“The creative adult is the child who survived.” – Ursula K. Le Guin
For some managers, gifting is one of the hardest things about the holidays. From the etiquette for peers and executives to gift selections for direct reports, the whole process can feel anything but joyous. Following are some tips to help you successfully navigate the holidays and make an impression on those to whom you do give a gift.
The Gift Basics
There are three types of gifts we’re going to focus on: cards, small candy boxes and marquee gifts. In all cases, you will need to understand how your community and your potential recipients treat the holidays. If you know the person, and you feel comfortable wishing them a Happy Hanukkah or Merry Christmas, for example, go for it. If you’re unsure, stick with Happy Holidays or Happy New Year (yes, they have Happy New Year cards).
You’re going to buy a box of cards that fit either your personality or that of the company. These are for people other than direct reports. For your team, you’re going to get either individual cards that you’ve chosen for the person or a box that fits the personality of the team. The goal here is to show that you think of your team as distinct from everyone else.
Finally, you’re also going to get (or make) small boxes of candies (like these from Starbucks). You’ll only buy as many as needed for peers you’re likely to exchange gifts with and your manager plus one or two extras.
Gifting Up and Across
Let’s get the etiquette part out of the way first. As a general rule of thumb for managing up, you never want to make your manager feel like they have erred. This goes for gifting, too.
If you have a history with your manager, this is easy. Follow the pattern from last year. If she gave you a gift, get one for her. If she didn’t, don’t get one. The only problematic change that could happen is if she didn’t get a gift last year but does get one for you this year. Fortunately, you will have the extra candy box gift. Problem solved.
If this is your first holiday season with your manager, lead with the card and only add the gift if you’re feeling generous or you gave a gift to your previous manager in the same organization.
Gift for your peers like you would for friends. If you work in the trenches together and would keep in touch with them as friends after one of you leaves the organization, it’s pretty safe to gift. There’s little blowback for not gifting to peers. If a peer catches you unprepared, you’ll have the extra candy box. Crisis averted.
Getting Creative for Your Team
There are two rules I live by when choosing marquee gifts for direct reports: pleasure and presentation. Whenever possible, the gift should provide or invoke pleasure or relaxation. You’re associated with work already. This is a chance to change that.
Presentation counts. It supports the notion that you took the time to get things right. Plan ahead and you won’t have to skimp on it.
Here are some gift ideas:
- Wine is a popular gift. If giving it doesn’t violate your organization’s rules or culture, you can do so with a bit of flair. One year I gave everyone on my sales team a bottle of wine. I went to Paper Source to choose unique ornaments for each person and tied the ornament to the bottle with high-end ribbon. Simple, easy and elegant.
- Food is tough given allergies, but condiments can often be safe choices. Find a market that provides imported spreads, dips, and sauces. Choose the flavor and heat based on the person’s personality. Find boxes that are just a size or two larger and use tissue paper to pad the gift. When you wrap the box, and you should wrap the box, make sure the tissue paper, wrapping paper, and ribbon match. Many places also provide decorated boxes like these. These will cost more but save you time. You only need a nice, matching ribbon.
- Candy is rarely a bad choice which is why you should step up your game if you gift it. Buy candy that fits the taste profile of the recipient. Keep in mind any allergies and find alternatives that are popular. Make sure your choice is different. If you live in San Francisco, buy something other than Ghiradelli’s. If you live in Chicago, buy something other than See’s. Find artisanal, small batch chocolates with unique flavors. It’s okay if the candy is a bar in a wrapper. You’re going to box it anyway (see food above).
- Gift cards are not high on my list but are sometimes necessary. This is when you’ll veer away from an individual focus. Buy cards that offer maximum choices such as Amazon, Starbucks or a Visa gift card. If you go this route, focus your energies on a custom message for each person in the holiday card you chose for them. That’s where the thoughtfulness will be seen and felt.
The holidays are a chance to get creative. You get to take all you’ve learned about your direct reports, peers, and managers, and translate that knowledge into an appreciation for them. Let them know you’ve seen them and you’ll set the stage for an even better new year.