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Feedback is for Life, Not Just For Christmas

Christmas in the non-secular calendar is a time of giving, receiving, feasting and staying close to those we love the most. For those with religious faith it is much more, but the concept of showing our love and appreciation through the presenting of gifts is a common theme.

But Christmas is also a time when the distinction between those that have and those that have not is made most obvious. Excess and poverty are to be seen side by side in every store, every street, and every town.

Of course, material possessions are only one form of riches, and once we have enough of those to satisfy our basic needs it’s a process of diminishing returns the more we acquire. Once basic needs are satisfied, another type of poverty starts to become apparent.

The type of poverty that that exists in so many companies, institutions and teams is the Poverty of Potential. The talents of people are being squandered, underutilised and under-developed by poor management practices, rigid work patterns, and a lack of imagination in the way we structure the use of resources. At the heart of this seems to be a failure to give and receive feedback.

We all rely heavily on feedback in order to grow, but most of us have to scrap around looking for any hint or clue. We often need to be totally self-reliant with teasing out learning from our experiences, operating within a vacuum of feedback from our peers or those who manage us.

It’s become a bit of a cliché to say that ‘feedback is a gift’, but perhaps that’s because it is! And the giving of gifts to those we love is something we take quite seriously, especially at Christmas. It gives us pleasure because we know of the pleasure and benefit it brings to those we care about. Some of us work ourselves up into a state of frenzy as we search for that perfect gift or dream up a wonderful surprise. Everyone benefits: the giver and the receiver (and the retailer!).

Workplaces across the world will be organising themselves for Secret Santa. Each

person buys one gift up to a pre-authorised value for one other colleague, but no-one is supposed to know who it’s from. It’s a great way of ensuring no-one goes without a gift without it breaking everyone’s bank.

And that’s because we see the giving of gifts as something important, special, and kind. We know what it feels like to receive a gift and we want others to feel the same.

But what would happen if one person chose NOT to play. What if a colleague opted out? One person would not receive a Christmas gift. That’s a different kind of feedback and one that’s a lot less welcome.

Secret Santa relies on everyone buying into the concept of giving and receiving. The giver knows who they’re buying for and has a responsibility to find something that they think would be welcomed by the receiver. The receiver doesn’t know what they will get as it’s meant to be a surprise (although they may have been dropping very big hints about what they want!). So there’s the possibility that what they get won’t be something high on their wish list. There’s a limit to how many snuggle socks a person can make use of, but receiving graciously is part of the pact.

It’s a system built on shared values, shared appreciation, and shared responsibility. And it relies on everyone contributing to make it work.

Whilst a useful metaphor for feedback, Secret Santa has three features that make it different:

  1. it’s done in secret

  2. each person only gives to one other

  3. it only happens once a year

For feedback to begin transforming our workplaces, feed our growth and draw us out of potential poverty, we all need to sign up to giving it freely, openly, caringly, and regularly.

After all, feedback is for life, not just for Christmas.

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