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30. On Giving Feedback

Ever heard of the feedback sandwich? It's when you want to tell somebody what they've done wrong, or failed to do, but instead of just telling them outright, you soften the blow by first telling them what you like about what they do. You then tell them what you don't like, and then finish up with something you do like. Sounds great doesn't it? The epitomy of sensitive management. So how come it doesn't always work out like that in practice? This tip explores. 'Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain ... and most fools do.' Dale Carnegie The reason that the feedback sandwich often fails is that feedback needs to be constructive, and sometimes you're not feeling at all constructive when you need to tackle somebody. Often you've avoided talking with them because you're frankly nervous about doing so, or you may have mentioned the problem to them, perhaps nicely and in passing, but to no avail. By the time you get round to talking seriously with them you're seriously fed up, and your motive for having the conversation may not be as well-intentioned as you'd like to pretend. When a manager is giving feedback about a problem, they may have one or more intentions: � to learn more about the problem � to improve a member of staff's performance � to tell the person what a problem they are � to get something off their chest � to get the recipient to leave Your approach will be quite different if your aims are the first two, as opposed to the second three. It's been said by many a management guru that giving destructive feedback to an under-performing member of staff is like taking a hammer to a piece of malfunctioning equipment. If you do it, the chances are that your member of staff, far from improving their performance, will head straight for the job pages. Characteristics of: Destructive feedback: Constructive feedback: - focuses on the person - focuses on the behaviour - consists of general - is specific statements - delivers interpretation - invites explanation - delivered coldly/ - delivered with kindness aggressively - is intended to hurt - is intended to help - focuses on what's wrong - focuses on solutions - places blame - takes responsibility For example, imagine you have a member of staff who has been working in your organisation or department for twenty years. An old timer. He knows his job and does it well, he knows everybody and everything locally, he's hard-working and reliable. Only trouble is, people are complaining that he's stuck in his ways and just does his own thing, without taking soundings from others. You would like him to collaborate more, and you arrange to see him. You probably start by asking him how he is, and may offer an observation about him working alone and see what he says. Once you're clear about the problem, you head for the feedback sandwich. Here are two possible approaches. Destructive feedback sandwich: You do a great job, you really do. Trouble is that people are saying that you don't consult them, and that you're a bit old-fashioned in the way you do things. But your staff seem to value you, so well done there. Results: The man has no idea what you like about the way he does his job, and is upset by the word-of-mouth criticisms without understanding quite what he's done wrong, when, and to whom? He's already feeling stressed by dealing with constant changes in the organisation and is beginning to think that no-one wants him around because he's too old. This feedback intensifies those feelings. He's pleased his staff like him, but then, he knows that. What he doesn't know is why you think his staff like him, and isn't convinced that you really give a damn whether his staff like him or not. He mainly hears the criticism, but he doesn't know what you want him to do about the problem, without changing into a different person. Overall result: De-motivation, and probably a visit to HR to find out about retirement options. Constructive feedback sandwich: I like the way you've been doing your job, specifically that report you wrote was excellent, and you did a great presentation at the board meeting. It was important to me that the meeting went well, so I'm really grateful. (positive and specific, and explaining why it is important to you). You know, what would make your performance even better is if you were to use those board meetings as a chance to meet people and listen to their ideas. (focussing on a way forward, rather than a problem) Because, with your experience and local knowledge, people would find it very valuable to have your input on their ideas, and they might be able to help you too. (more positive feedback, plus what's in it for him) Results He knows clearly what you like about what he has done recently, and why his work is important to you personally. He understands that you would like him to give other people the benefit of his experience, and that there could be some payoffs for himself if he did. He perceives that he has received some suggestions for improving his already good performance, rather than a criticism. Overall result: He feels valued and motivated, and will give some serious thought to how he can spread his knowledge and experience around more. 'I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.' Charles Schwab Try this: 1. Think of a time you've had to give feedback to someone who is underperforming in some way. What was your intention, and how constructive was your feedback? Also, what was the result? 2. Think of someone now who you need to talk to. What would you like to achieve in the conversation? What would a constructive conversation look like?