The feedback sandwich is a widely known technique for giving constructive feedback, by “sandwiching” the criticism between two pieces of praise or compliments. This enables the receiver to feel more positive about their improvements.
The sandwich method highlights an important aspect of my working life which is positivity and motivation. In my opinion, positivity at work can greatly influence whether you have motivation or not.
As a manager, it is your responsibility to help your team improve their skills professionally – not only for the sake of the success of your projects but for your team as individuals. Employees need to know what they are doing right in order to continue their good work. The feedback sandwich is a coaching technique that can ensure your team member knows exactly why they are valued and will motivate them to improve.
- Separate the behaviour from the person
When giving constructive feedback on a certain situation, use phrases such as “I observed” rather than “you did”. It shows control without being accusing. Refer to the employee’s behaviour and the impact that it is having on the company rather than accusing the employee of doing something wrong. Emphasise how the company is going to benefit from the improvements that you are suggesting, so that the employee can see the positive impact that they are able to make. After suggesting your ideas of how to improve the behaviour, ask the employee what changes they think should be made.
- Stay in proportion
Make sure you are not smothering the employee with praise or over-criticizing; you want all points to be interpreted equally. If the meeting is about general performance, then try a format such as “thank you doing these 3 things well” and “I’d appreciate it if you did more of these 3 things”.
- Mind your language
Giving constructive feedback is for one purpose only – to improve performance. When using the sandwich method, the idea is to maintain positive language and provide little contrast between the positive and constructive statements. Refrain from using the words “but”, “however” and “although” between the positive and constructive comments, this avoids the criticism feeling like a tonne of bricks and will hopefully ensure the situation remains positive. Replace these phrases for “next time”, “my suggestion is” or even “and”.
- Give direction
When an employee hears that they need to improve their behaviour or working style, it can sometimes be a bit disheartening. Be specific and give clear action points with your expectations and follow up dates, to give a sense of direction.
- Relate the positive and constructive
Many managers do not favour the feedback sandwich because of the praise coming across as dishonest. Make sure your positive and constructive comments relate to the situation in question, otherwise the employee may feel you are praising them for the sake of it.
- Praise the employee’s individuality
No one likes to feel like a number or even just a job title. When praising your staff member, really think about what their personality brings to their work and try to compliment aspects that differentiate them from other staff. They will appreciate you for it!
- Be timely and prepared
It may sound like common sense, but giving feedback when you are angry, tired or hungry will come across negatively upon the receiver. Present the feedback sandwich within a neutral, calm atmosphere. Ensure you are well prepared and have carefully thought the situation over.
- Eat a sandwich yourself!
From an employee’s point of view, telling their manager to their face about the improvements they think should be made can be quite intimidating. As part of the meeting, why not ask the employee to prepare a feedback sandwich of their own to give to you? Doing this emphasises the fact that the situation is all about learning and improvement on both sides. Using this structured approach also encourages honest constructive feedback from the employee.
How did the sandwich technique work for me?
I was previously in a fast-paced, target driven role with frequent performance reviews and high targets to reach. During my reviews I greatly embraced the sandwich method because my confidence was constantly knocked when I didn’t reach the targets. The sandwich method helped to remind me of my capabilities, the reason I was chosen for the role and why my manager had confidence in me. Without being given this reminder, I probably would have resigned due to lack of confidence and my ability to do the job.
My manager and I practiced the sandwich technique to one another. It helped strengthen our working relationship as I didn’t feel so victimised when being given constructive feedback. I learnt that everyone needs constructive feedback in order to improve, even managers.
What recipe do you use when giving your feedback sandwich to employees? Feel free to share yours in the comments!