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Feedback Mandatory

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.

‘Feedback is the breakfast of champions’

This quote is most-often attributed to Ken Blanchard, but I have been unable to source it securely.  But its meaning is clear: It is a diet of good quality feedback that helps us grow and develop into top performers.

Feedback is the perfect accompaniment to goal-setting (which we looked at last week).  The two are so inter-twined and so fundamental that the very first Pocketblog started with an important experiment by Albert Bandura and Daniel Cervone that showed the power of these two in combination.

That post was called ‘Feedback Welcome’.  This one’s title is a nod in that direction, but takes it a step further.

As a manager, you have a responsibility to the people you manage and lead.  You must develop them, you must recognise their contributions and you must reward them for their effort.  Feedback is the principal way you can do that.

Feedback can be:

  1. Judgemental (‘what you did well/badly was…’) or
    Non-judgemental (‘I notice that what you did was… and this is what happened’)
  2. Positive (‘What you did that I liked was..’) or
    Negative (‘What I would like you to improve was…’)
  3. Outcome based (‘You got a really good result with…’) or
    Process based (‘I was impressed by the way that you…’)
  4. Comparative (‘Your work exceeded the standards for…’) or
    Absolute (‘Your work was excellent’)
  5. Personal (‘I want to thank you for your excellent work’) or
    Impersonal (‘You work met the highest standards’)

Give your Feedback a BOOST

Great feedback should give your colleagues a real BOOST.

It will not be surprising to you to learn that, on all of the five scales above, balance is key.  Sticking to one style will rarely serve the person you are developing well.  Each pairing represents a spectrum of styles and you must select where on each spectrum to place the balance, to get best effect.  At different times and in different situations, a different point of balance will be appropriate.

Provide precise feedback based on genuine observation; rather than hearsay.  The more evidence you can offer and the more precise that evidence is; the better your colleague will be able to calibrate their performance and understand the implications of their choices.

By this, I mean that it is important to give feedback on performance, rather than on the person.  Compare these to examples of feedback:

‘The analysis you gave was confused.’

‘Your thinking was confused.’

The first is something I can fix and your feedback is based on something you can observe and evaluate.  The second, even if true is harder to fix, but critical; you have no direct evidence: my thinking may be logical and rigorous, but my writing style confused – or maybe I was distracted – or maybe…  The first can motivate me to sort out my work; the second will demotivate me, as I will feel it as a personal attack.

If my analysis was confused, I can only address it if I know how and where you assess my work to be confused.  The more specific your feedback, the easier it is for me to fix my work – or the easier it is for me to understand what parts are good.

Deliver your feedback as soon as appropriate  but not before. If the situation is not suitable, or if you do not have a robust basis for observed and specific feedback, then wait.  But only wait as long as is necessary.  Don’t put feedback off, or its value will diminish and may even be lost.

Further Reading

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Sandwich Anyone?

There are one or two topics that get trainers hot under the collar.  My own pet peeve has always been the abuse by so many trainers of Albert Mehrabian’s work.  If you don’t know it, it’s the 55% – 38% – 7% ratios for facial, tonal and verbal communication.


Mehrabian_CreativityWorks3I wrote about this for Training Journal in July 2007 but frankly, the best way to learn what Mehrabian really means is to watch the wonderful three and a half minute video by Creativity Works on YouTube.

So with Mehrabian comprehensively dealt with …

The Myth of the Feedback Sandwich

The story goes like this:

If you want to give someone great feedback, first tell them the things they do well, then tell them what they need to do better, and then, to avoid them losing too much confidence; remind them of their successes.  Voila: the feedback sandwich’







Picture By SweetOnVeg

The feedback sandwich was a popular staple of management training courses when I was on the receiving end, in the early 1990s.  It probably still is.

Round 2: The Feedback Sandwich is rubbish

Most trainers now, rightly, eschew the feedback sandwich.  The argument goes like this:

All it is, is sugaring the pill.  When you re-iterate the good stuff, they will forget the filling in the middle.  It’s easier to focus on the good stuff and, anyway, we always remember the start of something and the end – that’s what I say in my Presentation Skills training.

And that is all very credible – if a little bluntly expressed.  I think I remember hearing myself say that once upon a time.

Round 3: Rehabilitating the Sandwich

Let’s think about the psychology of good communication.  After all, that is a pre-requisite for good feedback.

Before you can get any complex message across, you have to build a measure of rapport.  When you tell me what I have done well, I will probably recognise some of it, feel pleased that you have too, and start to trust you a little bit.  I am listening now.

So, when you have told me all the good news, I am listening hard.  And, because I trust that you have observed my performance carefully, I will listen to what else you have to say.  Don’t squander that: give me an evidence-based assessment of what I need to do differently to raise my performance to a higher level.

That can be quite a draining process, when done well.  So I may need some help processing it.  So that I don’t feel knocked back and alone, end our conversation by reminding me that, no matter how critical you have had to be about some aspects of my performance, you will continue to support me.

There’s the sandwich.  But now, the last component is not sugaring the pill, but forming a base to go forward.  The top is a nice tasty bun with seeds.  The middle is filling and nutritious.  The base is firm and supports the rest.  It’s a burger; a feedback burger! *

4239047183_11c5ba5ceb_m[1] Picture By SweetOnVeg

So here’s the deal

  1. Don’t cite the 55-38-7 rule without reading my article, watching the video or researching Mehrabian’s work properly and
  2. When you give feedback, pay attention to the stages of your communication process, and the needs of the person you are supporting.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

9781906610128 The Feedback Pocketbook

The Communicator’s Pocketbook

The Developing People Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

9781903776285The Performance Management Pocketbook

The Appraisals Pocketbook




* Thank you to my friend, Leigh Grainger, for introducing me to the phrase ‘Feedback Burger’.

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