, they’re almost certainly hiring employees in other countries, right, you’re doing that right now. And so it’s really important to make sure that employees are connecting across geographic boundaries, along with, you know, many other ways. And so we’ve seen Bonusly be really successful at doing that, and have really leaned into it as well. You know, one thing that you often see is you see companies hiring employees in countries with significantly different costs of living. And so there’s a there’s a, literally a checkbox, you can turn on, if that’s if that’s your company, to adjust your spend by the purchasing power parity of each country that your employees are in. So that that your spend is tailored to sort of the cost of living and exchange rate per country?
Seth Price 18:18
Have you ever do any people do the opposite, which is, hey, a couple dollars a person per month is not going to make or break me. I know, you know, and allowing that to be more substantial. Absolutely. As a way to, I mean, it is, again, in the world is it’s a fascinating time, right? Where, you know, you’re seeing in a good way. The salaries commanded in many places that have historically had been very lower. Now, people are able to prove their worth and get that. At the same time, the idea that if you’re putting something in place, that it kind of appears to be something where if it’s even more meaningful for somebody, you know, somewhere else, what are there any sort of lessons learned? Like, look, it’s as you said, human nature, people are going to like it is there, you know, is the concept, at least my perception domestically, is that this is usually a frivolous, extra, and not something that is mission critical to raising your family. It’s usually a fun extra. Have you Is there a difference in perception in certain countries where this is actually a way where it’s not as fun but actually helps make, you know, everything ends meet to lack of better way of saying it?
Raphael Crawford-Marks 19:46
Well, I think there’s there’s a sort of a shift in perspective I would encourage which is that domestically: No, it’s not about changing your overall compensation plan. Sure, right? It’s not about like, you shouldn’t be thinking, “Oh, like, am I gonna be able to pay my bills? If I get enough, you know, Bonusly recognition this this month?” No, that’s not that’s not what it’s for. What it is though for is that it meets very deep and real psychological needs that your employee population has. You know, it’s again feel like your work matters, that that you are a valued member of the team. And to know what you’re doing well, so you can do more of it. And that’s really what it’s meeting in the employee population. You also hear in survey after survey of employees who aren’t using Bonusly, “Gosh, I really wish I had a better way, or an easier way to express thanks and appreciation for my colleagues, something I want that I don’t have.” So, yes, it’s so so no, it’s not critical to the bottom line of your bank statement. But it is meeting a very critical need in terms of the bottom line of your psychological well being and your emotional commitment to your work. And I think it does the same for international employees. And there would be a risk of damaging that if it were about making enough to make ends meet.
Seth Price 21:17
No, no. And I was I didn’t quite… I wasn’t able to articulate it. But is there,is it a depending on where you are… dollar extra, if you make an extra $20 in a month, it’s not, it is not something that’s going towards necessities in your world, right? Is there a difference in perception when that $20 is not just a Starbucks, you could buy for yourself, but rather something… I’m just sort of prodding. Have you noticed anything different in how it’s perceived? Would be, if anything more important, but like just, you know, depending on, because you talked about some companies actually adjusting based on and maybe that’s to make sure that it’s really not a substantial piece of that is pure? But is there something to that? Where, if it is you if somebody does put the spend that enough of a level? Is there a point where it goes beyond just recognition? But as I know, not the intent? I’m just curious to know how that’s played out?
Raphael Crawford-Marks 22:27
Yeah, so we haven’t seen that… I think, in part because we do have this functionality to sort of keep the spend level at a level where it is. It is real currency, it is perceived to have real economic value, but it is not a significant percentage of your compensation picture. Right? It’s very, very, very tiny, tiny, tiny minority of your overall compensation. Yeah, we do have companies that, you know, again, we’re very highly customizable. Some companies have just gone, you know, really big with this. And, you know, they’ll have a, we have an EU based company that were, their allowance, they’re sort of the the allowance they have to give out translates to 100 euros per month. And they have a pretty high LATAM employee population where that goes a much longer way.
Seth Price 23:23
Right. So when when is it a fun incentive versus a bonus to our Bonusly? Is it you know, I mean, it’s a play on words for most of it. But if you’re putting 100 euros behind it, it sort of is a way of allocating bonus money.
Raphael Crawford-Marks 23:38
Yeah and the only thing that we see different… Actually we don’t see anything different there. What we see is we just see this what we see in other places, which is sustained usage.
Seth Price 23:50
Is there more usage when the dollar if you said it was bad, if it was nothing, it just needs to be nominal. Do you see the usage go up when the value or is it how it’s used?
Raphael Crawford-Marks 24:01
Only nominally. I mean, it really is like when you go from zero to some value, you get that sustained participation. And then it’s sort of like a logarithmic scale where like, the higher the more value you go out, you get the marginal returns on participation are decreased very rapidly to almost zero.
Seth Price 24:22
One thing I’m curious about, and I’m curious to know… I just thought so I, like many entrepreneurs, tried a bunch of different incentives over time and one of the things I always am concerned about is whenever I do something that to be whoever gets the most than a certain percentage of people will be like, “Well, I’m not getting the most so I checked it out.” How are some of the ways that you can make sure– Now granted, it’s not a most everybody has money? Are there any tricks or hacks that you like to make sure that you don’t get a person hidden away who is sort of like “Well, I can’t get enough to have anything meaningful so it is too small and I’m out” versus, you know, making sure that you pull. For me, it’s it’s the person who’s gonna go and be the fighter and be the best. I don’t even know, honestly, but like, a lot of things you can do, you’re doing this to the masses for your entire group. How do you make sure that bottom 20% stays involved?
Raphael Crawford-Marks 25:14
Yeah. So a couple of ways, I think I think one is, you definitely don’t want a winner-take-all situation. That’s what the classic Employee of the Month is, right? Employee of the Month is a terrible thing to implement. Because every employee of the month, you’re being like, “Hey, you know, Seth is awesome”. And by implication, no one else’s is awesome is Seth. And it sort of creates this really almost..
Seth Price 25:39
And I’ll challenge you on that? I get it, and I… we were doing both right, we have a Bonusly coming, we would play it we’ve recently done. Is there.. that’s like the birthday when somebody else’s birthday. It’s like, “Hey, yeah, but it’s your birthday.” And on Facebook, for example, and you get like 500 messages. That’s a really cool thing. And that Ponzi scheme everybody plays into?
Raphael Crawford-Marks 26:00
Yeah, the shift. The shift there, though, is everyone gets a birthday, not everyone’s guaranteed to win employee of the month, right? There’s only 12 of those. And if your company has more than 12 people, then you’re gonna hang around for a year or two. Right? Right. And then at that point, like if it really is a rotation, why have Employee of the Month.
Seth Price 26:18
What, no. But meaning whoever’s, again, it would be the pinnacle but I guess the other problem that you have, and I’ve seen this in is very often the same person wins a lot, because there’s one person who’s the real gunner who hits the metrics of whatever you’re doing. It’s a fair point.
Raphael Crawford-Marks 26:31
So so… Bonusly alleviates that by by being really, really inclusive. So the median employee enrolled in Bonusly gives and receives two recognition posts per week. About 85% of all employees across all companies, and we have well over 3000 companies using Bonusly now. Across all of our companies, every month, more than 85% of all of the employees at all of those companies use Bonusly. And not just log in, I’m talking giving and receiving recognition. So so there like the level of inclusivity is much greater. So there is still the potential if someone’s not getting recognized right. Now, what we’ve done is we’ve invested in analytics tools that highlight where their people might be disconnected. So any anyone on the HR team or administrator can look and slice and dice their data by team, by department, by business unit, by location and see, “Hey, where’s recognition participation higher? And where is it lower.” You can visualize the social graph of your organization that visualize literally who is connected to whom, and see if there’s anyone, you know, hovering out there, unconnected to anyone else, or with much lighter connections than anyone else. And so we can’t necessarily solve that because there is an org-design element to it. But we can highlight it to be solved to the right people at your organization.
Seth Price 28:04
Can you tell if somebody’s checked out and on the way out?
Raphael Crawford-Marks 28:10
I can tell you that we have some very exciting features on the way. Well, that’s well, that that was my final question to you. What is next? Because look, like as a points guy, I love it. I love the concept, right? You know, and now I’m getting more scientific about maximizing point redemption words and all that stuff that a lot of people have gotten into. But what what is next for you guys? Because obviously the platform is awesome but I assume the data is even more awesome. Yes, so the data is incredible. Bonusly, because of the high participation rate we get, Bonusly is the system of record for all of the accomplishments, large and small, that occur in your organization, and for how employees are connected to each other. And so what’s coming next is leveraging that data to help strengthen the relationships between managers and their direct reports. We focus specifically on that manager-report relationship, because it is the most important relationship at every organization. It is absolutely true and born out by data that people quit bad managers, they don’t quit companies. And so the more we can help managers be great at their jobs, the happier, more productive, longer tenured employees you’re going to have. And so it does, you know, take the form of not like, “Hey, someone’s checked out, go punish them.” No, they’re like, “Hey, we think we think you should be checking in with this employee more often, or we think they might have these needs that aren’t being met.” And so really helping managers be more effective with all of their reports.
Seth Price 29:57
That’s awesome. Well, I feel…Thank you so much. This is awesome. I can’t wait to be playing with this myself and I expect big things and I can’t wait to see what you do with this incredible data trove.
Raphael Crawford-Marks 30:11
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Seth. Thank you.
BluShark Digital 30:14
Thank you for tuning in to the SEO insider with Seth Price. Be sure to check back next week for fresh insights into building your brand’s online presence. Episodes are available to stream directly on BluShark Digital’s website.