Employee Engagement

How to get buy-in for the employee recognition program your organization needs: A Q&A with Megan Barbier, Global VP of People & Culture, Jumio

If the last two years revolved around retention and figuring out hybrid remote work, we’re now solidly in the era of employee wellbeing and connection—and both are struggling. 

Gallup reports 60% of workers say they’re emotionally detached at work. And in what Gympass is calling a “crisis of wellbeing”, their survey of 9,000 office workers' revealed a whopping 85% say employer prioritization of their wellbeing influences whether they stay or go at their company.

Wellbeing is an integral part of feeling connected to your role and workplace, and essential to cultivating meaning and purpose at work. However, even as the urgency around and calls for more investment in wellbeing get louder, the teams usually tasked with researching, implementing, and managing these kinds of employee recognition programs—HR and People leaders—are being asked to do more with less. And how can they meet their employee retention, company culture, and business goals when engagement and productivity are waning, and they’re facing increasingly daunting budget limitations? 

Ask Megan Barbier, Blueboard client and Global VP of People & Culture at Jumio, and she’ll tell you the answer lies in being proactive in aligning your role and team’s outcomes with the business. For Megan, an area that required a total overhaul in this regard was recognizing employees at milestones like work anniversaries and rewarding contributions to a high performance culture. We’ll get to the full story on how she got there later on in this post, but the gist: ad hoc, manual recognition on a case-by-case basis wasn’t scalable for a globally distributed workforce, and wasn’t realistic or worth the time, cost, and effort (shipping thousands of chocolates around the world on ice? Never again!).

Learning about these kinds of pain points from our customers and supporting them with solutions is our ultimate north star—but what does building a customer-centric culture look like in practice? 

To start the new year, Blueboard hosts a manager offsite and sales kick off training. One of the highlights is sitting down with our clients to hear how they’re recognizing and rewarding their employees and to get feedback on how we’re doing. Being a customer-centric company in everything we do, these informal but in-depth conversations give us a chance to learn more about how we can be better partners to our clients and best support them to build their own culture of recognition. 

In a live, Q&A-style session, Blueboard co-founder and president Kevin Yip spoke with Megan about:

  • What makes a valuable, mutually beneficial vendor partnership 
  • Leveraging the power and positive impact of internal, peer socialization to get employee buy-in for new recognition programs 
  • Leaning into the unique emotional impact of experiences to build the ROI and business case 
  • How HR and People management functions have radically changed to be laser-focused on cultivating employee connection to meaningful work through shared experiences. 

Below, we share the key takeaways and insights from this conversation, and Megan’s advice for fellow HR professionals on where to turn when looking for resources to get buy-in for employee engagement investments from the executive team to employee stakeholders alike.

All the rules have changed: The future of HR and where it’s headed.

Key takeaway/TL;DR: What got you here won’t get you there. A major focus for HR teams now is cultivating and sustaining a culture of employee engagement and advocacy for the organization.

Kevin Yip: I'm so excited to have Megan Barbier from Jumio. Megan is a two-time Blueboard customer. Megan brought us on at Wrike, when she was the VP of People there, and then at Jumio, where she is now the Global VP of People and Culture. Jumio has employees all over the world.

Most folks are familiar with and probably use Airbnb. When you do your identity verification, that entire technology is powered by Jumio. 

Megan, I’d love to hear your thoughts about where HR and the People management function is going. 

Megan Barbier: I think it's really interesting to take a look across the field of HR. I am one perspective on this, but something we've talked about is that the stakes feel higher—and that’s because they are

We are in completely uncharted territory when it comes to the employer-employee relationship, the talent industry, the employee life cycle—and every cycle—that we could predict before. So if you like being off the map, great; this will be your happy place. All the rules have changed, and this isn't a bad thing. I think this is a great opportunity to leverage those connections when we're thinking about how we’re enriching work.

It's incredibly hard as an HR practitioner, and as a leader, to figure out how to not just do what you’ve always done before. Five, ten years ago, everyone was doing employee satisfaction surveys. Has anyone done one of those in the last decade? No. You're doing ENPS, or employee engagement surveys, right? 

As an employer, and as leaders, we want people going out and evangelizing for us. That's a huge ask! And in return, employees want trust, belonging, and to know they're connected to meaningful work—also a big ask.

So you have two sides of the same coin: these asks can coexist, but the stakes are higher. I think about 10 years ago, when none of this was even on my radar. I was showing up at work, making sure everyone's getting their paycheck. I'm an awesome HR person, but that same approach would probably get me fired today if that's all I did.

Inspiring discretionary effort from your teams with effective recognition to be more successful in the long run.

Key takeaway/TL;DR: Give employees recognition to rally around—recognition they can anticipate, talk about with each other, and share outside of workplace walls. Successful employee recognition and incentive programs can reward hard work or going the extra mile; be a part of new hire onboarding (like we do at Blueboard); celebrate company core values; support the launch of new initiatives—and so much more.

Megan Barbier: The world has radically changed, for the better. There's expectations from both the employee experience and the leadership team sides. And so when I think about the world of human resources, when I wake up and I go into work, what am I trying to do?

I'm trying to inspire discretionary effort. I want every single person on my team and in my organization to show up and devote their time and effort because they want to. Not because I've told them to, they're scared of losing their job, or because they don't have anything better to do. I want them to show up and work the way that I work, and I want them to give that effort. That's a different magic mix, being able to tap into that. – Megan Barbier, Global VP of People & Culture at Jumio

Thinking about everyone here in this room from the Blueboard side, your team is at this really fascinating intersection. There is a critical business need. Any company that cannot get their employees to put that discretionary effort in is not going to be wildly successful. They might be fine, but they're not going to get the same kind of annual recurring revenue (ARR) growth. 

So how am I going to inspire discretionary effort to get that kind of growth? And how do I translate that into ROI, in dollars and cents, to get executive buy-in? I have to quantify the abstract, and take my boss something that is going to answer the following questions: 

  • How much are we saving? 
  • What's it gonna cost us? 
  • What's my return on investment? 

And I have to try to do this around emotion. I have to try to do this with data around a feeling. 

Flipping the script: the ROI of recognition is emotion and “the afterglow” (or, how people remember and tell the story of their experience rewards).

Key takeaway/TL;DR: In budget conversations with finance teams and CFOs, don’t be afraid to lead with the way a recognition program is making people feel. Return on investment (ROI) isn’t only about metrics like dollars and cents. Employee morale and sentiment can be your best indicator of success and make the difference between an employee rewards program that doesn’t resonate and one that people can’t wait to participate in.

Kevin Yip: We often work with our clients to help them calculate the ROI of experiential rewards to unlock buy-in and investment. You got the partnership with Blueboard and Jumio, and Wrike, across the line. We’re in the time of the economic buyer. Every single investment, large or small, is getting reviewed by finance. How are you thinking about making that argument about the ROI of emotion and feelings, when CFOs speak dollars and cents? What's that bridge look like? 

Megan Barbier: I went into those executive buy-in conversations selling hard on the afterglow. But something else I noticed as an HR practitioner: I'm always looking for those halo effects from programs. Take parental leave, for example. An employee may never take parental leave, but if your company has a great program, that has a halo effect because it signals a concrete way we’re investing in employees. I can get benefit from just having good programs. 

A screenshot of a LinkedIn post by an employee sharing their experience on a horseback riding Blueboard reward experience. There's a color photo of people riding horses, with a blue sky and green mountains in the background.
In this LinkedIn post, Rochelle A. shares a photo from and reflects on the horseback riding experience, a Blueboard reward from Medidata Solutions.

What I discovered at Jumio is there is a passion for, and people are super excited about, Blueboard awards. 

When I'm going to my finance person to talk about ROI, I'm not only going to talk in terms of money. Spoiler alert: I'm going to talk about how a director is so amped that he and his wife got to book a staycation with a Blueboard reward that he talked to me about it for two months before he even booked it. He was talking that up, it got brought up on our executive call. 

So I'm changing how I have these ROI conversations this year which may sound counterintuitive. I'm going to talk about the cost of negative retention and Gallup's research that only 32% of employees are engaged and giving their full effort to their job. I’ll put those disengagement and employee turnover stats in my presentation and you know what's going to close it for me? This director employee who was really amped about the spa day he got to share with loved ones through Blueboard.

Shanteldle S. enjoys a Golden State Warriors game, a Blueboard experience she chose as part of HiRoad’s employee work anniversary program: “I have been to many Warriors games since I was a child but this is the closest I've ever been. As a true fan, this was so exciting to see and I was able to share with my dad. My dad is the reason I am a fan.”
When I leverage the value of positive emotion in ROI conversations, in some ways I'm changing the game. Finance is out there playing basketball, and I just brought a baseball bat to their court and they don't know what is going on. – Megan Barbier, Global VP of People & Culture at Jumio

I'm also not above using pain to get what I need from finance. When we launched Blueboard’s recognition program at Wrike, it was all about surprise and delight. We were nailing it when it came to delivering on the employee experience. We needed to keep something fresh and something exciting for this group. 

Jumio was a radically different experience. Lots of people have been here for a long time, upwards of 11 to 15 years. It’s a good problem to have: wondering how to retain and keep those employees, and what it will take to do so. When we think about what Blueboard is, this is a problem that it solved.

When it comes to employee buy-in for recognition programs, peer-to-peer validation makes all the difference. 

Key takeaway/TL;DR: Even if employees are open to new engagement initiatives, never underestimate the power of personal association. Word of mouth feedback and peer-to-peer storytelling is a driving force behind creating a program employees actually enjoy. 

Kevin Yip: When I think of our most successful customers, Blueboard becomes a pillar in the employee experience and embedded in the culture. And I think there's different pathways to that. I'm curious how Blueboard rewards have become so special and coveted at Jumio. 

Megan Barbier: I think it’s how we've introduced it, and the energy we’ve put into seeding that people will love it. The way we set our recognition program up—even if people might have negatively reacted to change at first— they’re not negatively reacting to Blueboard. I think change is hard to embrace for some organizations.

Another reason why Blueboard rewards are coveted at Jumio is that positive feedback about the program is not necessarily coming from HR or the CEO, but our employees’ peer group. The story I shared about the Jumio director and the staycation experience is a great example of this peer-to-peer socialization. This is beautiful. He is a respected person of the old school that was getting things like gift cards and cash bonuses. Well, if he's excited about the staycation that he got as a Blueboard award, I will be excited, too, when it's my turn.

So I think a lot of that has to do with the social buzz around it. It’s human nature to be skeptical about change.

A tale of thousands of melted chocolates: When well-intentioned (but not personalized) work anniversary rewards don’t work. 

Key takeaway/TL;DR: When people get to choose what’s most meaningful, it takes the guesswork (and pain) out of finding the best way to recognize them. What one employee finds interesting won’t appeal to everyone. Avoid the “one reward to rule them all” mentality by putting employees in the driver’s seat to decide how they’d most like to be recognized.

Maybe three months into my role at Jumio, I had a leader ask me what we were doing for an employee's 10th work anniversary that same day. He didn't have a plan, and asked me to help find something special for his employee. But I don't know this person. I mean, this is one of the reasons why I'm sure you started Blueboard: to solve this, “What do I do to recognize people?” problem. 

So I asked the employee, “What do you like?” They liked to cook, so I went and researched a great, remote-friendly cooking class for her and five of her friends, including wine.

When I gifted this cooking class to her in appreciation of her 10-year work anniversary, she asked, “Can I get a hotel spa getaway instead?”

Her manager asked how the gift was received. I said she thanked us, but she also let me know she would like a spa day better. So you can see the entanglement and the pain point here. If I was in a cartoon, a thought bubble would appear above my head with the words, “We gotta get Blueboard in here cause I cannot do this again, or I will lose my mind.” 

It’s a slow process, however, trying to illustrate this pain point that I feel to other leadership. I need those leaders to feel that pain point, too. Maybe six months after this 10-year work anniversary gift story, my CEO, a big-hearted, really genuine guy, wants to send chocolates to everyone for Jumio’s anniversary. The problem is we have over 1,700 people in many regions. Some of them are about 106 degrees Fahrenheit, such as in rural India. So chocolate doesn't go down there well at all. And it costs about $300 to ship it with ice packs. 

So I'm trying to explain these logistical barriers to him, while also asking what we are trying to achieve here. Is it that we want to give everyone chocolate? No; we want them to feel excited about Jumio. There's a different way to do this.

This is the kind of pain point I’ll communicate to the finance team to make my case for another option, like Blueboard: “Do you remember when I used to have to spend all those hours of my 80 hour work week shipping chocolate across the world to everyone in our organization? That's not a good use of my time or my team's time. Let's find another solution.” – Megan Barbier, Global VP of People & Culture at Jumio

Building an employee appreciation and recognition program that has the “wow” factor for everyone with experiences as rewards.

Key takeaway/TL;DR: Find a recognition solution that celebrates different interests while creating a shared experience across teams and the organization.

Kevin Yip: The employee engagement situation at Jumio—where you're trying to keep folks who have been with the company for a really long time engaged—sounds really different from the situation at Wrike where you had a younger demographic and generally different demographic. Could you speak to how you navigate those different organizational environments?

Megan Barbier: Sure. I have two boys and they are both very different, lovely humans who could not be more opposite in terms of what they enjoy and who they are. And they’re both deeply into Juujitsu. So my husband and I will sit back and marvel at how these two could not be more different but are out on the mat together loving the same sport. This sport is helping us as parents solve a problem: one solution to engage our very different kids.

I think about Blueboard in the same way. Wrike and Jumio are two radically different organizations yet both have one very similar solution that addresses both of those needs. Surprise and delight was the main concept that we were running at Wrike. Employee experience was paramount. We had a millennial CEO, and bringing on Blueboard rewards was a no-brainer. Why would we not invest money in the employee experience? 

Wrike was very much an experience-based organization. We would do trips to Iceland for the exec team, or fly the whole team out to kickoff meetings in St. Petersburg. So the fact that we could bring Blueboard in and still have it be a “wow” factor was a big deal. There was much more willingness to embrace something new, and a heavier social element to it, whether it was on internal or external channels. We had people posting all the great things they were doing on their Blueboard experiences in Slack. 

We also had a little different structure where it was more endemic. People could access Blueboard as a benefit more broadly than they can at Jumio. We have a very different organization that thinks about employee experience in a very different way than my last organization. Blueboard rewards at Jumio are revered. It’s special, not something that everyone will get, which is okay; it's something that can be looked forward to. It's still kind of a foreign concept. We're trying to get people to embrace the “why” behind experiences as recognition, instead of cash bonuses, which I don’t feel are effective. Getting people to change their mindset towards how they’re rewarded and recognized has been a much different motion at Jumio.

But there's a lot of excitement. At Jumio, people view Blueboard as this coveted thing they’ll get eventually. At Wrike, we gave smaller awards more frequently and now at Jumio, I’m thinking about how to get more traction and get people embracing all the great elements that a solution like Blueboard can bring into the employee experience and our culture.

Build the right recognition program for your unique organization.

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Unlike cash bonuses, celebrating employees with shareable experiences is your employee recognition secret sauce.

Key takeaway/TL;DR: While recognition rewards aren’t a replacement for fair and equitable compensation, cash bonuses won’t achieve the long term retention and engagement impacts you’re looking for. 

Megan Barbier: One of the core pillars of how we think about employee experience is: How is it shared? Even if it's a bad experience, if you're in it together, that is building your culture, that's building your team, it's strengthening your connection with each other. 

What makes a good partner or vendor? Teach me something. Crack an egg of knowledge on me. Tell me a story. Give me something that is different that stands out. There's a lot of noise. I probably have about 70 emails waiting for me, sent just between lunch and right now. About people trying to sell me stuff. And these are great quality enterprise solutions. These are all reps that are legitimately trying to reach out having done their homework. They’ve listened to a podcast I’ve been a guest on. But, are they going to tell me something new? Are they going to tell me something exciting? 

When I first talked with someone at Blueboard, she said something that stuck with me: that when you give cash, it likely goes into someone's bank account and it probably goes to pay for groceries or bills. No one had positioned this problem with cash bonuses to me before. For me it was an “Aha!” moment. I agree with that. I'm talking about it three years later because if I reward employees with cash, am I really honoring the best part of my employee? Am I giving them something that's going to connect with them, if I'm giving them cash to pay their mortgage or their phone bill?

This angle was something new that I brought up to Jumio leadership: do you realize that when we give that money, people might not use it for something fun? It might go into a checking account that they might not even have control over. 

So, reminding HR leaders about the ultimate goal of this kind of recognition program, to have fun and be a break from the ordinary, is valuable. No other vendor we've worked with has ever brought that argument to the table, and it works. 

Be different. Come to the table with something shocking and real; maybe it is a pain point, something uncomfortable—go there, relentlessly. Put something out there that's new that gets me to stop as I sift through 70 different emails vying for my money, time, and budget. 

Building valuable partnerships and recognition that connects employees to what they’re passionate about.

Kevin Yip: This speaks to creating a pull versus push dynamic within an organization for programs, because at times they can feel like they're pushed from HR. On that note, what does an ideal vendor look like for you? How can they support you in succeeding, and how does Blueboard stack up? 

Megan Barbier: I’ll speak from my experience at both Jumio and Write. Both organizations are in hyper growth, scaling incredibly fast. And when I say hyper growth: I’m talking about tripling your size of employee base, or expanding into seven different regions within 18 months. So when we're looking at bringing on partners that can help us scale, it comes down to that value sell. 

The value sell is something I look for when evaluating partners or vendors or even in our long term relationships with third parties. It's really about how a potential partner or vendor answers these two questions: 

  • How are you adding value? 
  • How are you solving a problem for me? 

Some of the best people that I've worked with on that front are great benefit brokers. You might not care about that unless you're in HR, but when I think about what they do well, it’s about helping me deliver on the non-optional aspects of my role, like hitting open enrollment and filing deadlines.

My very best partners are proactive. They're coming to me before I know there's a problem. They're way ahead of it—not coming to me at the 11th hour saying, “here's what needs to happen.” They're looking out ahead in the landscape and they're making you feel like you are the only client out there.

I'm also thinking about the inverse scenario, too. I've had some really difficult third party relationships and vendors that do the opposite. I think that's due to their approach of coming to me from their problem versus coming at it from trying to solve my problem for me.

Great partners know our business or at least understand enough about the challenges that are out there. You don't necessarily need to be an expert in financial services, skateboards, or whatever it is—but you do need to understand those pain points and help people draw connections between those pain points with the solution you’re offering. A lot of the relationships that we build with vendors also help connect us to other people who have similar problems.

So they're not just focusing on the transactional interactions, like, “Hey, here's your invoice, here's your annual subscription, pay for it and here are the great features you have. We love all those things. But building a meaningful partnership means understanding how we as a customer are like other customers, other clients. How can you build that bridge and network to be almost like a broker of that relationship for us?

I always find that that's the extra special sauce that comes with the sundae of having the vendor there. 

When it comes to the problem Blueboard solves, I love that we’re in a stage with the employee experience where “one size fits nobody.” Blueboard rewards are personalized, flexible, and I don't have to guess if somebody prefers a spa day over a cooking class with their friends. These are elements that help enforce the diversity and inclusion that we build into our culture at Jumio and that people can choose. And there's variety. It's not binary, where you get the pink basket or the blue basket. You get to pick skydiving, or guitar lessons or the backyard butterfly experience.

These experiences really connect with people on what they're passionate about. And so if I'm finding strings to draw that out and there is a partner that's working with us that is doing this for me and doing it way better than I could, or my team could, that is amazing.

When I think about our culture and honoring all of the unique individuals on our teams, one universal award won't work. But if we have a variety of ways that they can express themselves and choose what matters to them, that is paramount for me when I'm thinking about what I’m bringing to my team.

In terms of Blueboard’s future, I would say that the more far reaching these experiences can be, the more universal they will be as a solution.

3 pieces of advice HR professionals can turn to when making the case for dedicated employee recognition in their workplace. 

After opening up the Q&A session to Blueboard employees at the offsite, these themes emerged from the questions and Megan’s answers. We’re sharing them here for fellow HR team members and anyone looking for support when researching, pitching, and launching a recognition program in their workplace.

1. From customer advisory boards to referrals, network-vetted connections are everything. 

Megan’s take: “I have a handful of HR communities, like LinkedIn, and trusted peers that I look to when I have questions or need resources. What is my peer group using? What do they not like?  Global payroll questions? How do I roll out agile in my organization? Who can feel my pain and understands me? I don’t want to be alone in my suffering. Leveraging these trusted professional networks are key when evaluating solutions.”

2. Plant seeds of hope and vision for making more meaningful connections in the workplace.

Megan’s take: “I certainly want tomorrow to be better than today. Part of our language and how we conduct ourselves at Jumio is connecting people to meaningful work. I believe that most people are hungry for that. They want to know that how they are spending time at work is valued,  creating value for themselves, and that it’s recognized by others. That’s where Blueboard comes in. 

For me to cultivate connection to meaningful work, I have to know and understand you as a person. The challenge as you grow is scaling that. I have to do that for a globally distributed workforce. I have to amplify my ability to do that across my leadership layer. There’s one hack  to scaling that; having a conversation about what makes you tick. It’s not static, it’s dynamic. 

You have to go back and keep checking in. How is what you need changing as your life changes, and how do I continue to connect you to meaningful work and how are we creating an opportunity for you to connect at work? I’m always looking to create a shared experience with recognition.”

3. Executive leadership support in addition to HR is integral to successfully launching your recognition program. 

Megan’s take: It doesn’t help me as an HR leader if we’re giving out $200 bonuses that appear silently in people’s paychecks. No one’s talking about it because not everyone gets it. We like the idea of it being very public, social, something celebrated. Let’s be really loud and excited about what the company gives us. For me, that was revolutionary. We’re going big, you got an awesome reward. Let it be known that the company does this. And guess what? You can get one, too. 

That was the big switch for me: realizing there was a different solution, with no awkwardness or hiding how we reward employees. We don’t live in that world now. I do a board report on recognition that includes the feedback we get from our employees when they go on Blueboard experiences. I am always finding a way to connect a feeling to what people do.”

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