Back when I worked at Typeform1, it really surprised me that they casually used a system of extrinsic motivation to reward good work, and to appreciate and recognise others. That’s a long-handed way of saying that they used a service called Bonusly2 and integrated it with the company chat app, which at the time was HipChat3 (hands up if you remember not using Slack?). We had an internal currency called Typecoin (TC)4 and you had a budget of 250 a month to offer to your fellow colleagues as an extra way of saying thanks, or shouting out. Those coins actually converted to cash or Amazon gift vouchers, it was actually pretty cool. Most of the time I’d cash out, go to the Mercadona by the beach at La Vila Olimpica (which was around the corner from our office), and buy around 10€ worth of Haribo sweets for the whole office to enjoy. It was usually either a ‘ThursYAY’ or ‘TuesYAY’ depending on what mood I was in.
Of course, I’ve just linked recognition to financial reward. That wasn’t really the main goal of the system though, although it operated as a nice side-effect. You couldn’t gift some of your TC without connecting it to a company value and also explaining what they did to earn it, and all of this would be posted publically to a special channel in HipChat (as well as the application itself) for everyone to see. There was even a leaderboard and it was quite exciting to see who made it to the top each month (I held the record for a few months, it was a nice ego boost).
This started off in a small company with only 37 people in it at the time I joined, two of them being the co-founders. Almost a year later and it was a company of more than 250 people, but the system continued and, quite surprisingly, didn’t really suffer for it. Reading all of the positive messages in the public typecoin channel was truly amazing, and aside from other things we did as part of the uniquely expressive culture we had, it was one of my favourite things to catch up with. You can probably tell from my writing that I miss my time there a lot.
The reason I bring this up so fondly is because the act of recognition was an active one. It was hard to feel unappreciated or unloved in a place like Typeform when everyone was so open with appreciation and gratitude. I’ll let others speak for my possible role in that, but it wasn’t a thing to be ashamed of sharing the same way it can be in more repressive or corporate environments.
The difference is that, for the majority of my career, recognition, acknowledgement and appreciation are not typically given in such an active way. The abundance of what you provide, that they appreciate, leads to it becoming an expectation. Only when it is time for you to leave or move on does the scarcity mindset kick in and you are showered with love and support. Because they won’t be able to enjoy your presence or benefit from your skills any more.
Before I continue, I’m sure some people (particularly current colleagues) reading this at the time of writing will think… is Lee talking about Babylon5 and why he’s leaving? Is he airing his laundry? Emphatically, I am not :) but let’s talk about Babylon anyway.
When I joined Babylon in early 2019, one of the first things I did after settling in was, well, ‘make a name for myself’ on Slack. Because of course, HipChat stopped being a thing in 2019. I wanted to take that positivity I experienced at Typeform, in Barcelona, and everything I’d learned and loved since, and see if something similar could happen in London. I made a gratitude channel and basically name-dropped colleagues, explaining what I appreciated through the onboarding process and the initial few weeks. Little did I know a similar scheme was being built in parallel and not long after, we got our Feel Good Fridays, which accompanied a huge list of collated messages of gratitude, recognition, and acknowledgement from one colleague to another.
Honestly, I live for that shit :D I love public displays of recognition because, so often, this stuff never happens until you’re gone and people miss whatever you did that made them so happy or grateful. Just a simple line of text with thank you or an explanation, along with hundreds of other similar lines meant for other people, that everybody could read through and really share in that celebration of each other, not just success.
And that, for me, is my key learning after all these years. ‘Celebrating success’ is such an overused and misunderstood term that you never really see it happen. Besides which, there is plenty of failure that is also worth celebration. And plenty of stuff that doesn’t fit into the bucket of success or failure that deserves celebrating too. And you can be successful within a failure.
What I’m saying in a pretty long-winded way is that we people make the success what it is, and success comes in so many diverse forms! It’s not just a project delivered on time, or a feature boosting MRR, or an uptick in retention against churn or whatever abstract work-related metric you can conjure up. It’s not just a business goal, it’s a fucking plethora of personal goals, desires, likes, dislikes, passions, and serendipitous interactions, all of which can mingle and mesh until you get that moment of genius, or you go home feeling happy and contented. Or whatever it is you want from life.
Celebrate each other, celebrate yourselves. 🥳