Personalized Recognition: How to Ask the Right Questions

In our blog post How to Successfully Recognize your Generationally Diverse Workforce, we broke down the differences between generations in the workforce to help you get started with recognizing and engaging a diverse workforce.  However, if you are leading a team, you can’t rely solely on generational characteristics.  That’s not going to help you get to know each employee as a unique individual.  But...what will?  

Asking the right questions!  The ability to deliver impactful recognition at the right time, in the right way, with the right reward is built upon your ability, as a manager, to understand your employees and what really makes each of them tick. And if you get this right, you can improve the employee experience and drive better results!

The Three Principles of Employee Recognition

Effective, impactful and meaningful employee recognition is built upon three main principles:

Right Time

Don’t wait to recognize an employee! Timely recognition that occurs as close to the performance or actions that are being recognized reinforces and encourages an employee. Immediate recognition increases feelings of value, which is an important aspect of engagement. It is also important to keep in mind the element of surprise. While frequent recognition is important, too much can appear in-genuine.

Right Way

Not all employees desire to be recognized in the same way, so it’s important to ask the right questions to understand what would be most meaningful to each of them. Some may thrive off of public recognition, while others may shy away from being in the spotlight. It is also important that the recognition comes from the right person. Some may thrive off of peer-to-peer recognition, while others may find a note from the CEO to be much more meaningful. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.

Right Reward

Similarly, individual employees will find different rewards more impactful than others. To some, a handwritten note acknowledging a workiversary will go a lot further than a plaque. Others may appreciate additional PTO, a gift card to their favorite restaurant, or the chance to expand their professional knowledge with access to high level training. It’s important to avoid assuming that all employees view monetary rewards as most meaningful. Rewards don’t always have to be tangible but they should always be unique to the individual. Everyone is motivated differently.


Asking the Right Questions

Asking questions is the only way to get to know your employees on the individual level necessary to meaningfully recognize them in an impactful way. But we know that the availability of time and knowing what questions to ask are two struggles that many managers face. That’s where Sparck comes into play.

To help you deliver recognition at the right time, the right way, with the right reward, we’ve built questions into the core of our recognition experience at Sparck! And now, we’re going to give you a sneak peek and share some of them with you to get started.

These questions have been designed to get to know how each employee ticks, so you can give personalized recognition that boosts employee engagement, productivity, and retention! The answers to these questions will help you understand how each person feels valued in the workplace. These questions can help you get to know the human behind the employee. Do you know your team’s favorite hobbies, snacks, sports teams, or professional goals? This information does make a difference!

Below, we have broken down a few of our questions into three different sections so you are equipped to create memorable recognition experiences. After all, did you know that you hold a 70% influence over your team’s commitment? Wowza!

Personal Questions

These questions are designed to understand the employee outside the office, which among other things, can guide you when tangibly recognizing a job well done. For example:

  • What are your favorite drinks?
  • What are your favorite desserts?
  • What are your favorite hobbies?
  • When you have a day off what is your favorite thing to do?

Professional Questions

These questions are designed to give you an understanding of how your employees tick professionally and what they value most at work. For example:

  • What are your biggest goals this year?
  • What types of training(s) would you like to attend?
  • What are your favorite things to work on?
  • What types of projects are you most interested in?

Recognition Questions

These questions are designed to identify recognition preferences and the company perks or rewards that are most meaningful to them. These should be tailored based on your recognition program and internal culture. For instance, if you don’t celebrate birthdays then don’t find out how they would like to celebrate in the office. If you don’t have a year end party, don’t ask if that’s how they would like to be recognized. If additional PTO isn’t one of your perks, don’t mention it. Giving options that aren’t available will do more harm than good.

For example:

  • What would mean more to you? A company-wide email recognizing your year-end accomplishments or hearing from your manager?
  • What type of recognition means the most to you? Verbal appreciation, being given more responsibilities, a raise or promotion, or something else?
  • Do you like to celebrate your birthday in the office or keep it quiet?
  • What company perk would you love to receive and why?
  • Do you prefer gift cards or experiences? If so, where?

These questions are meant to equip you with the tools you need to support each team member instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to do, but uncovering how each person feels valued is the first step to creating a more innovative and productive team.



Now that you’ve asked the right questions, it’s time to bring the “Sparck Moment” to life. We’re going to show you how with an example from our friend Matt Walters, who is the Engineering Manager at Hooli.

The Scene

Matt received his calendar alert 30 days in advance to remind him that two of his employees had workiversaries coming up. James and Claire both started at the company 5-years ago. Matt incorporated the Sparck questions into his onboarding process to make recognition a priority to increase retention and performance. He found that it was far more effective and saved him a lot of time. Prior to this he spent hours trying to identify the best rewards or perks for each person and when to recognize them. Fast forward to today, as soon as Matt received his alert for James and Claire, he took a look at their recognition preference sheets.

  • How would you like to celebrate your workiversary? What would mean the most to you?
  • What are some of your favorite hobbies?
  • What are your biggest goals this year?

For James, a company-wide email recognizing his workiversary would mean a lot. He stays behind the scenes mostly, so a bit of public acknowledgement would feel really good. James plays golf and jokingly (well, somewhat anyway) indicated that he’d love to play with Matt who he knows is an avid golfer.

When James arrives at work on the big day, he finds a golf designed envelope on his desk with a handwritten thank you note from Matt, asking if he’d like to join him for a round of 18 one weekend to celebrate. When he opens his inbox, he sees a company-wide email from Matt congratulating him on his milestone and thanking him for all of the hard work he has put in since joining the company, particularly with the recent tech upgrades and server overhaul.

Claire is a bit different than James. She prefers things to be kept on the “down low.” A quiet thank you and a chance to talk to her manager one-on-one would be most meaningful. Claire loves her local hockey team and has always wanted to take her son to see the team play in person. Claire has a goal to be promoted to a team director by the end of the year and would really appreciate the opportunity to learn more from Matt.

When Claire arrives to work on the big day, Matt asks to meet with her. He congratulates Claire on achieving her milestone workiversary. Matt invites Claire to collaborate on a new account with him and offers to mentor her along the way. But that’s not all. As Claire is leaving to return to her desk, excited about the opportunity to work closely with her boss, she is handed an envelope. Inside she finds two tickets to next week’s hockey game for her and her son.


While James and Claire are celebrating the same event, they are very different from one another. By asking the right questions, Matt was able to celebrate their accomplishments and dedication in a meaningful and engaging way. This means a lot to James and Claire, and Matt is able to save time and money by quickly investing in the right areas. 

After all, research shows that meaningful recognition needs to happen at the right time, in the right way, with the right reward.  You have an opportunity to personalize the employee experience and drive better results. What you do and say matters, and we are here to help you lead a stronger and more committed team!



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