One of the coaching cliches is that feedback should be given by the “Sandwich method”. You sit down with the team member and give them a piece of positive feedback — then challenge them with a harder hitting piece of criticism — followed up by positive feedback. Most employees can spot this a mile off, and call it “the shit sandwich”.
What often happens is that employees learn to recognise the structure and stop trusting the feedback they receive. It can create confusion: “Why did you say those good things, only to rip into me moments later?” But more commonly people think cynically that the praise is ‘fake’ and only used to shut the employee up. They learn to ‘wait for the but’. “You’re great at A, but when you did B you really let the team down.
The problem is that the way the feedback sandwich is talked about, is a misunderstanding of what it is intended to convey.
Imagine having “the hard talk” with an employee— e.g any situation where you have to give challenging or even controversial feedback, and set up somebody to both work on the challenge and to be successful. This is where the sandwich idea comes in.
Steps of a good "Hard-Talk-Session":
Opening steps (Positive):
Introduce the session in a positive way through;
Greet your team member
Present the reason/situation in an objective way; through use of facts and emphasising the impact.
Next steps (Challenge) :
Open the dialogue through:
Ask the employee of their view on the situation
then together work for a solution/improvement through asking for the employee’s ideas on how to tackle it. “What do you think is important to change?” “How would you progress?” “What do you see as key parts?”
Suggest different kinds of support you as a manager can give, and discuss these options.
In other words focus on the challenge itself, as a problem to be solved, instead of the employee. A tip here is to focus on behaviour and specific actions.
Last steps (Positive):
Conclude with a specific action plan:
With clear actionable steps,
Contributions from both parties,
With agreed timescales
This will positively set up the employee to feel confident in their ability to succeed and that they are supported by their manager.
The structure is precisely what the sandwich is intended to be a reminder for: Build people up, so we can focus on the challenge together and end with a good feeling that solving the challenge is something that can be done.
It is not “only” about remembering to give positive feedback as well as raising the challenges.