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Sparck Focus: Manager Engagement and Certification, Authentic Appreciation, ROI Analytics

SparckFounded in 2017, California-based Sparck Recognition appears to be taking a somewhat different approach to recognition than most of its competitors, perhaps because the founder doesn’t come from the world of rewards or technology.

Disconnect Between Recognition Investments and Results
A Focus on Highly Customized Rewards Experiences
With a background in corporate leadership coaching, business development, and community affairs, Anna Straus doesn’t have her roots in the rewards and technology businesses from which most of her company’s competitors come. That is perhaps why her company may come at the business with a different approach.
Anna StrausOffering a technology platform with many of the same survey and social recognition tools as her competitors, she says what sets her company apart is the focus on training all levels of management on leadership and recognition, including a certification program on employee engagement; a focus on creating highly authentic and customized reward experiences between givers and receivers, and using the platform’s survey module and the data generated from all activities to assess not only engagement levels but manager and team effectiveness; areas of potential improvement, and the results of actions taken to address the identified issues.
The company says its services address employee recognition, social recognition, performance analytics to personalize strategies, management coaching and help identifying at-risk employees; employee feedback and suggestions, and data benchmarking to track progress.

Disconnect Between Recognition Investments and Results

What led her to start the company?  “I've worked with executives for over 15 years around the world on their talent engagement attraction and retention strategies. And one of the biggest disconnects that I see is the amount of money that employers spend on employee rewards and perks to keep their employees happy and loyal. Yet, as we were conducting focus groups and doing a lot of interviews, what we found is that people were still leaving, and a big part of that is because they didn't feel appreciated. And so that disconnect is what really sparked my curiosity.”
Because of her background as “a certified leadership coach, trainer, and speaker, I go in and work with many management and leadership teams. What became apparent to me is that many managers aren’t equipped with the right tools and insights to really uncover how their team members feel appreciated and what motivates them. But also, everyone feels appreciated differently. There really is an art and science to how people feel appreciated. The recognition needs to happen at the right time in the right way with the right reward. Truly addressing the coaching and leadership skills of managers and enabling the creation of meaningful reward experiences is the essence of what we do at Sparck.”
One of the company’s key areas of focus is on manager adoption, she notes. The company has developed a manager certification program on employee recognition as part of its customer onboarding process based on a micro-learning platform. “The program teaches them the art of recognition...When is the right time, what is the right way, and of course in the process we show them how to leverage our technology to achieve that.”  This has helped enhance user adoption by 2.5 times, she says. Managers who successfully complete the Sparck program receive the company’s employee engagement certification.

A Focus on Highly Customized Rewards Experiences

She believes another area of differentiation is the degree to which the Sparck technology facilitates highly personal reward experiences “that really serve as a coaching tool for managers. For instance, managers are not only alerted when it’s someone’s birthday or work anniversary but are also informed, with the help of AI, what would mean the most to the recipient as an expression of appreciation; for instance, would that be a shout out at a meeting or maybe not? If your company has a specific budget, the system will prompt the manager on what that individual might like in terms of a gift that the individual would especially appreciate as well as provide suggestions on what to provide in the note. The gift is announced in an electronic card, which the person can accept; exchange for something else. or bank for future use. Instead of giving out points, Straus suggests it’s more meaningful to pick out a gift specifically based on someone’s hobbies and interests, knowing they can exchange it.
Straus believes that human resources management has an increasing seat at the management table, partly spurred by the pandemic and now the growing need for companies to disclose people management practices potentially accelerated by the impact of the European Union Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. “One of the main things that we focus on when we sell to human resources is the value proposition of our solution, because the next stage for them is to really get that executive buy-in to move forward. This is not only for the actual purchase of the solution but also to ensure that senior management is buying into the entire process, because most solutions will fall flat if there isn't executive and manager buy-in.”
And so, she stresses, “ROI is one of the main things that we want to focus on, not only for our own conversations when we talk with executive teams, but to really equip HR leaders with those conversations.” To that end, the company as developed various tools, including an ROI analysis toolkit that looks at the costs of absenteeism, turnover, as well as benefits of increases in sales and productivity; an Employee Engagement survey toolkit, and a Workplace Appreciation quiz to determine employee appreciation styles. One of the benefits of her company’s approach, she says, is that the longer Sparck works with clients and has a chance to analyze the data over time, the better it can help organizations identify what’s working and what isn’t to take corrective action.
Using data from the platform, she says, clients can better visualize which teams are working effectively and which have issues, and whether the actions taken to address the issues have worked.
Unlike many other recognition firms, Sparck has developed a strategy for selling her company’s services through coaching and human resources advisory firms seeking to bring a more formal people management solution to their clients. Her company offers a complete training and certification program for practitioners and all the tools needed by certified solution providers to help clients benefit, she says.
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Bridget Cullinane

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