Rebel Human Resources Podcast

Episode 83: Value-Driven Recognition with Steve Sonnenberg, CEO of Awardco

February 01, 2022 Kyle Roed, The HR Guy Season 2 Episode 83
Rebel Human Resources Podcast
Episode 83: Value-Driven Recognition with Steve Sonnenberg, CEO of Awardco
Show Notes Transcript

Awardco’s founder and CEO, Steve Sonnenberg, learned a great deal watching his father’s career in employee recognition with companies like McDonald’s—but something was missing. In 2011, Steve began working on plans to use new, innovative technology to solve the pitfalls of traditional employee recognition programs: burdensome processes, exorbitant markups, and limited redemption options. Awardco was born shortly after, and Steve’s vision has resonated deeply within an industry in desperate need of change. Awardco is the fastest-growing rewards and recognition platform in the world as ranked by Inc. Magazine for the last 3 consecutive years, and more clients than ever are experiencing a better way to recognize. 

About Awardco

Awardco incentivizes behavior and builds workplace culture through value-driven recognition and rewards. It is the only employee recognition and total rewards platform to partner with Amazon Business to offer the power of Amazon for any size organization's incentive programs. Offering millions of products, hotels through Priceline, event tickets, gift cards, swag, and custom catalogs, Awardco is the largest reward network on the planet — all with zero markups. Coupled with the flexibility to build any number of recognition, incentive, milestone, or behaviorally driven programs, Awardco’s platform drives employee loyalty. For more information, visit us online at award.co

Steve’s Profile

linkedin.com/in/stevesonnenberg

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Steve Sonnenberg:

recognition happens from the day we were just born. And we're kids, and we just seek it from our parents. And naturally, we give it all the time at work. But if it's not tracked and you don't know how to measure it, there's no way you can help people that are falling through the cracks. Of course, there are certain people that get recognized all the time, because that's just who they are, and their front and center. But I'm more concerned about those that aren't so front and center that are doing amazing work. And so it's all about measuring it.

Kyle Roed:

This is the rebel HR Podcast, the podcast where we talk to HR innovators about all things people leadership. If you're looking for places to find about new ways to think about the world of war, this is the podcast for you. Please subscribe, favorite podcast listening platform today. And leave us a review. Rebel on HR rebels. All right, rebel HR listeners super excited for the conversation today. We have Steve Sonnenberg. Steve is the co founder and CEO of award Co. He learned a great deal watching as far as his career and employee recognition with companies like McDonald's but something was missing. So in 2011, he began working on plans to use new, innovative technology to solve the pitfalls of traditional Employee Recognition Programs. Welcome to the show.

Steve Sonnenberg:

Thank you appreciate it's great to be with you.

Kyle Roed:

Well, I'm super excited about it. And I'll be I'll be honest with you, this is a little bit self serving because I'm in the midst of an RFP trying to figure out what in the world to do with employee recognition. And so before we get into it, and I asked all of my my selfish questions, what what led you into the world of recognizing others?

Steve Sonnenberg:

Yeah, cow, great question. It does start with my father. He is an employee recognition consultant independent from any specific company. He works for like companies like Justin's and like ring manufacturers. And he got into the lapel pins, the rings, the plaques for corporations. So I grew up in the Chicagoland area. He had incredible customers like McDonald's and Motorola and John Deere out of Chicago. But my love probably started when he did this six Chicago Bulls championship rings. He got involved with the the championship sports side. And, and I as a junior high at the time, I was able to go to those rings ceremony, so it was after parties meet the players. And we're talking this is the 90s, you know, era of the Chicago Bulls. So that's where I was like, I want to do what my dad does. But there was a problem. I didn't care for rings and plaques. I love the part of you know, what he was doing what it was about, about rewarding and recognizing achievements. But I always knew there was a better way. But that's that was my introduction. It was my own father, who still is an independent contractor and still out there working today.

Kyle Roed:

Okay, man, that now you're speaking my language. So you know, I'm a Midwest kid. Yeah. And, yeah, my formative years was watching the bulls win all those championships. I had. I didn't have a rookie car, but I had a couple of Michael Jordan basketball cards. Scottie Pippen, BJ Armstrong had a BJ Armstrong autograph. Yeah. So yeah, we could talk about that, I'm sure. But yet, I could see that being impactful. Yeah, someone in their youth. Totally. But okay, so no, so no ring. So I, I get that, like, I got a I got a class ring somewhere. Actually, my wife and I were just laughing about this. We were like, we were cleaning out a closet or something. We're like, Oh, hey, look, I found my class ring. For the last 10 years. Oh, well guess put it back in there.

Steve Sonnenberg:

There's a time and a place. I think it's great, right. But but it's it's it's nowadays, people want choice, they want more options. And, and that's where I saw the opportunity. In this space. I viewed it as decades, a century long of people doing the same thing over and over. And I was shocked, as I learned while watching my dad do certain things he was doing for his whole career. And I just knew there was a this younger generation is coming up, there's just a better way to look at it. And but that but the seed was planted with my father and, and I told him, he says, Look, I want you to take over my accounts. And I and I said, Look, that sounds great. I love it. You've built an unbelievable business for for our family, and you've been very successful. But if I'm going to get into this space, I want to reinvent it, I there's a better way to do it. I wanted to create that Amazon like experience, you know, where there's choice and it's fast and it's, you know, just you know, the era that we live in today. So that's why I got into it and it kind of led me into a newer path in this field.

Kyle Roed:

That's really interesting. You know, in your you're hitting on something that I think is it's it's one of the it's really critical and I'm sure everyone Listen to this as can pull out a scenario where this was was very, very relevant. But, you know, everything you read about recognition and and celebrating employees points to the fact that people like to be recognized differently now and what what works for someone doesn't work for someone else. And so I think you're hitting on a really critical point here, which is, you know, kind of that optionality of recognition. But but you know, my context there is like, okay, instead of giving somebody you know, Mountain Dew give them Diet Coke, because that's their favorite pop, right? And I kid you not my first job out of college, we literally had a binder, and you were supposed to fill out the binder. And have your employees fill out what's your, what is your favorite pop? What is your favorite snack? What is your and then and then the the idea was okay, I'm going to pull this binder out, pull off this piece of paper. And then when they do something good, I'm gonna reward them with whatever they wrote down on that paper. It was super high tech. I'm sure it's I'm sure award CO is kind of the you know that similar?

Steve Sonnenberg:

Yeah, yeah, that's right. There's a Yeah, I mean, it is true. We all want to be rewarded in different ways that people have different personas, you know, sometimes people want to be out front and the whole organization, it all hands on meeting and you come up, and everyone claps. And other times people are more shy, you know, and they don't want that. And they want to make it more private, but they, but But really, we want to be acknowledged that we're on the right path. And so when it comes to recognition, there is that social element that is so important, that feeling that you receive, it's not all monetary, you know, it has to come timely, it has to come, you know, from from a close peer that you know, and they saw the work that you did, and then it has to come in the way that you like to be recognized. Because if you're uncomfortable, and you don't want to be shut out for the whole company, people got to know that you're the managers are so important to understand their employees. But then when it does come to the monetary side, it's just it's all about choice, you know, get something that is impactful. To to you and and that will be meaningful, rather than, you know, something that is a cool gift. Like there was a company here in the valley here in in silicon slopes area in Utah, where everyone got an Oculus. Awesome. You know what I mean? It's such a cool gift, but but it's just it's just not everyone wanted that. You know what I mean? So it was a very expensive for half the employees that didn't care for it.

Kyle Roed:

Yeah. Yeah, that like, I'd be the one I'd be like, Oh, that's cool. Would I do it this way? It looks cool. It looks expensive. Yeah. Talk it on eBay, you know? Exactly. When Molly Patrick, and I had to figure out how to start our own podcast, we didn't know where to start. Thankfully, we found Buzzsprout. Plus products are super easy for us to upload our episodes, track our listeners, and get listed on all the major podcast networks. Today's a great day to start your own podcast. I know that you're one of our listeners. So you've definitely got something to say. Whether you're looking for a new marketing channel, and a message you want to share with the world. Or just think it would be fun to have your own talk show. podcast is easy, inexpensive and fun way to expand your reach online. Buzzsprout is hands down the easiest and best way to launch, promote and track your podcast. Your show could be online and listed in all the major podcast directories within minutes of finishing your recording. And podcasting isn't that hard when you have the right partners, and then team at Buzzsprout is passionate about helping you succeed. Join over 100,000 podcasters already using Buzzsprout to get their message out to the world. And now for listeners of rebel HR, you can get a $20 amazon gift card sent to you from Buzzsprout by clicking in the link in the show notes. Thanks for listening. So I wanted to hit on something with the word CO and I think it's it's important, I want to understand it a little bit more because I have a feeling it was very intentional. But you know a word CO is the employee rewards and recognition company that builds culture through value driven recognition. So So as you look at value driven recognition, how do you how do you look at that? How do you define that? And how do you provide a solution for that? Yeah.

Steve Sonnenberg:

Well, I think people would like the great resignation out there. I mean, that's been used a lot. Now. They want to work for an organization that has a great purpose, a great place they're going something why they exist. And there's great companies out there like the Patagonia's in the Starbucks that have have incredible purposes of why they exist that employees want to attach themselves. They believe in and it's something bigger than themselves. And then you have these values of n organization that are intended to support that overall purpose of an organization. And, and those values should support that purpose. And so one of the things that we do at award CO, is we want to create a system within an organization and part of their culture is where we take those those values, whether it's customer obsession, and or all in, or whatever, that makes up the organization that supports your overall purpose. And we want to make it easy and natural for the organization to recognize on those values every day. So when somebody is exemplifying a value, you know, at your, at your, at your company, and I'll just do one of our examples, you know, one of ours is just grit, right? And, and I love when when people tag that value, and share a story of something that they did, that represents what that is, and, and then it gets posted on our recognition feed. And it's social for everyone to look at it and like it and comment. It also, I think it's so important for that recognition to flow into your communication channels as well. So that same recognition that happened, went to Slack, or went to Microsoft teams to his designated channel. And so when we're constantly going about our day working, solving complex problems, the recognition is front and center, it's in the applications that I'm using. And and and so I think with when it comes back to your question of like, what are we doing, and it's allowing organizations to recognize those values on a daily basis, and having those values flow into the communication channels that they need to. And then if if your manager has a monetary budget of points, they can give monetary points as well to put an exclamation on that. And it's discretionary. It's up to them. But that's one way we do it is we constantly and help organizations recognize on their values, meaningful recognitions on a daily basis, that that really support that overall purpose.

Kyle Roed:

Yeah, I love that. And, you know, it's, it's, I think it just comes down to being authentic, right?

Steve Sonnenberg:

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Right, that needs to be an authentic record. It's not just like, hey, you know, you were You're amazing working with that awesome that customers hashtag customer obsession, general, not authentic. There's nothing there. Like there needs to be details, there needs to be an explanation to share the story. And now one of the things that we do just so you know, to help encourage the authentic, that to be for employees to be authentic. We we do contests, we have fun with it, we gamify it, we say the top five recognitions, that are the most authentic, creative fun, we're going to recognize them on our all hands on meeting and you're going to get 100 points or 100 bucks. And what it does, it gets people that just want to win. And so then all sudden, it's this contagious culture where everyone's trying to be clever and funny. And, and, and it adds to the quality of the recognition because we're, we're actually talking about it. And and when you talk about it, and you put an incentive there, usually get what you want. That's what I've seen, we use our platform.

Kyle Roed:

Right, right. I love it. I'm just sitting here and I'm thinking, you know, man, I could really have some fun with that.

Steve Sonnenberg:

And what people come up with, yeah,

Kyle Roed:

can be dangerous. So yeah, I'm sitting here, you know, put my compliance have I'm like, ooh, that could get that could get ugly. It could be fun. But that that's the other thing I wanted to touch on. And that's, that's one of the things, you know, that I saw in your recent press releases. It's talking about HR is role in culture and recognition, and the fact that is this an HR function or not? So what is your perspective on HR, his role in culture and recognition?

Steve Sonnenberg:

Yeah. Well, you know, one of the things I said and, you know, our last series round funding ahead, you know, I truly believe this, that a workers becoming like a, not just an HR tool, business operational tool that affects every one every department within the organization. So, to me, it's not just the HR sole responsibility to CHRO or the head of, you know, culture to be responsible for it. We are all responsible for it. And, and so when it comes to the sales organization, what tools are they using to make sure that they're recognized and approved? You know, down to the HR team, to the marketing team to everyone across the organization, everyone has the torch, and they need to carry it on to the next generation that's coming on. And award co we're scaling very fast. And so I think about this all the time, how do we continue to keep our culture as we continue to double an employee size, and so we constantly give education to our managers in every department. And, and we encourage them to to recognize often every department, and we hold the the managers responsible for it, we want to give them tools and analytics, so they can see their department of who's been recognized and who's not. And those that are quieter, that may be doing incredible work. But people aren't noticing it, it's up to the managers to raise the hand and say, this individual, Let's rally around them, and they're going to give the recognition of something that they maybe did, and they're going to spotlight it and it becomes contagious. So that's what I mean, it actually is it's up to the managers to continue the the culture all across the organization. And it's not just up to the HR team to say, Oh, we don't have a great culture, it's HR fault. It's the head of culture. No, it's everyone. And everyone needs to understand that. And so you need to give them tools. And so that's where I go back to that one report, I just talked about a great tip for a manager to log into a recognition system to see who's been recognized and who's not. And we even have like a score on them. And when it comes down to people leaving an organization, they leave because they don't feel appreciated. How many times have we read that? And but but have we ever measured it? I think we recognize all the time, you know, through email, or just on Slack. But there's no formalized way of recognition and nothing's tracking it. And that's what we're trying to do at work though, is we're trying to take all this great data and track it, and then report back to the managers and let them know how they're doing. So that's why everyone is important.

Kyle Roed:

Gotcha, gotcha. Well, there's a lot of great stuff in there. And I'm furiously taking notes here. So because I got I got some, just maybe some tactical questions, so. So you, you hit on something that I think is a really, really, really critical point right now something I'm feeling my organization is growing very quickly. And, you know, we have that concern about how do we retain the culture that got us here? Yeah. And how do we how do we make sure people don't feel like we're, you know, we're growing so quickly, or they're not feeling appreciated for the growth or they're being left behind? Yeah, or, or quiet employee that maybe is, is just killing it every single day, but doesn't, you know, ask for the spotlight or doesn't get the spotlight. And that's been one of the challenges that I really haven't been able to solve yet. So when you talk about giving managers a tool, and then holding them responsible, what does this look like? How do you approach this?

Steve Sonnenberg:

Yeah, well, you can't measure something if you're not tracking it. And so that's the first thing to do is understand, okay, here are all the people that I'm responsible for. And as a manager, I can then look down and see how many times did they recognize someone, that's one area of viewpoint that the manager have as, and then you can also see how many times has that person received recognition. And we're actually creating a recognition score for the company, and on the individual user. And if you're not measuring it, you have no idea. And I've been I've worked at some organizations in the past prior to award cow. And you just never know, I mean, recognition happens from the day we were, you know, with, we're just born and we're kids, and we just seek it from our parents. And naturally, we give it all the time at work. But if it's not tracked, and you don't know how to measure it, there's no way you can help people that are falling through the cracks. Of course, there are certain people that get recognized all the time, because that's just who they are. And they're front and center. But I'm more concerned about those that aren't so front and center that are doing amazing work. And so it's all about measuring it. And so, you know, that's one of the things that we focus on with our application is measuring that and giving those tools to the managers so they can be smart. And so they can create a culture of recognition within their group.

Kyle Roed:

Got it? Got it. Yeah, I I'm just thinking through cheese, what would this look like my organization might be kind of interesting. Yeah. I gotta believe that you get you get mixed reactions from a manager when you tell them, hey, I'm measure this.

Steve Sonnenberg:

Well, I mean, it's just the tools that you have behind the scenes, you know, that you can help you know, and the the point is, for the manager to have visibility into the recognition side of their department, and then to identify the gaps and then for them to have resolved the problems. And and I truly believe When you have a high recognition score, that that that impacts your NPS and your NPS scores, it's just a number we haven't been tracking, we just kind of say, Hey, are you happy? Would you refer someone to your job to someone at your company, zero to 10, and then they give a score there, then you can generate enps, that's fine. But I'm taking it a step further, I'm saying we have so much data now at work. And it's truly if that person's being recognized and is recognizing a lot of people, then I have a better score that I can create. And if that score is higher than then I know that, you know, our customers will be taken care of, because our employees are being taken care of. Absolutely.

Kyle Roed:

Yeah, absolutely. It's it's really, you know, that's, it's really interesting. And, you know, when when you mentioned that I was just having flashbacks to, you know, you mentioned that, you know, NPs or net promoter score, if you're not familiar. And I can't tell you I've, I've done dozens of employee surveys in my, my career, and I think, yeah, with in, in every single survey, one of the bottom three scores was was recognition, usually pays in there. And then, you know, communication recognition, you know, it's, it's all kind of the same bucket, and then, and then you look at your, your net promoter score, and you're like, Oh, well, we're, you know, kind of mediocre. And, and it's, it's so frustrating to go through that and do and do all this work. And you feel like, Yeah, this is, this is going to change, you know, that that NPS, we're going to be good recognition looks great. And it's like you, you barely scratched the surface. And so have you seen any of any, any results, or you have any, any kind of stories where you've seen an organization that's really trying to solve this problem? You know, find the solution or find something that worked for them?

Steve Sonnenberg:

Yeah, good question. Yes, I mean, we see it all the time. I mean, we were taking organizations that are coming from a culture of recognizing just for service anniversaries, you know, which is very common, 510 15 years, it's just a, that's how they've done it for decades. And, and taking those organizations and implementing a value based recognition program recognizing their values on a daily basis. Now, you know, recognition. You know, I do go back to the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I mean, we that's important to us. And that's something that's been around for a while. But I truly believe that, that organizations that have taken this approach where they are recognizing, there's like three levels here, I want to kind of talk about the the first level is this belonging level, where organizations just want to belong somewhere. And, and I truly, and you should, as an organization, take those opportunities to recognize them, at least three times that first year for belonging. And what I mean by that is an onboarding program. You know, everyone gets on board, so you recognize them, you appreciate them, maybe you give them some points that could be used just in the onboarding store of swag. And then you go to the second thing, everyone has a birthday. You know, for the most part, some people don't celebrate birthdays. And there's other ways you can look at that. But but a lot of people will do like a birthday program. And that, again, they're just celebrating the employee for for belonging. And third is their work anniversary. So you want to create a culture of recognition and build that foundation of a sense of belonging. And so many people missed the boat there. Because those are three great examples of things that you can do the first year of recognizing to create a culture of recognition, then you go to the second level, which is you want to create a culture where they have to earn that recognition. And that's where they have to do something amazing, where they're doing example thing exemplifying the values of your organization, they have to put forth the effort, and then allow people to recognize those employees based on that, and that's that second level. And then you got the top level, which is more like your your employee of the month type program, your President's Club, you're a team. And that's like a nomination program. So what we do is we help organizations kind of create a well balanced solution to their recognition solutions, a strategic reason of how you recognize and when we see organizations develop that balanced solution of recognition, then their recognition scores go up, because automatically they're recognizing someone at least four or five, six times through their organization every year, and that is so much higher than the norm. There's a lot of data out there that shows that companies are not recognizing their employees all once every two years or three years formally. And and so so you know, we've seen a lot of credit results from organizations that we've worked with that that have implemented that balanced structure of recognizing.

Kyle Roed:

Yeah, that, you know, what you just said, just really kind of kind of struck me. You know, could you imagine not getting recognized for two or three years? Yeah. And busting your hump every day. I mean, that be absolutely demoralizing. It but I, I know, it happens, you know,

Steve Sonnenberg:

happens a lot. Yeah, it happens a lot. And that's why it's important to actually have a strategic approach to recognition. And it's a three to one approach, three belonging, recognition, programs, onboarding, birthdays, anniversaries, to have the next level, which you have to earn it, which is spot recognition, and also maybe health and wellness and things like that, that I elaborate on, we go on for a long time on this. And then that last level is one that nomination program. Now with the nomination program, we have fun with it, we actually we call it the A team. And it has to be nominated. Everyone gets one nomination once a month. So it's a glorified employee of the month, employee, the month is cheesy, a team is cooler, and you know, yeah, get fun with the branding of it, right. But then what we do is we select a winner, and then we go over to cameo, you know, the celebrity, you know, we get a celebrity to say something about employee. And and so we actually nominate who the winner is, we go find out who they like, we've used Lindsay Lohan, we've used, you know, whatever the employee likes, we find out and then, and then we take it to our all hands on meeting, and we announced the A Team winner. And then we have this celebrity announce it, we have people from the office do it we have you know what I mean? And it's just it makes it a little bit more special. So again, you have to go about it in a strategic way. If you don't, you don't have an organization, a culture of recognizing,

Kyle Roed:

that does sound fun. I mean that that sounds cool. I want to do that like that, I want to be a part of that.

Steve Sonnenberg:

Well, you should see. And we one of these days, and we get enough of them, we probably done about eight or nine now, we'll probably have them put them all on our website. And then people can read them, the celebrities because some show up and that are unbelievable, that do such a good job that capture the spirit of recognition. And then some are like, I don't even want to be on camera. I don't even know why I'm doing this. And they fall through but it's it's fun for the company is fun for the employees, it makes the recognition meaningful. You got to think outside the box.

Kyle Roed:

Now, you mentioned that and I was like, I got to think and I'm like, Okay, who who had my cameo? You know, I? I gotta say this would be it would be hilarious. This is probably what my team would do. My team would have it be Toby from the office. Because they would just assume that he would be the guy for me, right? Yeah. And

Steve Sonnenberg:

so I'll email you after this. Our number, our first 18 Winner selected Toby. So we got to announce the winner in front of the whole company. And Toby.

Kyle Roed:

That's odd, I bet. Well, and yeah, it would have to be in character. Right, you know, yeah. Cool, droning Ah,

Steve Sonnenberg:

it cost a couple 100 bucks. I mean, you know, to do a cameo like that. So once a once a month, we make that one a little bit more special. And it's just a fun thing.

Kyle Roed:

That's cool. That's cool. And, you know, it's funny, like, we were kind of laughing about it here. And, and but that's kind of the point, right? Like, making the workplace a little bit fun. Like, like, can we not come to work and, and hate it, and then go home? And, you know, just hope that, you know, we have a three day weekend coming up? Right? Like, like, the whole point is to make this workplace more fun to be at, you know, and yeah, I could I could have I could have a lot of fun with something like that.

Steve Sonnenberg:

Yeah, yeah. So and other people are using as Kyle and other ways to, like, he talked about other 60 interesting ways people might be recognizing their employees. And, and so right now we're actually having a lot of people use us for vaccines. You know, they use it as an incentive. And they use our award co platform to incentivize their employees to be vaccinated. And you can actually self recognize on our platform. So not only can you be recognized by peers, but you can self recognize as well. And there's a way of workflow to do that. Another way is work at home, people were wanting to spruce up home offices. So we had some great organizations, and due to NDAs I can't disclose a company names but but they they created a program of recognizing their employees for for just working from home. And one of the things you can do with a word code is you can actually take points and designate those points to only purchase certain items. So they were able to create a custom work at home catalog via Amazon inside of a word cow, and they were able to recognize all their employees are working home from home $400 of points, and then they all were able to go into their curated catalog. That was handpicked from Amazon and pick items from home. And then all those items got shipped from Amazon. And it was a unbelievable experience for, for procurement to HR to the employees. And then all they did is go on LinkedIn and say how awesome their company is. It was a win win for everyone.

Kyle Roed:

That's cool. That's very cool. Yeah, you know, I think it's, it's really interesting. And this is I think this is one of the more important components here because I've seen these programs before where you do like the points and and then you go into the you get the catalog, and you go on the catalog and you pick the you know, whatever, whatever think you want. But this is Amazon. Yeah. Right. So So you can basically get whatever you want then with with this type of platform,

Steve Sonnenberg:

correct? Yeah, yeah. So we have a unique relationship with Amazon. And that's a whole nother story how we even did that? Because they said, they told me no, we don't want to work with you. And somehow we broke that. But But yeah, it's over three, hundreds of millions of options on Amazon stream directly on the, you know, our clients own award site branded to you, right, so we have a great customers like Texas Roadhouse and, and, you know, a whole bunch of others, fortune 500 companies where they have their, their logo on the left hand corner, it's their marketplace of options of all the Amazon products inside their own recognition site, branded to them. And, and then they have gift cards and Priceline hotels, we created the ultimate award network that is theirs for their employees. And so it's all about employee choice, it's whatever they want. But you do have the ability to curate those points to say, well, this is an onboarding program. So you can only spend these 100 points in the swag store, because so we solved help solve the Swags you know, whether they're working home or at the office, they can pick what they want, choose the size, and then Amazon and you can just choose whatever they want. And you should see Kyle, the things that people buy, it's one of the I anomaly anonymously, I will I will feature items in our all hands on meetings that we do once a week. And, and the other day, someone bought, like a heated branch for their birdcage for their bird to be proud, you know, because it you know, maybe it has cold, cold feet, you know, stuff like that you'd never think to put on an award catalog. I also saw someone do a personal sauna, where you literally like push a button, and it's a balloon that goes over you and then it steams you up inside. And it's just like, it is so wild what people get, and they love it. Because it's theirs. That's what they want. So I can go on and on all the things that they they purchased. But the point is, it is Amazon, you get what you want.

Kyle Roed:

Yeah, yeah, I get, you know, I don't remember seeing the hated bird branch or the bubble sauna in the last service awards catalog that we hit. But

Steve Sonnenberg:

you don't put it but it's no, it's so fun. And employees have fun with it. And they know they get it from their or their organization. It's their brand when they log in. It's all the products there. So it's exciting for him.

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely. And, you know, I think one of the one of the things that's just really interesting about this program is is even though you're getting something that maybe I don't know, you know, bird, heated birch branches, you know, maybe we're going to get that anyways. And you you got it because you got this, you know, you got recognized. But now every time you look at that bird and his feet are warm, there's a little bit of a feeling, they're like, Oh, I got that because of x, you know, because I did a great job that day, or I won the employee nomination that week, or, or, you know, I hit three months with my company and I belong with that company, right? Like that, man, that does mean something, right?

Steve Sonnenberg:

It does it, it means something. So we have some people that turn off our gift card function because they don't want their employees to get gift cards they it because you do you put it in your pocket and you may or may spend it you may spend only 70% of it, I mean times we leave dollars off. But with this, you know, it's it's with Amazon, they can get what they want. And when they want it, and it's always there when they log in to get something more so they can earn more points as well.

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely. Absolutely. No, it's It's funny, you know, this is it just sounds like a really great program sounds like a lot of fun. And, you know, it's bringing it's, it's bringing me back to the time that I got that that cooler for a service award from my for my employers, and, and I'll be honest, so so it was a choice like I could have a choice but I had like five things to choose from. Yeah. And I was like I wasn't really thrilled about anything. But I was like, you know, I could use a cooler like a little cooler like a six pack cooler for, you know, beer or whatever. And, but I use that cooler every week when I walk to my neighbor's house, we have happy hour. And every time I get that cooler, pick that color up like, oh, yeah, got that. Yeah, you know, and it's so it's such it's goofy, but it really does. It's like it there's like a like a warm, like, kind of cool feeling like, oh, yeah, I got that. I think it was three years service award. Right. So I earned that.

Steve Sonnenberg:

Yeah, exactly. And it's so much better when they can pick what they want, rather than there's a lot of people that I talked to that picked that cooler that was like, it was the only thing that I wanted that I really care for, you know what I mean? But what does the opposite effect. So that's why it's all the choices king. And, and you got to give them the choice. These days, you know, especially the younger generation there, they understand they live in the Amazon world where they have choice, and they're going to get a fast. And that's the same thing, too. That's so important if you are going to give an employee an award or reward than it needs to come in a couple days. Yeah. And it's cool stories, like I have people, you know, we have over 3 million users now. And when we were going to trade shows, people will come up and said, Oh my gosh, I ordered something that morning, and I got it that evening, because they live close to the Amazon warehouse, our integration is direct with them. Once it's placed on our system, it goes to their world class fulfillment centers in real time, and depending on the time they got it, they could literally receive it the same day.

Kyle Roed:

Super cool. Super cool. Yeah, I think, you know, I think it's really interesting for him. I don't know how you got Amazon to agree to it. Yeah, that's probably another podcast, but

Steve Sonnenberg:

it's just luck was a lot of luck and a lot of hard work. But yeah, we Yeah, so definitely for another another podcast? Because that that'll probably take me 10 minutes to kind of go through?

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely. Well, you know, I think it's a it's a really fascinating take. I do think that, you know, recognition is one of those things that HR, I mean, I've been looking for a tool that works, you know, for years, and every time I look, you know, I look for something, it just tends to be the same thing. You know, it's just, it's just a different company. And this, this really does, you know, it sounds different. It sounds quick, I do think the other thing you hit on is the speed. You know, having a tool to recognize is critical. Because if you don't recognize employees in a timely manner, just with a tool that allows you to recognize them, let alone get get the thing in their hand. You know, or you don't empower your managers and say, hey, when you want to recognize someone use this thing. It's right here, use it. It's so easy to just forget about it. Totally. And if you're not tracking it, like we already talked about, there's no accountability there. And eventually, with best intentions, you go home and you're like, Oh, crap, I was gonna say thanks to Suzy, and then and then you go in the next morning with best intentions to recognize her and your day gets away from me. And then it's next week, and it's next month. And you're

Steve Sonnenberg:

totally and that's why I talked about earlier, the integrations with communication applications is key. So you mentioned Kyle, you're look, you're in an RFP right now. Your recognition tools need to work with the slack the teams, the Yammer is the outlooks recognition works when it happens in your natural flow. I can't be this other toy, it can't be a word call. What's that site we use? Again? Something ClassFlow word CO, you know, our recognitions and countless other customers that went from slack and took award code and put it inside of slack and teams. I know personally, ours went up 400% Because it happened in our flow. I'm constantly communicating with people. And now I can do a slash recognize and little widget pops up right within slack. That is key to any modern day recognition solution that you need to have. And, you know, and then, you know, and then do you recognize non monetary monetary have a mixture of both. And I think it's good to have a mixture of both, you don't want to create a self of entitlements. That's why you want to give managers budgets that they can be responsible for. That can use to incentivize and you just have a mixture of I like a 7030 rule 70% non monetary 30% monetary. Yeah, that's what I've seen the winning equation to be

Kyle Roed:

well, and it's just like, it's just like, where, where the world is going right now. It's, it's that it's the ease of use, you know, kind of that frictionless experience where like, Oh, this is great. I need to spot recognize done, you know, hashtag recognizer, or whatever. Whatever. We don't use Slack. So I don't know all the lingo but and then and then it's right there. And then it's done. And then it's tracked, and it's yeah, the easier you make it The more your managers will do it, because I guarantee you I know, I know there's some HR people here listening, they're like, my managers would do this. I've tried. It's it's not that managers don't want to do it. It's that they don't, they don't have a tool to do it in their, like you said in their flow, like in their workday, right. So if they have something where they just hit a button, essentially, and then they do it, it will happen.

Steve Sonnenberg:

Exactly, it will happen. Make it more accessible to them? That's exactly right. They will, it takes time. But I was shocked with how easy it be can became, you know, as we just started recognizing become part part of our culture. And I actually, that's how I got award code, we have to be the best that recognition and building culture who are we to sell it right. And so I literally, I have a goal, I have three goals. It is to generate new revenue, protect revenue, and recognize often and recognize the good. And so I always go in front of our company, and I share a number I say, look, what we did last month, we had averaged about three and a half recognitions per user, like let's see if we can get a little higher. And then it's like, again, then people are like, yeah, we can do more. And it just became natural. You know what I mean? So it does start from the top. You got to get your managers bought in. And you have to have an easy solution. And you have to recognize in your flow, and then it'll be amazing to watch your organization flourish and become a culture of recognition.

Kyle Roed:

Yeah. Love that. Well, it's been an absolutely wonderful conversation. But we are coming close to the end of our time together. And I know you're super busy guy. So I want to be respectful. We are going to shift gears, we're going to go into the rebel HR flash round. So are you ready? I'm ready. All right, here we go. Question number one, what are you reading right now?

Steve Sonnenberg:

Ah, well, I'm an entrepreneur. And the book that I currently have right now is in this is my second time through now is Shoe Dog. I love Shoe Dog. In fact, I was with some Nike executives, and and they didn't love Shoe Dog because it didn't get in involved with the Michael Jordan, how did they land, the Jordan Brand and all that it didn't you know, I loved it because of the entrepreneurial side of that book of the crazy things that Phil Knight had to do to build his company. And that's what I love. Because there's no roadmap to building a company. I

Kyle Roed:

love that love that. I have not read that book. So I gotta with that one on the list. I've just not had a chance. Alright, question number two, who should we be listening to?

Steve Sonnenberg:

Um, I'll just kind of the first thing that comes to mind is your customers and your prospects and what I mean by that is one of my favorite things to do people always have podcasts or, or listening to audiobooks as they drive home. I actually use a tool called Gong, Gio and g.io that is a tool that records all my sales conversations. And and they organize it in categories, and I can actually on my ride home, I listen to real live conversations of people trying to reimagine recognition with my salespeople. And I love learning and listening to those conversations. So I love listening to future customers, prospects and customers because you can learn so much about what they're looking for right now.

Kyle Roed:

That's fascinating.

Steve Sonnenberg:

It's just kind of a there's no Yeah. I don't know if that's a you know that. But that's that's what I do. I love listening to our own people and real life situations that happened that day as I drive home. Yeah, it's it's a it's a far departure from my world. Because, you know, I'm in a manufacturing setting. And usually when I have to record a conversation, it's not good. It's, uh, you know, I'm notifying somebody I'm recording, yada, yada, yada. Everyone's talking about right now, like, how do I retain my employees? How do I engage with them? How do I recognize them in the great resignation? That's why I'm listening to hundreds and 1000s of conversations. And then I take that, and it allows me to stay true on the course of what a word coach should be developing.

Kyle Roed:

Ah, yeah, I love that. And at the end of the day, you know, I think about, think about whether you're an entrepreneur or you're an HR practitioner, you know, that your customers, you have customers for HR, they just might happen to be internal. Yeah, right. And so you need to have that feedback loop. You need to make sure you're serving your organization, your managers, your team, you know, with with the right type of solutions otherwise,

Steve Sonnenberg:

what and your employees too that's that's something I do every Friday evening we use lattice you know, a lot of people know you know, it's a it's a pulse thing. And every day I get that information, I love reading what employees are saying so Exactly.

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely. Alright, last question. How can our listeners connect with you?

Steve Sonnenberg:

Best way, just find me on LinkedIn. Steve Sonnenberg, I accept most invitations. And I think that's probably one of the easiest ways to connect with you right now is just via LinkedIn.

Kyle Roed:

Perfect. And we'll have that information in the show notes. The company is award Ko, and check it out. I know I'm gonna throw this into the RFP here and, you know, telling me that I can get something quick for my employees on Amazon and have it linked in with my systems and my interest is piqued. So, Steve, thanks so much for the time. It's been a great conversation.

Steve Sonnenberg:

Yeah, my pleasure. It's great. Great getting to know you and appreciate the time today.

Kyle Roed:

Thanks. Take care. All right. That does it for the rebel HR podcast. Big thank you to our guests. Follow us on Facebook at rebel HR podcast, Twitter, at rebel HR guy, or see our website at rebel human resources.com. The views and opinions expressed by rebel HR podcast are those the authors do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the organizations that we represent. No animals were harmed during the filming of this podcast. Maybe