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What's on your feedback menu?

Have you ever delivered a “sh*t sandwich”?

It is an old-school management technique, designed to help managers tell people what they are doing wrong. And I’m always surprised how often it’s still served up.

It refers to putting the ‘meat’ of some negative feedback between two slices of positive feedback, to make it more palatable.

“Your sales figures for this month are good. But the pitch you delivered went really badly. But you were really enthusiastic, which is great.”

It doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work because it’s confusing. The recipient is unsure what they’re supposed to listen to. What’s the important information?

It doesn’t work because most people will focus on the negative (thanks to the human negativity bias) and so the impact of the positive feedback is completely lost. Which is a shame, because it would probably have made them feel good if it was delivered separately.

It doesn’t work because people are wise to it now and it can feel very disingenuous.

But mainly it doesn’t work because it’s tied to an outdated idea of how and when to give feedback.

If you’re sitting down once a month with a direct report and going through everything they did, then you can see how it might seem necessary.

But effective feedback follows the ‘little and often’ rule.

It should be given whenever needed - clearly and with as little fuss as possible. It should be both timely and relevant and it should always set clear expectations for what to do next time.

It would mean taking someone aside straight after a pitch and saying:

“You weren’t very clear when you were explaining the budgets. I think that confused them. Next time, we can go through the figures before hand if that would help.”

The same is true of positive feedback. That shouldn’t be saved up either! Give positive feedback as soon as possible after it is earned, and be as specific as possible.

“Well done on closing that sale - you did a great job answering their questions.”

It’s time to take the sh*t sandwich off the menu for good.

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