When I am supervising staff or working with others, one of the things I listen for most is their personal preferences for things (approximately) under $5. And then I write them down so I remember them. Later, this information becomes a treasure trove for "the perfect something" to enhance a note of recognition or to express appreciation for a job well done.
My list has quite the variance. I know that a certain person likes Three Musketeers, while another loves salt water taffy, and yet another can't get enough of Sour Patch Kids. Some on my list would most appreciate a peppermint latte, while others would like a Pez dispenser, a Flair marker, a stress ball, cupcake sprinkles, a holiday tie, alligator office clips, Inkjoy pens or an orange Dreamsicle. I know who likes diet Coke and who prefers diet Pepsi, who likes unicorns and who has a thing for owls. I even know that someone likes pink Starburst (only) and that someone else likes just the dark chocolate Frango mints.
If it's a low cost item, I take note when someone comments that they would like something. In the past, that has been a certain color earrings they couldn't find, something from the Smart Women collection, a first-of-the-season caramel apple or a scarf in spirit colors. There is often a lag between the comment and the perfect moment to present it, but that can make an even greater impact.
While it's important to learn about your colleague's family and big things in their life, there is great untapped potential that comes from learning about the little things too. Recognition has so much more power when the token is specific and meaningful to the recipient. Listen and pay attention to the little loves, and you will get much more bang from your buck or two.
-- beth triplett