This compliment sandwich tastes horrible

Several years ago, I took an Executive leadership training course that cost over $2K for a full day training.

The content of the course focused on various leadership concepts, tools, and techniques.

One particular area of interest to the participants was how to give constructive feedback when a subordinate does not perform to expectations.

The lecturer immediately suggested an idea that was called the “Compliment Sandwich.”

The idea was to start the conversation with positive feedback, then relay the negative feedback, and then end with positive feedback.

The audience seemed perplexed, yet the lecturer was the expert after all.

Personally, I was skeptical, yet I tried the approach nonetheless.

Here were my results.

The conversation started great with a positive feedback; the person was happy.

The conversation addressed a negative; the person was unhappy.

The conversation ended with a positive; the person was happy.

The person left the meeting happy and did not recognize the impact of the negative and did nothing different.

All this to say, you can fault me 100% for my ineffective delivery.

No question, no doubt, my approach was to blame.

The preparation of my sandwich was poorly executed with low quality ingredients.

I have tried this technique over the years several times with a consistent ROI (Return on Investment) of 0.

Yes, this technique has never worked for me even when I tried to modify my approach and use different ingredients so to speak.

What I came to realize is that leaders often use this technique when things go sideways. In other words, something serious or major has gone wrong.

In such instances, I have found the "Compliment Sandwich," or also referred to as the Feedback or Criticism Sandwich is what leaders’ resort to when they don’t really know what to do.

When things go really wrong, what I have learned to do, is to take away the bread.

It is not a time for compliments wrapped in compliments, yet a time to address the issue and impact straight yet with empathy and using a humanistic approach.

This approach has severed me substantially better over the years than relying on an academic idea of the "Compliment Sandwich."

Yes, the person likely brings value to the organization and does a lot well, yet, this conversation is not about that.

If you give people a chance to focus on something else, they will. If you want them to focus on the subject at hand, make the subject at hand the point of the convesration.

If you want to recoognize the other work they do, do that, yet in a different conversation so it does not distract from what you are trying to relay and achieve at this conversation.

If you are wondering if I have applied this to myself, yes, I have. I don't want anyone to serve me a "Compliment Sandwich."

This is what it means to be a professional.

At this point, you are likely asking what approach, tools and techniques you might use as an alternative to the "Compliment Sandwich," and to that I will propose one idea for now.

Get straight to the point of what was said or done or the behavior and the impact of that as a starting point. The more tangible, the better.

For myself, I have developed several dialogue frameworks. The frameworks range from regular conversations to repeated bad behavior to developmental.

My toolkit also includes growth conversations and a few hundred questions on top of that.

I would suggest working on your toolkit and not a sandwhich.

At the end of the day, I keep my sandwiches for lunch.

Don’t eat this type of sandwich as food for thought.