• Feedback – a can of Worms!


    “Conway’s Law: In any organization there will always be one person who knows what is going on; eventually this person will be fired.”

    – Anonymous

    Giving feedback at the hospital

    Giving feedback at the hospital

    The administration at the hospital pleaded, then threatened, and then, when all else failed, pleaded again, for the staff to provide feedback.

    They sounded too sincere and could take my feedback too seriously: that couldn’t be too good for my budding career! Enough reason to think twice before putting pen to paper.


    But my close friend and confidante, a colleague at work, PK, felt more enthused, and decided to give some feedback for the administrative department. Combine that with my penchant for anything electronic, and what do you have? Yes, you have electronic feedback!

    Read more about what happened after we gave feedback by clicking the share button!
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    So, at the end of 1 hour of hard-work we had a form full of really hard-core, critical responses on how PK thought the administration was doing; he added four lines of his own, telling them what they should do to improve things.


    A satisfied smile on his face, he agreed to cc me the response, so that I could send one of my own.


    But the smile faded when we realized the difficulty of maintaining anonymity. Firstly, the department had to be mentioned. Now one option was to leave that blank – we could always pretend we had forgotten.


    But which other department in the country would go the whole hog and give electronic feedback? That was a dead giveaway!


    I left PK thinking it over; but when I met him 2 days later, he announced that he had decided against sending the feedback.


    “I’ve thought it over,” he said somberly, “and I don’t think it is worth the bother stirring a hornet’s nest in this unholy place.”


    I started to question, but he quelled my efforts with this anecdote.


    A long, long time ago, way back when he was just a lad of about 22 or 23 and a new medical recruit in the Army, he was sent a complaint from a patient. This fellow had found a living, wriggling worm in his chapatti (unleavened bread).


    Detailed examination by PK confirmed this finding, and the young doctor proceeded to circle the chapatti with a red pen and then, wrapping it in plastic, entered the kitchen to interview the cook.


    Worm in the Chapati!

    Worm in the Chapati!

    Beautifully made, worm-less-chapatis

    Beautifully made, worm-less-chapatis

    His stern questioning didn’t seem to have much effect, however; the cook did not appear very concerned or shocked; he had a ready enough explanation.

    “Do you know how the wheat flour (Atta) is supplied to us?” the cook countered with the question. He proceeded to describe an extremely complicated system by which the material reached the kitchen.


    PK was getting impatient but mercifully, after 5 minutes of this description, the cook wound up, saying:  “I usually remove the most obvious worms, but little ones escape my notice.”


    “Little ones!” my friend thundered, as he displayed the specimen “you call this a little one!”


    Apparently, the wriggling specimen was large enough to fill your palm, but the exhibit did not seem to have the desired effect on the cook, though he remembers the fellow raising his left eye-brow.


    “Oh, that!” said the cook, waving a dismissive hand, “that’s nothing! You should have seen the size of the worm in the camp commandant’s chapatti at last year’s Independence Day dinner!” and flounced out of the room.


    The cook didn't take kindly to the feedback!

    The cook didn’t take kindly to the feedback!

    But PK was not to be brushed aside so easily, so he took the next step: making an entry in the register, giving details of the whole event. He did not hesitate to name any names, and left out nothing.


    The Camp Commandant summoned PK the next day, and pointing a shaking finger at the register, asked him, “Lieutenant, what is this?”

    Getting Feedback for giving feedback!

    Getting Feedback for giving feedback!


    “Sir, there was a worm in the chapatti!”


    The finger now wagged at him. “Lieutenant, I know what it is! What is the meaning of writing it in the register?”


    PK shook with anger at the unfairness of it all; only a few weeks ago, the commandant had toured the hospital, and had been critical of the way documentation was being done. “Look at this entry here: ‘The patient had his food and slept well today’! Is that useful at all! Such inane information!” He had then ordered the medicos they were to write everything of significance in the register.


    “But sir,” PK swallowed hard, “Didn’t you tell us to write everything in the register, and not just inane details?”


    The commandant was livid: “Don’t try to be smart with me, PK! Don’t you ever do this again!”


    PK returned a few minutes later, trembling. “Sir, I want to ask you something. Sir, I couldn’t understand why you were so angry.”


    The commandant softened a little and then explained: “This register is a permanent document; anybody coming even years later can read whatever you have written and can embarrass us with the contents. Nothing is gained from that, excepting loss of face. If you really want to convey some important feedback, use a separate sheet of paper for that. Use the register for routine stuff.”


    Feedback should be anonymous!

    Feedback should be anonymous!

    “So,” said PK, returning to the present day, “You see, the administration does not really want your feedback. You think they don’t know what the problems are? You think they care? They have to fulfill some obligation, that’s all, and so they need us to send them some feedback forms. If we give them REAL feedback, they will not be happy with us at all, take my word for it!”


    So from that day onwards, our department does not give any feedback; we just tell the administration what a good job they are doing.


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