Chanda Torrey: “I know you can do this. I have confidence in you”

When giving feedback, whether in person or on the phone, I make sure I deliver it as a “sunshine sandwich”. I start with an honest positive comment on what they are doing great, follow it with what they need to improve, and follow with another positive. And I always end with, “I know you can […]

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When giving feedback, whether in person or on the phone, I make sure I deliver it as a “sunshine sandwich”. I start with an honest positive comment on what they are doing great, follow it with what they need to improve, and follow with another positive. And I always end with, “I know you can do this. I have confidence in you”. This way, it doesn’t make them feel defeated and lose confidence.

Asa part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chanda Torrey, CEO, Gifter World.

Chanda Torrey spent most of her life in the nonprofit sector including working for the Peace Corps in Belize. Most recently, she was the Chief Development Officer of the Red Cross where she retired from in 2019. Since then, she started Gifter World, an online store for unique gift ideas for those who have everything.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

After working for almost 20 years in the nonprofit sector, I was exhausted from working 12+ hours a day and decided to retire. It was glorious for about 6 weeks because I did nothing but have lunch with friends, sleep, read… and who am I kidding… I watched a ton of TV. But then I started feeling lost. I had worked my whole life so I had always been defined by my job so suddenly, I didn’t know who I was. I needed to do something.

Years ago, I had an idea and thought, “Maybe I should try it”…

My whole life I was terrified of buying gifts for people. I worried they wouldn’t like it so I wouldn’t give them anything or I would buy them something and then throw it away. At one point, I bought gifts for my whole family, wrapped them, put them in the trunk of my car, and then chickened out. Years later, a friend found them in my car and forced me to mail them. I have no idea what was in them because they were already wrapped. To this day, I hope they weren’t gifts of cheese or something.

Then my life changed when I found a website that gave great ideas for gifts. I realized I was doing it all wrong. I was trying to find a gift that they wanted or needed, but most adults just buy what they want. I realized the key to gift-giving was to find fun stuff they wouldn’t get themselves and maybe something they’ve never heard about before. That website changed my life but it changed their format after a couple of years so I was back to square one.

At that point, I wanted to start a website for people like me so I could help them, but I was too busy and too scared. So, when I finally retired and found myself looking for meaning, I decided to go for it. It was the scariest thing I have ever done and I had no idea what I was doing, but I dove in headfirst with starting Gifter World and I am so glad I did.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Gifter World only has items that have 4+ stars and many reviews. We search the internet for the best, unique products and ensure we have the best prices, so you know the product will be of high quality and fun. Every item on our site is something I love so it is basically a list of my favorite things. And we offer a service nobody else does… If you don’t see what you want on our site, email me with information about the recipient and I will search the internet for the perfect gift for them even if it is on a different website.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I lived in Belize for 4 ½ years while working with the Peace Corps and I had to give a business presentation on accounting and building a business, but the audience only spoke Spanish and I only spoke English. I spent three weeks studying every Spanish word imaginable that could possibly come up. I was able to do the presentation in Spanish and answer questions. Learning Spanish in that way was definitely harder than learning the basics first, but I managed. To this day, I can have a business discussion in Spanish but can’t ask you basic questions.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started my website, I had no idea how to create a website. I studied online courses, watched YouTube videos, and read everything I could find in order to learn. After working on my site for 60+hours a week for 6 weeks, I pushed the wrong button and my website disappeared from the internet. I panicked because I thought all of my hard work was gone forever. Luckily, someone was able to help me undo my mistake and everything was restored, but I still get anxious just thinking about it. But I learned that most mistakes can be fixed and not to panic just because I don’t know the resolution right away.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I believe in “working hard, not long”. When I see that my team is working long hours without taking breaks, it usually means their productivity it going down. I encourage them to take breaks and go on vacations because their mental health is most important. I set my email so they don’t go out after working hours so my team doesn’t receive an email at 10 pm and think they need to respond and I make sure to take vacations also. It’s important for them to see me take care of myself so they don’t feel guilty when they do it.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is getting your team to work together and not against each other. I stress teamwork in every staff meeting and encourage everyone to work together to get to the end goal. We have weekly meetings and everyone shares a ‘win’ and something they are struggling with so the whole team can help come up with solutions. It is inevitable that someone will have some ideas they haven’t thought about yet so it leads them to reach out to each other often to share ideas and bounce ideas off of each other.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

The most important thing to do is to prepare. Know your content and the attendees in the meeting. If you don’t know them, then do your research about them so you know who you are speaking to. If you work hard and plan it out, then you can rest easier the night before and not be as nervous.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

I have managed teams from 3 people to 200 and everything in between. It is obviously easier with fewer people, but either way, it is important to stay consistent, give feedback in a timely way, and schedule regular meetings to discuss what is going well and what can use improvement.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

If you don’t give feedback, then they don’t know what they are doing good or what they can improve upon. Positive feedback is just as important as negative feedback because it helps them build confidence and allows them to think outside of the box for creative solutions.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. When giving feedback, whether in person or on the phone, I make sure I deliver it as a “sunshine sandwich”. I start with an honest positive comment on what they are doing great, follow it with what they need to improve, and follow with another positive. And I always end with, “I know you can do this. I have confidence in you”. This way, it doesn’t make them feel defeated and lose confidence.
  2. Giving feedback to remote employees is obviously harder because it can come across as harsh and they may misunderstand the intention. If I can’t meet face to face, I use Skype. It allows you to look them in the eyes and they can read your intention better.
  3. It’s important to put regular meetings on the calendar when your team is remote or you may forget about them. I meet with each team member weekly via video even if it is just to touch base and make sure they are doing ok and don’t need any guidance.
  4. Team meetings are important for them to share accomplishments and help each other with obstacles. If we can’t get together in person on a regular basis, then I schedule team skype calls. Each person says a win and something they need help with and the rest of the team brainstorms a solution. It holds them accountable to the team, but it also helps to build teamwork with coworkers they rarely see.
  5. Throughout my career, I have had staff all over the country, but I think it is important to make an effort to see them in person as much as possible. I make trips to see each person often for one-on-one meetings and also schedule quarterly team outings where we can have an in-person meeting and then do something fun for the day. I have taken my team bowling, to an escape room, picnics, hip-hop dance class, pottery class, and more. They love the goofy activities and it allows us to have face to face time together.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

You need to start by saying what they are doing well so you aren’t just bashing them and then state the issue as facts and avoid hearsay. Give actionable direction so they understand what needs to be done. It is important to avoid being overly critical in email because it will come across as being harsh.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

If there is a specific incident, it is best to pull the person aside and privately speak with them about it so it is fresh in their mind. However, if it is in the midst of a highly stressful situation such as an event or completing a big project, I usually wait until the next day so they can calm down and be clear-minded and open to a discussion.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

Being a great boss is understanding each person’s strengths and weaknesses and how to allow them to tap into their power. Years ago, I was hired to come into businesses to help them figure out what was wrong. Turns out, most of the time it was because they had people working on the wrong things. I was able to observe to see how the team could work together so their strengths complemented each other. Put someone in the right position and they will thrive.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

When I was first starting out in the business world, someone took me under their wings and hired me even though I didn’t have the experience yet. They believed in me and that made me try harder than I’ve ever tried before. Because of that, I believe in giving people a chance. I will hire someone with a great attitude any day because I can teach them the other stuff. A person is born with true grit or not and it is hard to teach and that is a quality I am willing to bet on.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This is a little embarrassing, but there was a line in Nanny Diaries that I heard over 10 years ago that really resonated with me. It said, “There’s a popular belief amongst anthropologists that you must immerse yourself in an unfamiliar world in order to truly understand your own.” I don’t know if an anthropologist actually said this or if it was just a cheesy line in a romantic comedy, but anyone who has traveled the world understands this. I have lived abroad a couple of times in my life and those experiences have allowed me to understand people on a deeper level than before. We all want the same things but sometimes our communication is different so we must learn to listen. By getting out of your small town, it allows you to get to know others in a new way.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We post daily updates for unique gifts on our Facebook page so be sure to follow us there or check out Gifter World.

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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