How to Reward Employees? Let Them Do it Themselves

in Business, Culture by Piotr on October 9th, 2015

I have been talking about a proper employee recognition system with my friends, who happen to work with other tech-companies, for almost 14 years. We always wanted simple mechanisms that sales people have - like key results. Employees want to get a bonus? They need to accomplish specific tasks, sell more stuff, just do more. Easy, isn't it?

In my opinion and all the people I talked about this, it's not as easy as it seems. Especially with people who don't sell or produce stuff. As I run Software House for almost 11 years now let's just stick to developers, coders, programmers - everyone that writes a piece of code for living. How to measure their productivity?

At first I thought it was an easy task and that there are various ways to do it. For example, you can count the number of commits made by a developer during the day or lines of code. You can also measure how many kilometers/miles she or he gets through in one day (actually it's not so stupid as it seems, there are programs which help you do it).

It sounds simple as long as developers are actually writing the code, but some of their time is spent on… thinking. Yeah, I mean - people from outside IT usually think that coders are just artisans. Nothing more. Most of the time I think it is true but sometimes they're also… artists.

I know that for people, who think that coders are just keyboard-hitters & nothing more ;), this may sound exaggerated, but the truth is there's more magic to it or as the programmers say "variables". In this type of work you just can't find a precise way to measure their productivity.

During all those years many people tried to solve this issue. And FYI, they also thought coders are artists:

I completely understand the desire to measure productivity. But would you use the same metric for a family doctor and a heart surgeon? How about for Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, and some guy in Mexico cranking out black velvet Elvis paintings?

There's even a rumour that at some point in Microsoft's history they introduced a system to reward people for not making bugs (less bugs you do the more bonus you get). It seemed like a good idea but it turned out that people just started to create less… code :) Experienced devs know that less code equals less bugs. I don't know really if it's just a gossip or it's true, but you can imagine that, right?


My real goal during all those years being Desmart's CEO was to properly motivate people, be honest about their work and never demotivate them. Every motivational system I reviewed has flaws that lead to this sad moment when someone doesn't feel appreciated. While using a new method I always thought "yeah, it's great!" but then doubts emerged. What about people who won't gain anything or gain substantially less than others? Would they be demotivated all the time and eventually leave the company?

All this time I didn't use any reward system... I didn’t dare to. Of course I gave little bonuses occasionally, but it was always for finishing a project, for doing something more than other people did. It was rather a gift, my appreciation for their hard work and I always gave it AFTER the job.

Different approach

Almost a year ago I have found by accident a new tool called Bonusly. It’s approach amazed me - like many others before ;) Bonusly allows you to take all the weight off your shoulders. It’s really simple: instead of one person in charge (CEO, a group of managers) giving a bonus to the whole company it relies on people appreciating other people.

Why it really works

Everyone at the company has full access and ability to give a bonus to each member of our little tribe. Even me! (I’m the CEO if you didn’t get that ;). Each member gets 1000 points per month and he or she can give a bonus starting from 50 points or add points (in comments) to someone’s bonus.

There are no rules and no one gets instructions or limitations about what bonus you can give each other. Really, it’s that simple - you don’t have to regulate it. If you have honest people in your company, you have established proper company culture like we did, you won’t have a problem with frauds and fake bonuses between members (Bonusly limits the number of bonuses that the two people can give to each other but we have never had such a problem).

It’s very easy and effective. I’m constantly (for almost a year now) getting great opinions about it. People love to appreciate hard work and, what’s more important, they are the ones that see what others do. However, at the beginning I had to remind about it (they tended to forget to give their points). Fortunately Bonusly has integrations with various external services like Slack (@link) - we use it for inner communication. It’s great because we get instant information on our #general channel about who give points to who and for what. If that doesn't motivate people then nothing will ;)

Bonuses, but for what?

What if people will reward each other for the things that you think are, well how to put it, stupid? Here’s some of our employees bonuses:

For taxi-service #customer-service

Help with the computer #problem-solving #teamwork #speed

Thank you for a really nice project retrospecion - a lot of ideas and plans! #leadership #improvement

DeRadio (our internal sound system which plays music all day long and is built using RaspberryPi) improvements #improvement

Skype not working again but you repaired it! Thanks! #problem-solving

Help with cleaning the kitchen #teamwork

As you can see there are a couple of things that could be qualified as „stupid” but actually they are not. Why? Because they were given from people to people, no one ever told anyone that his bonus was „stupid” because… these are his points and he gives it to the person he likes for anything he thinks needs to be rewarded. That’s the only rule here, nothing else matters. System is self regulated. People learn about things that other people need and they help each other. In most cases they just want to help. Sometimes they are counting on earning extra points. But that’s ok, this shows everyone it’s worth to make an effort, help someone, create something that other team members or our clients need. That really works well.

Bonusly has also this hashtag system - we don’t use it for any purpose but you can count the number of bonuses for specific target (like supporting #leadership).

Rewards. Show me the money!

Bonusly gives the ability to pick Amazon, Sephora, Best Buy and iTunes gift cards. It’s ok but it doesn’t work well in Poland so I reward people with the thing that they think it’s best for them. Money. There’s a total amount of money and based on people’s number of points it’s split at the beginning of the next month. Easy, effective and allows people to get cash for their effort. We started from small amounts and we are gradually increasing them when company has money for that.


I can really say that Bonusly changed my company. People are more motivated, they like each other and the tool supports company’s culture - fits right into it. I tried to think about Bonusly’s disadvantages but I couldn’t find them. The only thing I can think of is that from time to time I need to ask people to use Bonusly more often than once a month (usually at the end of the month). Bonusly, however, tends to send more mails these days, so It’s not an issue anymore.

Try Bonusly for you and your team and share your thoughts in the comments below!

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