Feedback Sandwich

Feedback is a central component of the manager-employee relationship. Yet managers often only provide corrective (or negative) feedback. This will (sometimes) result in the employee being defensive, and generate a negative rapport with this person. The “feedback sandwich” model is a way to package negative feedback.

You really did an excellent job on ‘Project X’; everybody was very impressed! In the future, it would be better to avoid doing ‘action Y’. It’s great that you put so much thought into this and a lot of people are going to benefit from it!

Making the sandwich

  • Prepare – Do not go into the situation without careful forethought and planning. A good outline is a tool for success. Without one, it is easy to get off track and you can lose control of the conversation. Know exactly what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.
  • Compliment – Identify the positive: Find something significant that the individual did. This needs to be related to the coaching you’re going to give, and needs to be reasonably close in time.
  • Coach : Present the facts: Now, you have their attention and they are in a receptive frame of mind. Pause just a second to let that feeling solidify, then lead directly into the coaching. Avoid using the word “but” as in “but next time” since that can create the defensive atmosphere that you’re trying to avoid. Be direct and firm, but never angry and never demeaning. Communication is a science and if you want positive results, you have to be very… scientific. “I’m going to work with you on how to sort clothes so we don’t end up with pink socks again.”
  • Encourage : Give a bright outlook: When you gave the coaching, you inevitably caused some mental deflation in the person. Do not leave that in place; it has to be removed quickly, but correctly. Project a positive outcome of future efforts.
  • Follow Up Later : Don’t wait until after the next issue arises to monitor the behavior change; be helpfully inquisitive and continue promoting change. The objective is to anchor the positive nature of the change in the mind of the individual.

Frequently, from the mistakes explained above, the sandwich technique amounts to undercutting praise with criticism. A praise followed by criticism undermines the positive impact of praise and weakens the significance of the corrective feedback.

Sandwich feedback is perhaps best used to help new managers develop feedback skills: to provide affirmative feedback to encourage employees to repeat desired behaviors and to offer corrective feedback to influence change. Once managers are at ease with giving feedback, they can focus on discussing what their employees do right and defer offering corrective feedback for other conversations.

Make sure that the feedback you’re providing is timely, relevant and forthright! The following quote is taken from Seth Godin’s blog, and sheds a nice view on the “timely”-part. 😉

My mom always disliked Mother’s Day. She had a few good reasons.

First, she pointed out that anytime you do something because you’re supposed to, or because everyone else is doing it, it’s not worth as much. Flowers the week before or a nice poem the day after were priceless compared to the trudge to the restaurant on the appointed day.

I think this is true of all marketing. Nice words to a customer the day they say they’re quitting, or to an employee during an annual review aren’t worth much at all, imho.

Right Attitudes
Seth Godin

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