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Performance Feedback: How to Give and Receive

By August 14, 2012 2 Comments


4 Step Feedback Model for Managers and Employees

When you become a manager, the first thing you learn is paperwork.  Forms, reporting, tracking, blah blah.  Why do we do this?  As is obvious to even a casual observer, this places the emphasis in exactly the wrong place.  The first thing we should learn is the foundational discipline of management, and that is giving feedback.

To be clear, we are not talking about annual performance reviews (don’t get us started on the worthlessness of these).  We are talking about day-to-day or situation-by-situation feedback that actually helps increase performance by offering tactical advice for getting better at a critical skill.

How to Give Feedback:

When a situation calls for performance feedback, most people use the sandwich method.  For example, you receive praise followed by a suggestion on how to do your work differently, followed up with yet another praise. This method is fine and it’s certainly better than no feedback at all but there is a better way.

4 Steps to Giving Feedback:

4 Step Feedback Model - Manager & Employee

Step 1:

“What’s one thing you think you did well?”

Step 2:

“Here’s one thing I think you did well:_________.”

Step 3:

“What’s one thing you think you should do differently?”

Step 4:

“Here’s one thing I think you should do differently:_________”.

If you look closely at this simple framework, you will see the underlying design:

  • Steps 1 and 2 build confidence.
  • Steps 3 and 4 build skill.

You can’t build my skill until you’ve built my confidence, and this is the power of the design.  The sandwich method accomplishes this in a way, but then takes the focus off of building skill by pandering at the end.  As managers, we naturally feel like we need to cushion the fall of providing negative feedback. The focus of feedback should be to develop each other, not to exchange pleasantries.

Notice that feedback of this form is driven by situations, not dates on calendars.  This feedback process should be triggered by any high-stakes situation that requires people to perform, and it should become a regular, accepted method of communication. Providing feedback once a year will not accomplish anything. Your performance feedback has an expiration date. It has to be consistent and targeted by employee in order to have an impact.

How to Receive Feedback:

How to get it.  Once this feedback process becomes a normal part of your management toolkit, you need to turn it on yourself.  The simplicity of the four steps allows anyone to use it, but the key is in the asking.  If you are part of a high-stakes situation, turn to your colleagues and ask them to walk you through the process and give you feedback.  Once someone has walked in your shoes, that communications path is now two-way and you have become a better manager.

In July 2013, Inc published an article on performance feedback and the one word that makes negative feedback more effective. We agree that the sandwich method is ineffective, but adding the word “yet” to negative feedback seems to soften the blow. If you want your employees to listen, you need to be honest and direct (especially when providing negative feedback in areas he or she needs to work on.) 

Craig is the CEO and Founder of Sales Engine. You can find him on  , LinkedIn, & Twitter!