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Point of View

The gift that keeps on giving

September 09, 2020

I had a manager who gave me the book “Feedback is a Gift.” At the time, it didn’t feel like much of a gift – mostly because her method for feedback was, well, constant. But her heart was in the right place.

Rather than waiting until review time, she was trying to provide feedback closer to when she saw something. For a while I would brace myself and become anxious before every one-on-one as I prepared for the “gifts.” Eventually, though, we found a rhythm with feedback and I started to see how feedback was a gift if I listened, asked questions, and checked in.

As annual review time starts at Delve (and, yes, I know there is controversy on the value of the annual review), I find myself reflecting on that “gift” experience and on some of the impactful feedback I’ve received over the years. Even if I didn’t really appreciate it or want to hear it at the time, some of their words have really stuck.

Here are some of the most meaningful feedback gifts I’ve received, because they continue to stick with me:

  • If you’re only happy one day a year, then we have a problem.” This was advice that a manager gave to my team as he kicked off the annual review process. He was speaking to the issue that some people are only happy on that one day a year when/if they find out if they got a raise or praise. If that’s your only good day of the year, then you’re in the wrong work or your heart is in the wrong place. Hearing that helped me try to re-frame what an annual review was and that if it ever started to be my one good day a year, then it was time to think about some things.
  • “I can’t read your mind.” An annual review and career discussion early in my career helped me realize that the only person who could get me to where I want to be in my career is me. I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting some of the project opportunities I wanted, but the problem was that I never said I wanted them. I thought my performance would speak for itself to get me on some stretch projects that I really wanted. But because I never told my manager and others did voice their interest, they got the assignments. When I voiced some frustration, my manager voiced his own frustration: how would he have known if I didn’t tell him?
  • There are 24 hours in a day.” This came from a manager during a conversation about my workload – and impending burnout. Somehow, my meeting with him to talk about how I would like to work less than 60 hours/week turned into a conversation about how I could capitalize on all hours of the day – all 24, not just 8! I started looking for a new job after that conversation.
  • It’s not ‘impossible’.” Ironically, this is not from the same manager who reminded me there are 24 hours in a day, even though part of the solution to this “impossible” problem was to put in a lot of hours. My small team and I were up against a pretty big deadline to create some reports and tools for an entire sales force and trying some things that had never been done before. Based on how long it was taking us to do just a few market areas, we estimated it would take a couple months, but we only had about six weeks. Besides some midnight oil (and, dinners paid for by the manager!), we found the solution in creating a work plan, dividing and conquering based on each other’s strengths, and experimenting with some task automation. As much as we didn’t want him to be right, he was – it wasn’t impossible because we found ways to make it happen.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.” For my first summer internship as an undergrad, my mentor gave me a book with this title as a goodbye gift. I can tell you that it’s probably the most important advice I’ve gotten, but it took about 15 years to appreciate it. The challenge is knowing what’s small and if you really should sweat it when my natural tendency is to assume it’s all big and requires an enormous amount of sweat.

I feel like this is a good place to say, “Cue the eye roll.” It’s how I felt when I got that book many moons ago. I get it. But, with age comes experience (and maybe – maybe – even some hints of wisdom). So, if this piece inspires you to think about feedback you’ve received and to make your feedback more meaningful, then feedback really is the gift that keeps on giving.

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Design Concepts is now Delve. Learn more about our new brand. →