How Technology Is Improving Employee Engagement

Mariam Gyulumyan , Co-founder and CEO at Lucky Carrot

Episode 32

According to the latest Gallup report, 51% of employees are disengaged in the workplace, while 13% are actively disengaged. Another Gallup report on employee engagement shows that companies with a highly engaged workforce have 21% higher profitability. They also have 17% higher productivity than companies with a disengaged workforce.After a 24-hour hackathon, this Armenian startup came up with an effective technology solution that helps companies more engage with their employees.

Founded in 2018, Lucky Carrot is an all-in-one employee engagement platform that enhances engagement, makes employees feel recognized, and brings a thank-you culture to the workplace. t allows employees to publicly appreciate one another for their great performance by sending virtual carrots that add up to meaningful rewards.

In his episode, Mariam Gyulumyan, Co-founder and CEO at Lucky Carrot joins HyeTech Minds to talk about her startup journey, challenges overcome on her road to success and Lucky Carrot’s mission to transform employees engagement. Mariam also shares her thoughts on the Armenian startup ecosystem and ways to expand that ecosystem.

Mariam’s Bio

 Mariam Gyulumyan is a Co-founder and CEO at Lucky Carrot. She is an employee engagement expert helping companies automate employee engagement full cycle for real HR and Business ROI.

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Interview Highlights

Narine: Hi Mariam, Welcome to HyeTech Minds. I’m super excited to welcome you today. 

Mariam: I’m really happy and honored to be your guest before jumping into a conversation, can you talk about your favorite

Narine: Sure. It’s your first stop with HyeTech Minds, can you tell us who you are, how you got into the entrepreneurship world, and what you do now? 

Mariam: So after high school, I went to the American University of Armenia, doing a Bachelor’s in business, and having a track of general business, basically everything in one place like accounting, marketing, economics, etc. 

And then, in the middle of my education, I also went to Draper University for their employee training program for around five, six weeks. And then after that study, I just came and finished my bachelor’s in business. And during those times during those years, last year, we started Lucky Carrot. 

Well, also, during that time, I joined some, you know, different teams here, for example, I was also in the Crowdfunding Formula. I also learned lots of great skills there. Yes, I think at that time, I was in my first year at AUA

Narine: So, In 2018, you founded Lucky Carrot, an employee engagement platform that helps companies to increase engagement with employees.  I’m curious to hear the beginning of the story. How has everything started? 

Mariam:  Most of the co-founders and team members have worked in the same tech company here in Armenia. And before Lucky Carrot, the company had a financial reward that was, you know, choosing the employee of the month and giving that reward a financial budget to that person. 

And you know, not only the financial budget, let’s say to all of the clubs and all the good stuff to this person. How they were doing that was they were using, you know, slack. And in that Slack, they were choosing friends, they were nominating people, for example, I nominated Narine to become an employee of the month because of this, that reason. And after you’ve got like 10 nominees, let’s say, you the management chooses one person to become the employee of the month, right. 

And then, at the end of the day, after doing this for several months, we had a problem, employee disengagement. At that time, we did not know that that problem is called employee disengagement. Because you had lots of you had just one happy person that was appreciated for a good job. And then you had lots of unhappy people. Because daily, they were doing great jobs, they were having achievements that were kind of being unheard of or unnoticed. Because like, if we are sitting next to each other, you do good stuff. Maybe I’m the only one knowing about that, or several people around us, right that is noticing. And the other people did not know about that. Or it even hurts more when you are a nominee, you know, every time but never the winner. You like it hurts even more. So we did a 24-hour hackathon. And out of that hackathon you know, out of many ideas like you carry was the one and luckily cared one. And that company became like the early adopter of care. And then other communists heard about it. Several tech companies next to us were working in different offices, right. And they also learned about Lucky Carrots. And that’s how everything kind of rolled out from there.

Narine: That’s awesome. I love hackathons. They are super effective at testing ideas. What do you think so far has been the biggest challenge for you personally as an entrepreneur? 

One of the things I would say is, being able to zoom in and zoom out every time because if you are let’s say a startup and you don’t have a big team, right and as a co-founder, you are engaged in many things. And at the same time, you need to be involved in the daily tasks but at the same time, you have to zoom out and think about long-term stuff which is hard sometimes you get caught in daily routine. So it’s important to make sure that you have you know, you have your days or even months organized to be able to do that and I’m still learning.

Narine: So true, sometimes it’s so difficult to zoom out from what you do. And in reality a lot on the plate of early-stage startup founders. 

So talking about employee recognition and employee engagement, how would you describe those two things? How different are they? 

Mariam: What do we mean by employee engagement? The thing is that it’s very hard to know this employee disengagement problem, which is, you start noticing it when the problem is big. And the problem, you can see the problem when you see the change of behavior in your employees when the person who was sharing funny stuff in your company is not doing that anymore when a person was sharing his or her knowledge with the other people is not doing that anymore, when a person was putting more passion and idea and is going the extra mile for the company’s not doing that anymore, and a lot of change of behaviors that you can notice, but the thing is that what you can do, what would you do if you could be proactive and notice that beforehand, you know, before there is a shift in an employee’s behavior, right. So that is the employee disengagement is not something that you can see in numbers, it’s more for you know, for the qualitative thing that you got to be aware of, and the recognition is one of the things of components of engagement for an employee to stay engaged in your company, and stay longer with your company because engagement is directly proportional to employee turnover.

 So the important thing is to have a good relationship with peers. Good relationships with the managers, have recognition and not, and in companies, we usually see yearly or quarterly recognition and it turns out by getting Gallup status that employees need two to three recognitions a week. 

And it’s not only about the frequency, it’s also about the quality of the recognition. Am I as an employee aligned with our company vision, mission, and values? Am I an ambassador of my company? Meaning like, Am I proud of my company or hanging out with my peers on a Friday night and telling them if you don’t come to our company, it’s really bad, you know? Or it’s the personal growth – meaning “Am I having the same days as I was having like two years ago or am I growing in my company and the company notices that my special skills and can give me responsible tasks for me to grow like to have a career that’s separate.” There are like 10 things, 10 components and so, recognition is part of the engagement which makes a huge difference because it has one of the highest weights on engagement. 

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Narine: So, how exactly does Lucky Carrot help companies to expand employee engagement? What are some of the solutions you offer businesses? 

Mariam: At Lucky Carrot we are developing an end to end like all in one engagement platform, which means, we do not only solve one part of the engagement, but we are covering a full cycle which is a one we do engagement pulse surveys. And they are pulse surveys because you as a company cannot afford to learn about your problems quarterly but you know, monthly even weekly. We do engagement surveys to measure the engagement and to measure all of the components of engagement to diagnose any disengagement causes, and not only does engagement causes like which part of these 10 components you need to improve as a company, but exactly as a company in which of the teams or in which of the departments that you need to focus to save your time like as an HR manager. 

Secondly, what we do is that okay, we understand a problem. Secondly, we collect data, not only through surveys but also through peer-to-peer recognition. Lucky Carrot is a platform where employees can recognize daily, you know, their great accomplishments like I can recognize you as my team member and make everyone see that everyone in our company and make good things more visible and pop them up to the surface. And out of this, we collect data of employee relationships and interactions which helps again to see any signs of disengagement, any weakening interactions within the teams among the teams or among team members right again, which employees are in the red zone. After that, we also give additional information on which employees are your best to execute errors or like informal leaders.

Narine: Mariam, What do you mean when you’re saying red zones? 

Mariam: For example, an employee in the red zone can be having a conflict with entertaining an employee Red Zone can be disengaged or demotivated because he or she doesn’t really like any more of the project that she’s involved in, for example, or she’s working too much right now, there’s a work-life balance issue, for example.

Narine: What type of surveys are you using most of the time? What exactly are you measuring with those surveys? Do employees have the ability to see survey results at some point? 

Mariam: It’s anonymous, the surveys are anonymous, but of course, Lucky Carrot admin, which is usually the HR manager or in some other, you know, cases and company, they’re also the CEOs or someone from the management staff, right? It differs from the alarm, you know, the size of the company. 

So it’s visible to the HR managers. But in very in many companies, where they have great transparency, they share the results with the team and say, we know that for example, we have an issue with employee satisfaction, we understand, for example, that employee satisfaction, whatever means is that Do I have the everything that I need to be able to do my job, for example, a good laptop, a good internet connection, etc?

 Okay, we understand we’ve got that problem. And guys, we are solving this and we have come up with this plan. What do you think, right? We know, for example, that you don’t like, I don’t know, the laptops or the chairs in our company. Okay. Which one you want, for example, I mean, and they can be transparent and share the results. Right. And then to come back to the previous question, it’s very important to mention that aside from giving, you know, data on your showing the people in red zones HR managers is that they’re also giving actionable recommendations. 

HR manager, when you log into Lucky Carrot this is what we are building right now, do a one on one session with this person, for example, because of this, and this and that reasons that like Kara checks that he or she is in the red zone. And then measure the outcome, because we were developing because we are developing KPI and goal management right now. Now you can connect the engagement with the performance. So you did things like this, you enhanced engagement in your company, you solved the problems. And now you can see the results and the performance how the team is performing? Well, same numbers.

Narine: I know you have created an interesting rewarding mechanism – carrots Every time an employee gets recognized for his/her job, they get a carrot. Correct? Why carrots? 

Mariam: Why carrots? There is an expression in the US they say like carrots and sticks. The carrot for reward and stick for the punishment. And the new, let’s say management style, the new rewarding style, of course, you give you know, let’s say carrot, and then I mean rewards. That’s why we took only the carrot from the expression and we just made it lucky. So it became like a carrot. Regarding like, how do we make that I’m in.

 It’s just, let’s say a few clicks, like clicking on the recognize back button, choosing the person that you want to recognize, getting the feedback. For example, Thank you, Narine. Now, after researching more about email marketing due to you, we have more click rates on our websites and me as a salesperson. It’s great to see that because I’m getting more leads, for example, right? And then one of the most important things I need to match my feedback with one of the company core values, let’s say one of the company core values is self-development. So you did the self-development. So I put it there so that we can also understand how aligned the company is with the values.

Narine: So what happens next, when I get those carrots? 

Mariam:  Since the carrots carry a financial value decided by the content, let’s say yeah, $1 you will be able to redeem it into gift cards.

Narine: That’s fun. 

 Mariam, there is a lot of talk about how important employee engagement is, that recognizing employees for their work can help them to boost their full power and potential, and motivate them.

But it seems the majority of businesses and organizations do not embrace this yet. 65% of employees haven’t received any form of recognition for good work in just last year.

Why do we still have so many companies that are hesitant to adopt stronger employee recognition programs? 

Mariam:  There is just starting to shift from the old model to a new model, because like, if you think about, let’s say, Silicon Valley, the cool companies even have employee engagement scores as a KPI for their managers. 

Can you imagine engagement score for, you know, as a KPI for managers? I mean, that’s cool. And that’s, and that’s how it should be. Because engagement is not just part of HR management. I mean, it’s not only just an agent, his management style. Is something that managers should care about also. And so why is this happening? It’s just starting, like, from the US just, you know, bringing recognition culture or culture of gratitude, and just starting to kind of expand in other countries as well, you know, because they’re still in the old style of quarterly recognitions, or, you know, monthly recognitions at best. And in the best-case scenario.

Narine: HR has a pivotal role to play in employee engagement and recognition. Yes, there are specific employee engagement roles and initiatives, specific recognition programs to run but overall HR is responsible to meet the needs to think about employee engagement.

How do you help HR managers to be more effective in identifying problems in their employees and more engaging with them?

Mariam: If we start from a basic thing if we simplify and automate the process of employee engagement that’s one. 

Second, we help you be proactive in case you know problems race right, for example, you’re an HR manager sitting in your office with just several employees. There are other offices you know, offices and there are other story rooms and sitting employees right.

 And you get to know about a problem when a problem is big enough to appear in their faces, say or let’s say a conflict is in the team, etc. So, we help you be proactive to understand which person is not, which person is not communicating with others, with the person, yeah, like in with the, with the relationships and interactions, like we have analytics which shows real-time employee relationships and interactions based on a peer to peer recognition, which shows a real data like for example, I was connected with lots of people and in my first three months and then after that in the next three months, I’m getting less than you know, I’m getting less and less connected, my connections in quantity are decreasing and in quality are also decreasing. So I have a problem here. 

And before the problem rises big enough to explode, you can get to know about this, or for example, in lack of care, we also have a solution where employees can do team building activities themselves. So if there was like a team-building activity in my team and I didn’t participate as you can know about that, you know, in this in the system even not just you know, talking to me, lots of things that we get like the end with the in in the HR manager for the HR manager would tell you, your informal leaders were just a few clicks, right? 

 I would tell, or the key to keeping the player the best executor and we also show them what we call the hearts of the employee, the hearts of the company. And this employee may not be your best performance or execute errors or informal leaders, but you have some employees that, for example, connect people, they bring fun when we’re, you know, drinking cup of coffee in the kitchen, you also have this kind of people that you got to notice and retain, we show this type of people and we help in also increase employee engagement, measure it and increase it, which is the most important stuff, just diagnose any early signs of disengagement and deal with it as soon as possible. 

Narine: In Armenia, I was working for a big department. The morning coffee with my peers has been the most enjoyable moment. 

 Mariam, how do you measure employee engagement? And what exact problems are you trying to solve? 

Mariam: What we do is that we measure engagement score, and when we first put it like a carrot and the company. And so that’s kind of our starting point. 

So this is your, let’s say, situation, and engagement. So let’s start working together, so you can now see your strong sides. And you can see the sides to it for improvements. For example, right now, since the actual recommendations are in the process of development, that’s why we do it manually with our teams with the companies. And so they, you know, plan, for example, in one of the companies, they had this value of leadership, and for them, you know, with our data, it shows that people don’t recognize each other for it from the leadership value. So they don’t use it, because they don’t see that value in people. One of the management group people receive that, which is fine, because he or she must be him or her.

 And they, you know, they did some leadership courses with people, for example, they purchased some, you know, leadership courses from E-learning platforms, they were enclosed that exactly, the HR manager started manually, you know, having one on one sessions and working with them to get it and then track, for example, it helped to increase leadership, right, and then it starts to help, or, for example, one of the cases is that in the public timeline, you see that one of the very experienced project managers gives a carrot to a junior developer saying, You behaved in this case, like a senior developer? These are the things that right, you start noticing. So you see your problem. You do actions, and then you track.

Narine: You know, one of the conversations lately we’re hearing about the bias in the workforce, and it’s a huge issue. Although companies have started heavily adopting AI, Machine Learning in their workforce management to reduce bias in recruitment, this continues to be a big problem. In this sense, how does Lucky Carrot reduce the bias in your awarding system? 

Mariam: That’s a really, great question. Because the tool, let’s say, we have data that we have, like two sides, right, we have data input, and then we have output. And the input is done by everyone inside the company because all of the data is generated exactly by your employees. And you recognize people based on your you know, you know, subjective thoughts, right. And we have this kind of word we use in insurance when we had this kind of concern of care of corruption when we were building Lucky Carrots. And this is funny. 

Oh, we love that expression, although the meaning is very bad. So what if carrot corruption happens, right? Because we’re still humans, and I just can’t like someone or he wishes just the best friend of mine, I can give the carrots but what it turns out is that and this is a question during our demo meetings, most of the time that the HR manager is asked about, and what happens is that we notice that this paired corruption stuff is happening less than even 1% or Yeah, less than like 1% in companies now Why? Right? So the question is, why does is this the case because since the recognitions are public, I mean, if I give you I don’t know five carrots and then you give me five carrots back I give the other person this many carrots and then he or she gives you and then you get paid et cetera. So this is very visible. And this is very, I mean, it’s easy to understand. So this publicity of the recognition prevents people from, you know, doing this carrot corruption. Secondly, if they do, you can see that within the analytics as an HR manager, you can like, very quickly understand. And thirdly, oh, yeah, and one more thing. So when we do, when we enter lucky with a carrot and company, we do training, user training, have fun making people understand what the whole point of a lucky carrot is because it’s very important to communicate and deliver the end purpose like a carrot. And lastly, even if you have this kind of people, it’s good to know them, it’s good to learn about them, okay? Because as an HR manager, I saw this person doing carrot corruption. So I need to teach this person to come back to our culture to match with our culture and math with our thinking, and kind of to help them to level up with their mindset.

Narine: It’s always exciting to see Armenian startups coming up with innovative solutions. Armenia has such a vibrant startup ecosystem. Every day I meet interesting startups. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to expand this ecosystem and bring more investment to the country. What do you think about how we can attract more foreign investments? What do we need to do to make Armenia a promising place for investments? 

Mariam: I think the image of the country has a lot of things to do. If we have, things will get easier, for example, it’s just my opinion if we have several unicorns born in Armenia, okay, that’s one thing to help. Secondly, I don’t know how much we can, the startup ecosystem can impact this, but to work with governments invest, you know, policies or let’s say investment environment, to be more attractive to, to the investors, because I don’t know if we can impact that with the startup ecosystem

Narine: That’s a great point. We already have 2 unicorns, if we can grow this number, that can help to build a valuable brand image in the international tech scene. 

Mariam: If you have like several unicorns from here, then well, I mean, that’s going to have a huge impact and huge interest in PR for Armenia to get a lot of people focused on Armenia.

Narine: That’s true. And I’m very positive incoming 5-10 years, we will see a couple of new Armenian unicorns. 

So Mariam, what would be the best way to learn more about Luck Carrot?

Mariam: Of course, the website, which is https://luckycarrotapp.com  And there you can register there we have like Calendly with our team members you can book a demo at your preferred time. Or in case you want to get in touch with me, you can write to my email, which is mariam@luckycarrot.am And we’ll be in touch. I’m very quick with emails. 

Narine: Thank you so much Mariam for the time and great conversation. You touched on a lot of important points, I think. Good luck with Lucky Carrot and stay safe. 

Wishing you all the success, stay safe 

Mariam: Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot, Narine jan. It was very, very cool to have to be your guest.


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