TecHRseries Interview with Rob Boland, Chief Operating Officer at Reward Gateway

Improved employee communication and improved employee recognition programs are the need of the hour says Rob Boland, COO at Reward Gateway. Catch the complete interview to unlock more tips, insights and predictions on the changing HR and HR Tech landscape.


Tell us about yourself, Rob. What are your primary roles and responsibilities as Reward Gateway’s Chief Operating Officer?

If it impacts a customer (or any of their employees) of Reward Gateway, it will sit under my remit. This includes our implementation and design teams who build and customize our employee engagement hubs for new clients, our client success teams who work with our customers to continually drive the success of their programs, our client and employee support teams who support the back office operations, our retail team who run our SmartSpending™ employee retail discount program, and all of our product and product design teams who build, maintain and innovate across our seventeen products. I am also heavily involved in any M&A activity we are involved in, something we have been very active in over the past few years.

How has your professional journey in technology been so far?

I have always been very interested in technology, but I would say my professional journey into the technology world started earlier in my career. I worked within an incredibly data-driven business where even the smallest of margins had a huge impact on business performance, so everything was tracked and measured. It was through using these systems that I saw the power that technology could have in providing the required data and insight into how a process or department was really performing, while also seeing how it was only through utilizing new technologies that real business improvements could be seen. It was through this that I became really passionate about learning as much as I could about different technologies across various platforms and industries. I have educated myself on as many different types of technologies as possible and have also been learning a number of coding languages over the past few years, which I have found has been really beneficial.

Read More: TecHR Interview with Dr. Bradley Smith, President and Co-Founder of PeopleKeys

When it comes to HR-Tech, what are the features within these tools that drive, or will drive user experience and demand for innovations in this space?

User experience will drive innovation, not the other way around. Fitting seamlessly into the lifestyle of an employee will be the fundamental difference between success and failure in HR-tech, and this is what will drive innovation in the industry. Because of this, enhancing and improving the mobile experience is critical. I am still very surprised when I see how many HR-tech platforms don’t put mobile-first design as the primary consideration in any product development. You have to think about the tools that employees are going to be using to access your tech and optimize your platform for that experience. I also think personalization is another core element that will drive user experience. Employees want the tools they use to be personalized to them and to their needs. They only want to see or hear things that are relevant or interesting to them and they want to ensure they are getting a benefits provision that is optimized specifically for them and their current requirements (and automatically changes as their requirements do). What they do not want is to have to manually interact with a system or get bombarded with communications or alerts that have nothing to do with them. HR-tech has to be far more automated and personalized.

How can tech companies use HR tech to drive better employee experience and employee engagement efforts?

Improved employee communication and improved employee recognition programs.

An increasing number of HR tech businesses are focusing on creating experience platforms that facilitate instant, completely transparent, two-way communication between leadership and staff. Leaders need a tool that enables them to hear feedback from all parts of their businesses while employees want and expect to have a far higher level of transparency between themselves and the business. This is how trust is built between a business and its employees. Relying on the traditional ‘annual survey and report’ cycle creates more frustration than engagement for employees as in the vast majority of cases they never see anything being actioned from a survey – and things happen in their lives every day at work, not once a year, so they want a tool they can use when they need it.

In addition to employee communication, introducing or improving an existing employee recognition program is critical if a business really wants to drive better employee engagement. Like with employee communication, employees expect a recognition program to be social so they can share each other’s success, they want it to be two-way and most importantly, they want it to focus on instant recognition. We get a huge amount of feedback about the frustration employees feel when they see great things happening around them all the time, but without a way to instantly recognize their peers or allow managers to instantly recognize employees, the impact of those great behaviors are completely lost.

How effective do you think employee surveys are in the present day scenario? Are surveys good enough tools to measure individual and organizational goals?

Surveys, like most things, are only as good as the actions that happen from them. I think they are and will remain an important tool for organizations to use, but they are only one small piece of a bigger toolset. We continually get a lot of feedback from employees about the use of surveys. Many feel that surveys are a time-consuming process with minimal or no outcomes, and, as a result, the confidence of many employees in the power of a survey has diminished. Asking employees to do more regular, but shorter, surveys does not solve this problem. Employees want something that can create a culture of continual feedback, communication and recognition between themselves and the business. They want (and expect) more transparency than almost any survey can provide. Surveys need to be part of a far wider solution if they are to have any positive impact. Using them in isolation is very rarely an effective tool for any organization.

Read More: TecHR Series Interview with Carrie Walecka, Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition at Brightcove

Can you share some interesting ways in which teams can enhance internal communication among departments using the right tools and technology? How can companies leverage data-driven HR to realize their full potential?

Communication must be personalized to an employee if it is to have any real impact. The right communication tool allows a business to easily segment communication so that it is only sent to relevant people. Communication tools have to give employees the opportunity to choose what they want to hear and see – choice is critical for engaging employees.

The most successful businesses at internal communication understand that a single approach does not work for everyone. They focus their communication efforts across a variety of different mediums for maximum impact. Employees live in a world where video communication as well as written communication is available. Some employees are better at reading communication while others like watching it, so why would a company only use a single medium to communicate? My own CEO uses both written (blogs) and video communication (vlogs) for his weekly communication to the business, (we strongly encourage all of our clients to have regular communication from senior leadership to employees) to ensure maximum impact. He has even had his blogs translated into different languages as not all of our staff have English as their first-language.

I also always advise our clients to integrate their employee communication tool with as many of their other platforms as possible. Whether it is slack, yammer or anything else, pushing alerts to them from your communications platform is just another way to continually ensure you are communicating with employees in as many places as possible.

I am really glad to see some HR-tech platforms putting more focus into their data and analytics provision. It is something I think HR leaders have been asking for a long time but not had much of a response. Making any business decision without the data behind it is always going to be difficult, especially when it is to do with employees. Giving HR leaders the data they require means moving from a subjective decision-making process to objective decision-making process which means better decisions for the business. HR leaders should be using data to really understand the impact the tools they have (and are paying for) are having on critical business metrics like turnover, absenteeism and productivity. For the first time, HR leaders are going to be able to get data that allows them to proactively identify where they need to focus.

What are your predictions regarding the top 3 trends for 2020 in the field of HR/HR tech?

HR tech will have to become far more effective at producing, using and demonstrating meaningful analytics for businesses and HR leaders. They will also need to be able to provide the technology that can directly link this data to critical business metrics like turnover, absenteeism, productivity and profitability to accurately highlight the relationships and trends that exist. Analytics is going to become a huge part of HR tech, if not the biggest part of it, over the next few years. I expect this will evolve into the leading HR tech platforms using things like machine learning or artificial intelligence to create a more advanced predictive engine that will empower business leaders make better and more proactive decisions around their people.

I expect that there will be a lot of work between different HR tech providers, working closer together to integrate their different tools / systems with each other. Where this does not happen, HR tech platforms will begin to expand their own provision to include a wider range of tools. Clients do not want to have multiple providers for their different HR needs, they want to have as few systems as possible, without sacrificing the experience.

Lastly, I think social employee recognition is going to become even more important and not a ‘nice to have’ tool but a basic expectation from employees. I think the days of traditional employee reward catalogues and the  ‘$50 dollar’ toaster will be replaced by social employee recognition platforms focused on instant recognition and reward, transparency, mobile-experience and employee choice.

Any parting thoughts here you’d like to share? It could be on anything, a motivational tip, work-life balance, etc.

Do what you love!

Read More: TecHR Interview with Pat Palmer, President and CEO at PDS

Reward Gateway

Reward Gateway helps more than 1,800 of the world’s leading companies, in 23 countries, attract, engage, and retain their best people with an employee engagement platform that brings employee benefits, discounts and perks, recognition and reward, employee well-being, employee communications, and employee surveys into one unified hub. Clients include American Express, Unilever, Samsung, IBM, and McDonald’s. For more information, please visit

Rob Boland is the Chief Operating Officer of Reward Gateway, where he is responsible for the Product, Client Success, Implementation, Retail, Secondary Revenue, Client Support, Employee Support and Design teams within the company. His role is to ensure every client and employee has the best experience with Reward Gateway.