The Shit Sandwhich

One of the hardest thing about being a manager is giving constructive feedback. Some managers are afraid to provide constructive feedback because they don’t want to upset the employee, others prefer to provide feedback as part of the annual performance review and some provide feedback on an ongoing basis so there are no surprises.

I belong to this later category of managers who prefers to give feedback frequently. I’ve found this a healthy way to manage relationships with my team. Irrespective of what your management style or preference, giving constructive feedback to employees requires objective thinking and clear communication.

In this post, I’ll discuss a common but unhealthy practice of giving constructive feedback – “The Shit Sandwhich”. Have you ever walked into a meeting with your manager where she praises you for completing the task, then tells you how poorly you managed the task and then wraps up with a word of encouragement? This is called “The Shit Sandwhich”

As Ben Horowitz points out in his book “Hard Things About Hard Things”, this type of feedback approach tends to be overly formal and your employee will perceive it as judgemental. Once you do this a couple of times, it loses it’s authenticity and can have a negative effect.

The key to successfully providing constructive feedback is:

Be Authentic
Give feedback based on facts in a genuine and honest tone. Don’t play the power game just because this individual reports to you. If you are trying to bring about positive change in another individual, start from an authentic position.

Come From The Right Place
Are you giving feedback just because someone else complained about your employee but you don’t believe it to be true? In such cases, it is better to discuss the situation with the employee rather than confronting him with any wrongdoing.

Don’t Get Personal
It’s possible that you and your employee are friends on social media or have developed an excellent rapport outside work. That’s great! But when it comes to giving constructive feedback, don’t let any of the personal relationships come in the way of business. This is easier said than done. The best strategy I’ve found is be self-aware of your relationship with your employee at work and outside work. It also helps to candidly discuss the need to keep personal and professional discussions separate.

Don’t Clown People In Front Of Their Peers
Have you been a situate where you walk into a meeting, notice that one of the managers does not agree with her employee’s position on the issue, and then belittles him in front of everyone else. This is not cool and no one should ever undermine their employees in front of others. The right thing to do is pull this person on the side at a later time and talk through the issue in a quiet place.

Feedback Is Not One-Size-Fits-All
When I get upset with someone, my mother often says, “All five fingers are not equal” Each one of us, like our fingers, is unique in it’s own way. We come from different cultural, family and educational backgrounds. We all have different worldviews and see the world through our unique lens. Therefore when it comes to giving constructive feedback, the manager needs to be curious about her employees worldviews. This makes the process of giving feedback more personalized and effective.

Be Direct, But Not Mean
I’ve come across brilliant managers who are direct, assertive and clear. But when it comes to giving feedback, they can be harsh and mean. Here is a great example from Ben’s book, don’t say “It’s really good but could use one more pass to tighten up the conclusion”. Instead say “I couldn’t follow it and I didn’t understand your point and here are the reasons why”

Thank you for reading and hope you find tremendous value from this post. If you have any feedback, let me know in the comments section below.

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