Startup of the Month: Sparck

Back Web Only Oct 9, 2019 By Russell Nichols

If your manager tosses you a $200 gift card for reaching a milestone, it’s nothing personal — and according to Anna Straus, that’s a problem when it comes to employee retention and workplace productivity. Her Sacramento-based startup, Sparck, is developing a web platform to teach managers how to make employees feel valued in a personal way.

“Perks have become such a standard, there is no longer a differentiating point,” says Straus, who launched Sparck in May 2018. “It’s mind-blowing. So many large companies have ping pong tables and five different chefs and baristas on site, but they still can’t hold onto their employees.”

Sparck compiles data from two sources: an in-house questionnaire and an engagement survey created by B. Lynn Ware, an organizational psychologist. The questionnaire helps employers customize how employees are recognized and rewarded. For instance, an employee who reaches a milestone might want to be acknowledged at a quarterly staff meeting rather than receive a gift card. This information is collected and stored in Sparck’s web platform, where managers can keep track of performance and receive alerts.

As an add-on service, the engagement survey analyzes five different areas of performance, including growth. The results can be broken down by department, manager and other demographic filters. The data equips employers with information on where to invest their time and money to get the greatest returns on retention and productivity, Straus says. This survey can be a stand-alone cost for a client, but subscribing to the full Sparck platform allows clients to have survey results integrated.

With a background in recruiting and leadership development, Straus saw a pattern of employers with the best of intentions who didn’t know how to connect with their employees. Straus compares the platform to a CRM (customer relationship management), but with a focus on educating managers to “understand how each person ticks in regard to capturing the full recognition experience.” According to Ware, this is a critical piece in employee satisfaction.

“My company has done a lot of survey work in business over 25 years,” says Ware, CEO of Integral Talent Systems, a talent management consulting firm in Palo Alto. “Employees not feeling recognized is one of the top five items that people complain about in exit interview surveys.”

The Sparck model is especially useful for millenials, who Ware says see the division between work life and home life a lot less solid than previous generations did. “I think the lines between family and work, it’s more blended for early-career employees,” she says. “When they’re coming to work, they’re expecting to be treated as a person.”

One of the biggest roadblocks in developing the Sparck platform was getting the design right. When Straus showed an early iteration to an expert, the feedback wasn’t stellar. “He said, ‘Anna, you are all about human connection and there’s nothing human about this technology,’” she recalls. “We scrapped our whole platform, redesigned, rebuilt the whole thing.”

It took nine months to rebuild. But with the redesign and an exclusive partnership with Ware’s company, Sparck started gaining traction. Currently funded by venture capitalists and an angel investor, Straus is now looking to raise $500,000. Three beta clients are testing out the platform. The full platform is expected to be ready in early 2020. 

Ware decided to collaborate with Straus because of her positive energy and enthusiasm, and also the uniqueness of the platform. Other employee recognition platforms exist, but they don’t link action plans for managers to personalize recognition with engagement levels of their teams, Ware says. If you’re a manager, knowing exactly what to do to inspire that extra boost in your employees can be mutually beneficial for the individual and the company.

“I know managers can give gifts and cards, but a lot of times people just want a simple, ‘Thank you for working hard,’” Ware says. “They would like if you said, ‘I know you killed yourself this week, take the afternoon off.’ Just the fact somebody noticed is a big deal. It says they’re not a cog in the wheel, and that can go a long way.”

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Jodi Riolo (not verified)October 18, 2019 - 9:43am

Great article on employee recognition. I can attest first hand that employees value verbal recognition among all their peers as opposed to a gift card or other monetary reward kept in private. A public "pat on the back" is a great incentive. If only this would catch on.