Building Company Culture Through Emotional Investment

In my role as Piktochart’s Community Evangelist, I’m always looking for new ways to foster community among our 5-million-strong user base. As I wrote after first joining, my role focuses on interacting with our users at every level. I have been uncovering and developing the community that has organically emerged since the product launched in 2012. Rather than create a community, I aim to simply join and strengthen it.

To accomplish this, we’ve tried a number of new initiatives in the year since I joined the Piktochart family. One has been to collaborate on new ideas alongside awesome organizations and brands. Another involves partnering with college students worldwide to bring a Piktochart event to their campus.

In January, we launched our newest community connection spot online  —  our monthly Blab series. Our team thinks it’s important to share valuable content with not only our user community, but with startups, designers, educators, and marketers all across the globe.

Check out some of our past guests telling us more about topics they are passionate about:

This month, we wanted to explore the subject of company culture. An amazing company culture was one of the reasons I joined the Piktochart team. From an international company retreat each year to an always-open-to-evolution remote team environment, Piktochart is a great place to work.

Something we started trying out a few months ago was integrating Bonusly into the company culture mix – and it’s been a big hit! The Bonusly team said their tool is the easiest way to recognize and reward employees. The tool aims to increase employee engagement and, in turn, increase retention.

“Bonusly is the app I am loving right now,” said John Tabis, CEO of The Bouqs Company, on a recent USA Today’s “What’s Cool In Tech” segment. “It is a peer-to-peer bonus system for companies. We implemented this at The Bouqs Company to allow our employees to give one another micro bonuses. It could be anything from someone helping you with your day-to-day gig to holding the door for you as you are walking in. We empower employees to give one another bonuses in the form of points, and then the employee can choose to redeem those points for a slew of different offerings. You can reserve a parking space that’s close to the building. You can get lunch with the CEO. Or you can redeem points for gift cards at local retailers. It’s a great way to build relationships across our company. It also motivates others by showing them people see their great work and they are getting rewarded for it.”


Source: http://www.usatoday.com/videos/tech/2016/05/10/84176574/

Here at Piktochart, we couldn’t agree more on the value of a recognition-rich culture.

“To me, Bonusly is a way to appreciate what has happened around the company. The comments of appreciation are the power. They makes me aware of the kindness and awesomeness happening.” – Albert Mulia, Frontend Lead at Piktochart.

Albert recalled the first time he received a notification email that someone on the team gave him a Bonusly microbonus for the work he had done.

“I really appreciated that my colleague had paid attention to what I had done,” he said. “The point value doesn’t matter much to me, but the comments our team adds are what make me feel most appreciated. When giving points to colleagues, I’m picky. I give to those who do things that really take extra effort and time. I want to be sure they receive appreciation and know that they deserve the points.”

To talk more about how emotional investment is impacting company culture in companies like Oracle and Gilt, we wanted to have someone from the Bonusly team as our May Blab guest!!

Raphael Crawford-Marks is the co-founder and CEO of Bonusly. He is passionate about taking an evidence-based approach to designing software that makes work more enjoyable, rewarding, and fruitful. Prior to founding Bonusly, Raphael was a lead engineer at Looksharp, which helps college students and recent grads connect with leading-edge companies around the world.


This time around, Blab was experiencing technical problems the day we went live. This translated into an inaccurate live viewer count and no access to a video replay of the conversation.

Luckily, my Piktochart colleague Will Fanguy was able to join the live Blab and steer the conversation through the community Upvoter questions. I worked with Raphael post-Blab on constructing this recap – and hats off to him for being so patient through technical mishaps!

What do you mean by “emotional investment”?

Raphael explained that emotional investment is often discussed in the context of people.

“To be emotionally invested in someone means you care deeply about their well-being, you’ll make sacrifices on their behalf, and you’re vulnerable to being hurt by them,” he said. “You also take pride in seeing them succeed, and experience joy and satisfaction from spending time and sharing experiences with them.”

At work, there isn’t a single entity that employees become emotionally invested in, but rather a constellation of people and ideas. Raphael puts these into categories:

Your Labor

  • What happens to our work when it’s complete? Does it help others? Is it appreciated? Is it used?

Seeing the results of our efforts increases our motivation. Knowing our work helps others increases motivation. The less appreciated we feel our work is, the more money we want to do it.

Your Team

  • What social norms do we learn from our colleagues? What messages are sent by the work environment? This includes the physical space, policies, and team member interactions.

“Performance, be it high or low, and ethical and unethical behavior is contagious,” said Raphael. “We find that environmental and cultural messages of belonging have large impacts on retention. Psychological safety is also strongly linked to performance. We see that friendships built at work more strongly correlate to productivity than pay and benefits.”

Your Growth

  • Is our work challenging? Do we have opportunities to learn and grow? Do we receive feedback for our work?

Raphael explained Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s Flow Theory to the audience.

“Low skill and high difficulty leads to anxiety,” he said. “High skill and low difficulty leads to boredom. Companies want to help employees operate at the frontier of their skills where they are challenged but can achieve success. We find positive reinforcement increases performance. Employees want to receive corrective feedback, and higher performing employees want corrective feedback even more.”


Source: http://www.superfunner.com/ 

Csikszentmihalyi‘s theory is that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow, which he describes as a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.

Name some companies who are getting company culture right. What are they doing that others aren’t doing?

Raphael pointed to Buffer, Greenhouse, and Shopify as examples of companies who are getting company culture right.

Next Jump was profiled as a ‘Deliberately Developmental Organization’ in the book An Everyone Culture by Kegan and Lahey,” he added. “What they are doing differently is investing heavily in culture,” he continued. “Making it everyone’s responsibility, and putting time and energy into culture that is comparable to the effort put into serving clients.”

How do you implement new ideas for company culture without distracting the team from their work?

Raphael said that right off the bat, companies need to redefine what “work” is.

“It’s not just serving clients,” he advised. “Hiring is work. Learning and development is work. Making policy that prioritizes inclusion and objective decisionmaking is work. If these are treated as a distraction, then culture will be something that happens to you, and it will likely be somewhat to severely unhealthy for your organization.”

What are some best practices for company culture at organizations that are growing quickly?

Raphael was quick to point to a recent blog post on Bonusly’s blog about Shopify’s Brittany Forsyth’s efforts to scale their company culture.

Shopify grew from 5 people working together in a coffee shop to a commerce juggernaut – totaling $7 billion in annual sales – in only a few years. Scaling at that rate is challenging by anyone’s standards, and scaling culture under those conditions can be even harder.

“You’re going to have to decentralize,” advised Raphael. “Push context and responsibility downward so that employees are empowered to make good decisions around company culture. And to do that, you need to define and live your values. Your values will be what you hire, promote, and fire on. They will be reflected in the physical space of your offices and in your personnel policies. Being intentional about defining and acting on your core values is critical.”

Raphael said it’s important to acknowledge that practices will change as the company grows.

[clickToTweet tweet=”“What works for 10 employees won’t work for 100.” – @raphaelcm of @bonusly on #CompanyCulture.” quote=”“What works for 10 employees won’t work for 100. What works for 100 won’t work for 1,000.” – @raphaelcm of @bonusly on #CompanyCulture.”]

What are some good practices to articulate/document company culture to make it less subjective and nebulous?

Raphael suggested clearly articulating values to the entire team and then practicing those values each and every day. He also advised companies to strive to make employee recognition public and peer-based. He suggested trying making development and reviews everyone’s responsibility.

What’s one small thing I could implement today that would make company culture better?

“There’s this great tool called Bonusly,” joked Raphael.

But, when it comes to “one small thing”, he said a lot depends on your company’s size.

“Facilitate meaningful employee interaction,” he suggested. “And you must go beyond the Happy Hour.”

So, what’s wrong with Happy Hour? Raphael reminded us some people don’t drink. Other team members have kids and need to go home right at 5pm.

Corporate culture writer Micah Solomon expanded on this idea further in a recent Forbes article titled “The Hazards Of Hiring Like Zappos: The Use And Abuse Of Corporate Culture Fit.”

Whatever particular culture fit strategy you pursue, to succeed you need to make room for diverse backgrounds, interests, work and learning styles, and need for work/life balance rather than endless happy hours with the boss and the “team.”

As a workaround, Raphael said he’s a fan of lunches as ways to bring the benefits of Happy Hour to those who aren’t thrilled about grabbing drinks after work.  “When you’re small, something like Pizza Friday can get the whole team around the table and chatting,” he said.

“At larger size, you can foster the creation of clubs and group activities organized around different interests,” he continued. “You could have game nights, book clubs, LGBT clubs, women in tech groups, running or bicycling groups, etc.”

Why is it important to cultivate emotional investment at work?

“The classical view of work is that we are motivated by monetary incentives: our salary, bonuses, and benefits,” shared Raphael. “Use that as the carrot, dangle it in front of your workers, and you get work done.”

But, he argues, if you examine that even a little bit, you begin to learn that it’s much more complex than that.

“How we feel about our work matters a great deal,” he said. “How do you explain mountain climbers? How do you explain hyper-motivated athletes like Tim Duncan? How do you explain volunteerism? How do you explain the exodus of women in technology?”

Raphael argues that employers must pay people fairly because there are basic needs for economic safety and security that are met by earning salary and having health insurance. But once those basic needs are met, additional compensation, perks, and incentives have virtually no impact on retention or productivity.

“It turns out that having emotional reactions to many facets of work – colleagues, customers, company policies, work environment – is something we’re hard-wired to do,” he said. “Whether you like it or not, your actions (or inaction) are going to shape how employees feel about working at your company, so it behooves you to be thoughtful about creating the conditions for feeling things like purpose, pride, joy, companionship when at work. Because if you do that, your employees will work harder, stay longer, produce better results – and will be happier themselves.”

I’m curious how Bonusly runs the ship. What are your thoughts on OKRs and performance reviews? Walk us through what holds all of you accountable to performance.

Raphael points to a slew of things that he is proud of:

  • The Bonusly team defined their values and lives by them.
  • All metrics are made public so that employees have the context they need to take action.
  • On the engineering side, the team’s code review process facilitates the exchange of both positive and corrective feedback for code and product development issues.
  • Bonusly is a distributed team, so they get everyone together for “Coworking weeks”. This activity used to be twice a year, but employees really liked it ,so they are making it a quarterly event.
  • The team also uses Bonusly internally, and some of the team’s custom rewards really reflect the startup’s culture.

“We’re a team of 11 people, so we don’t have formal OKRs or a performance review process,” he said. “I’m less sold on OKRs as a management tool, but I do want to move toward a more formalized review process since research tells us that employees crave corrective feedback.”

What’s the biggest decision you’ve made as CEO of Bonusly?

“I think the way we’re building Bonusly means I don’t make big decisions,” said Raphael candidly.

He feels this way for two reasons:

  1. The team is dogmatic about being data-oriented, iterative, and agile. Because of that, decisions tend to be smaller and more frequent.
  2. Internally, they share all business metrics and empower employees to develop solutions and take action. “So I’m rarely making decisions alone, and often I’m not making decisions at all,” he said.

Rather, Raphael sees his primary responsibility as ensuring that the conditions exist for the Bonusly team to be successful.

We learned so much about company culture during our Blab with Raphael Crawford-Marks! If you have additional questions for Raphael, you can find him on Twitter.

Our next Blab will be all about EdTech and we’d love for you to join us. We will be live on June 16, 2016 at 1:30pm Eastern Time with two EdTech leaders, Rachelle Poth and Mary Ottenwess.

We’d also love for you to add your questions – or upvote a question on the list – about using technology in the classroom!

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