I read one of those stunning facts this week. Pieces of information that I always I knew was likely, but that I never knew was true…or about which I never really knew full details. As is often the case, this fact I read when travelling to a meeting. A regular meeting with a partner client where we talk about our progress, and our future together.
The fact? More than $2B of gift cards purchased in 2013 are expected to remain unused. Those gift cards we all give and all receive. Starbucks. iTunes. Amazon. Staples. You name it. Everyone has their own version available to buy and to give. Everywhere. And at almost any value you want. They are generic, fast, simple, and take virtually no thought.
And two billion dollars’ worth will never be used. Stunning! But conceivable. I often give these cards and I definitely get them. And I know I still have some, somewhere…unused. The clue though, to the explanation for $2B, is in those few words ‘…generic, fast, simple, and virtually no thought’.
The analogy I drew (on my way back from our partner meeting) is to a different gift we all give and receive. The ‘gift of feedback’.
“You’ve had a good year. You’ve worked well. Have done a lot. But need to work on your leadership skills.” Such feedback is simple to prepare and easy to give. And is often prefaced along the lines of ‘…do with it as you see fit…’ But – and thinking back to those generic gift cards – such feedback is also easy to file and even easier to forget about all together.
So for any gift – feedback or birthday present – to be of real value, it has to involve some care and some thought. Care and thought about the recipient. About our relationship with the recipient. About what we know of them. About their interests and their desires.
There is much published on how to make feedback more helpful and valuable to the recipient. I guess that – in effect – this is feedback to feedback givers. Best I can tell though, most of the guidance comes to a similar set of three or four points. This is what I try to do…sometimes less, and sometimes more, successfully…
I look to describe the situation specifically, factually and with context, and in an as timely manner as possible. I try to describe behaviours as clearly as possible from my own viewpoint – always seeking to avoid interpreting motivation or drawing conclusion. I describe impact on me – good or not so good; it’s about personal impact rather than abstract impact on others, or on the wider organization. And lastly I will sometimes offer ‘feedforward’ – describing behaviors that could be repeated or changed when opportunity next arises.
At the end of my week I was reflecting on feedback. Given by others to me. By me to others. By us to partners and by partners to us. In every case I know the intent is always positive. I have yet to meet anyone who offers feedback with malicious intent. But I also reflected how some feedback is so much more effective – easier for me to learn from, use or react to. And how some feedback I offer seems to work well…and how some doesn’t. And my takeaway is from that $2B of unused gift cards – success requires care and thought about the recipient.
Giving or getting quality feedback should be personal and should be specific. It is about our relationship with the recipient. It is about our relationship with the giver.
I resolved to be a better giver…and a better getter.