Is It Time to Ditch the Dirt Sandwich

BY C. Lee Smith
Featured image for “Is It Time to Ditch the Dirt Sandwich”

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.