Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Effective Feedback is not a Sandwich or a Seagull

Managers rely on team members with improving skills and performance to improve their products and services. But managers who praise their team members without offering suggestions for improvements will not provide the necessary guidance for improvement. And managers who suggest ways for team members to improve without celebrating their successes will build a team with skills but lacking in confidence. Team members rely on feedback to improve and be successful, but the feedback must be balanced, and not in the form of a one-way conversation from a manager to a team member or performer.

There are two types of one-way feedback conversations. The first is the "sandwich," where a manager tells a performer what they did well, adds negative feedback as the middle of the conversation sandwich, and tops it with more positive feedback. Sandwich feedback is a bad habit based on years of management history; it is a habit that must be broken.

The second type of one-way feedback conversation is the "seagull," which is worse than the sandwich. In a seagull feedback conversation, a manager doesn't attempt to engage a performer. The manager simply presents negative feedback and tries to move on. It is likened to a seagull which is a bird that likes to fly by, go to the bathroom, and fly on. With seagull feedback, action has been taken by a manager, but with little positive meaning for a performer.

In contrast, a two-way feedback conversation allows a performer to present his or her own views. They can be part of the diagnosis and, most importantly, part of the solution. A manager who allows a performer to celebrate their success and who reinforces it will encourage that performer to provide an honest opinion on how they can improve. And by them offering their own opinions, the chance of them implementing the ideas dramatically increases. A manager's commentary may be very similar in one-way and two-way feedback versions, but the chance for change can be dramatically different. A manager can "tell" a performer all they want in a one-way feedback conversation, but by engaging them in the review process in a two-way feedback conversation, they create an environment with better chances of changes being made.

An effective two-way feedback model has four easy-to-follow steps:

  • A manager asks a performer what the performer did well.
  • The manager adds what they felt the performer did well.
  • The manager asks the performer what they can do differently to improve.
  • The manager adds suggestions on what a performer can do differently to improve.

Steps one and two build confidence. Steps three and four build skill. All four steps help build a confident, skilled, and engaged team member.

Step One. The first step in a two-way feedback conversation begins with the manager asking the performer "What do you feel you did well?" At this point, a manager can prevent their mind from drifting to their own thoughts on the feedback by asking a series of questions of the performance, including:

  • Why was that a strength?
  • What is an example?
  • How did the customer react at that point?
  • How can this be used with other customers?
  • What might have happened had you not done this?

A manager should discuss these perceived strengths with the performer so that both clearly understand that they are strengths and can be used in the future. The manager can then ask for a second strength or move to step two in the two-way feedback conversation.

Step Two. The second step involves a manager telling a performer: "Here is what I felt you did well." The manager's comments should be focused, specific, helpful, and genuine. They should also detail what a performer might not have mentioned, and should encourage the performer to contribute additional thoughts.

Step two is the outer part of the "sandwich," but is also an important part of the four-step two-way feedback conversation. Managers must avoid feeling comfortable executing step one and spending too little time on step two. Performers need a manager's thoughts as well as their own ideas, to help them build confidence. A manager should pause after steps one and two to ensure that the performer knows that the manager is celebrating their success. This will earn the right to move to steps three and four in the two-way feedback conversation.

Step Three. Step three begins with the question: "What will you do differently next time?" It is a question that can truly open Pandora's Box, and can be a difficult question for many people who are told to be strong and not admit weakness. In step three, a manager must be patient and allow a performer time to think. If a performer tries to dodge the question, the manager can try asking it in a different way, such as "What would the customer suggest you do differently?" or "What would you have done to gain a deeper understanding in the meeting with the customer?" or even "What additional questions might have been asked in the meeting with the customer which might have been helpful?"

Once a performer shares their thoughts, the manager should investigate these suggestions with the performer. This can be done with some simple questions for the performer, such as "Why do it differently?" or "What might have happened if you had done it?" or "How do you think the customer would have reacted?" Once a manager and performer have discussed and investigated one change, the manager can ask for another change and repeat the process, or move to step four.

Step Four. In step four, a manager offers suggestions on how a performer can improve. As in step two, these comments should be focused, specific, helpful, and genuine. They should be based on a manager's realistic observations of what a performer might have missed. The manager should keep the performer involved in the conversation, so that it is truly a two-way process.

Steps three and four can help build the confidence of a team's members. A manager who pauses after each step can ascertain whether a performer (and the manager) is committed to any proposed changes. A performer who spends the time and energy to offer their own insights is more likely to make the changes needed to improve.

Equal time is not required for each step. Different people have different abilities to assimilate information. Performers lacking confidence may need more time during steps one and two, while individuals with confidence but lacking skill may need more time in steps three and four (after their confidence has been reinforced by means of steps one and two).

This four-step approach is hardly a scientific breakthrough, simply common sense. Unfortunately, it is not common practice. However, by putting it to use, managers can help team members become more involved and more willing to be part of a positive and constructive feedback process.


Contact: Fusion Learning, Inc., 272 Richmond Street East, Suite 200 Toronto, ON M5A 1P4 416-424-2999 fax: 416-424-1522 or 259 West 30th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10001 212-461-3195 Web:

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