Is It Time to Ditch the Dirt Sandwich

by | 2 minute read

Deliv­er­ing effec­tive feed­back is a task all man­agers strug­gle with. We want employ­ees to know when they’ve done a great job. We also want them to know when things need to change. Evan Hack­el, The CEO of Tor­tal Train­ing and Ingage Con­sult­ing, Author and Speak­er, knows a thing or two about engag­ing employ­ees. A key part of engage­ment cen­ters on feed­back. Here’s what he told us in a recent Man­age Smarter pod­cast.

The Drawback of the Dirt Sandwich

Did your man­age­ment train­ing cov­er how to soft­en the blow of neg­a­tive feed­back? If so, you prob­a­bly learned to use the sand­wich for­mat, also known as the dirt sand­wich. Start out by say­ing some­thing pos­i­tive to your employ­ee. You’re hap­py with how they man­aged to keep a con­tract the com­pa­ny was at risk of los­ing. Then you give them the not-so-great news. Upper man­age­ment is furi­ous that the rep agreed to a 20% dis­count to keep the client, and they didn’t clear that deal with any­one. Final­ly, you close the con­ver­sa­tion by telling your employ­ees to keep up the good work.

What's wrong with this pic­ture? Hack­el says it's that "employ­ees don't nec­es­sar­i­ly hear the part in the mid­dle that needs to be fixed because you sand­wiched it and you con­fused it." They walk away from the con­ver­sa­tion think­ing you’re hap­py with their per­for­mance.

The Alternative Feedback Form: Five-to-One Ratio

There is a bet­ter way to deliv­er feed­back and keep employ­ees engaged. IT's all about the ratio of pos­i­tive to neg­a­tive com­ments.

Over the course of a week, you might say sev­er­al things to your employ­ees. They’ll tend to remem­ber the neg­a­tive remarks you make for a much longer peri­od of time than any praise you give them. If they mess up on a project and make a huge cal­cu­la­tion error that costs the com­pa­ny mon­ey, you have to point that out.

While the employ­ee is winc­ing about that neg­a­tive feed­back, be on the look­out over the next few days. When you see a pos­i­tive per­for­mance devel­op­ment, men­tion it. Maybe they fin­ished a project ear­ly. If they col­lab­o­rat­ed well with a staff mem­ber from anoth­er depart­ment, that’s a comment-worthy action as well. The point is, once you deliv­er neg­a­tive feed­back, fol­low it up with at least five pos­i­tive remarks. You can give this feed­back over a peri­od of time. The most impor­tant detail is to keep the ratio in mind.

Nobody said it’s easy being a man­ag­er. Deliv­er­ing feed­back may be the tough­est part of the job. Keep your­self on track by remem­ber­ing that you’re try­ing to help each team mem­ber achieve their goals, along with con­tribut­ing to the com­pa­ny goals.

C. Lee Smith

C. Lee Smith

CEO and Founder at Sales­Fu­el
C. Lee Smith is the President/CEO of Sales­Fu­el — a firm he found­ed in 1989. He was named one of the 14 Lead­ing Sales Con­sul­tants by Sell­ing Pow­er mag­a­zine in 2018. Lee is the cre­ator of the AdMall® and Sales­Fu­el COACH™ SaaS plat­forms. He is also a Git­o­mer Cer­ti­fied Advi­sor, expert on the Sales Experts Chan­nel and a C‑Suite Net­work Advi­sor.
C. Lee Smith


@SalesFuel CEO C. Lee Smith. Speak­er, entre­pre­neur, sales and employ­ee tox­i­c­i­ty expert, lead­er­ship and man­age­ment con­sul­tant. Co-host, Man­age Smarter pod­cast.
Are you the vic­tim of a #tox­i­c­work­place, or are you con­tribut­ing to it? Here are some ways you can stop engag­ing… — 2 days ago
C. Lee Smith