Interview with Marcus Thornley, Founder & CEO at Play Consulting, The Studio Behind Employee Engagement App: Totem

Totem is an employee engagement and culture app that helps to bring teams together. We provide a platform for teams to create their own digital space, where they can establish community and deliver positive recognition.

Business leaders are also able to learn about and gain insights into their company culture.

Totem is composed of two parts. The first is the employee engagement app, which is a simple to use platform where employees can share exemplary work from across the business, stay in touch, and recognise and celebrate one another. The second is a web-based machine learning analytics engine that safely analyses sentiment within posts, before delivering results to business leaders – providing a full understanding of the level of engagement within a business.
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How did you come up with the idea for the company?

Company culture is a fundamental part of any successful business. No matter how earth-shatteringly good your product is, the reality remains that you’ll have to rely on people in some way shape or form. People work more effectively when they’re happy, and maintaining positive company culture is one of the best ways to ensure that your team’s positivity remains intact.

However, for most businesses, it’s almost impossible to measure culture in a meaningful way. Not only does this make culture difficult to improve, but it also leaves companies at risk of being blindsided by a sudden drop in wellbeing.

Nearly every other aspect of business has been transformed by the data revolution – and most processes now rely heavily on insightful real-time data. However, HR has been left behind. The idea for Totem came from my belief that this data-led approach could let companies measure culture, allowing them to realise human potential and meaning at work.


What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

The first thing you need to do is become comfortable with risk. To truly make an impact as a company, you’ll need to travel on paths of greater resistance. Most great innovations come from brand-new, and often untested ideas. While this does make them risky, those that pay off will result in greater success.

Secondly, I’d stress the importance of being driven by values rather than profits. Find real meaning in what you do. A genuine belief in what you’re creating will give you the resilience to persevere through tough times, profits won’t.

Finally, be sure to surround yourself with the right team. I know it’s popular to think of entrepreneurs as this singular heroic individual who gets everything done by themselves, but the reality is that most meaningful success is achieved with the support of others.

What can we hope to see from Totem in the future?

Totem will continue to build on novel data insights, gamifying these to drive real-world improvements. We’ll continue to provide more insights to the end user, expanding on our current platform to also deliver insights to employees, rather than just business leaders.

We’ll also develop more partnerships. With there being lots of fragmentation in the HR technology landscape, there’s ample opportunity for integration, creating singular views across our platform.