Tastier and healthier than the feedback sandwich: the feedback wrap!

By now most organisations are moving away from the most classical versions of performance reviews. The yearly or bi-yearly reviews are being replaced by regular one-on-one meetings with employees and managers, or teams become more self-organised and do peer reviewing throughout the year. Phew. But how do we actually tackle these moments and get feedback across?

Positive feedback

Giving positive feedback comes easy to us. We get to make someone happy, we let them know we appreciated sometyhing they did and we feel good by communicating this, and the person on the receiving end also feels good. This fact also lead to the idea of the dreaded "feedback sandwich". People started to see it coming: okay I just got some good feedback, now brace myself for the bad stuff, then I can relax again because they'll end with a positive thing and then I know the ordeal is over.

Suffice it to say: the feedback sandwich turned out to be not such a good idea to help people cope with negative feedback.

Unwanted behaviour

But what is "negative feedback". It usually is the communication of how certain behaviour of a person is unwanted.

And we all agree unwanted behaviour should be addressed as quickly as possible in order to protect the culture of the organisation. But here's the catch: as a manager, scrummaster, coach or team member, giving feedback on unwanted behaviour is very confronting and uncomfortable. That's why it gets pushed back, or things get piled up until there's suddenly a huge pile of bad stuff that suddenly bursts open, which the team member often is not even aware of. 

We're looking for ways to communicate and indicate unwanted behaviour to people, but we're so uncomfortable when we have to actually give the feedback that we'd rather avoid the pain. This causes the pain to be even worse when the feedback is finally given, with all of the known consequences and interpersonal relationship cleanup that comes with that.

The feedback wrap

The feedback wrap takes into account a number of ingredients that are part of a recipe for decent feedback, that everyone can take along and take action on. The ingredients allow for a healthy conversation and ideas to try for improvement of the situation. Let's have a look:

Ingredient One: Describe your context

The purpose of all good feedback is to improve performance and results. This can be through praise of good work, or constructive feedback when there is an issue that needs to be resolved.

To start your Feedback Wrap first set the scene. Explain the elements which have influenced your feedback: the environment you find yourself in, state of mind, and the expectations you had with a specific task or project.

By giving the person you are giving feedback to an explication of your personal situation, you are setting the scene for where the feedback has derived from. They may appreciate your situation, even be in a similar one. This builds trust between you and the appraised, and they will appreciate you are taking time out to give them feedback.

Ingredient Two: List your observations

Now you’re adding the ingredients into your wrap. Listing the observations you have made, from the eyes of an experimenter, or outsider. There is no opinion given, no emotional outburst. We just feedback facts and experience.

This way there doens't need to be any argument or justification of why something is the way it is. The plain fact is, it’s not delivering our expectations.

Ingredient 3: Express your emotions

You’ve listed the facts and given observations of the current situation. Now it’s time to express your personal feelings about the situation. This is where emotion comes into play!

This part of feedback is used to connect with the person involved and to show your concern for the overall result of the project or task. In some cases involving your own emotions can deflect against conflict. Here you can talk about feeling apprehensive, disappointed, even go as far as sad.

Ingredient 4: Sort by value

The next ingredient in your wrap is adding an explanation about the value you perceive certain improvements might have on the situation.

In this article, I'm focusing on negative feedback. But whether it’s positive or negative feedback you’re offering, when you reference the value of the work, it will immediately be picked up by the person you're in the conversation with.

Ingredient 5: End with suggestions

Wrap it up with some helpful suggestions that can improve future performance. Always deliver suggestions in a positive way and offer assistance.

Remember, at the end of the day, your suggestions are just that. Suggestions. Your feedback should be complete enough to allow the person to make their own decision on how they action the feedback. But it's always good to come back to that, informally check how things are going and wether they were able to put anything in motion.

So don't hesitate to try the 6 ingredients of the feedback warp:

  1. Describe your context
  2. List your observations
  3. Express your emotions
  4. Sort by value
  5. End with suggestions

And a little bonus tip:

6. It's okay to keep a written account of this

And it doesn't need to have to be a full report or capture of the conversation, just some basic bulletpoints, something the person on the receiving end of the feedback can actually turn into valuable suggestions to work with!