New Manager Training: The Feedback Sandwich

I’ve been working in HR for most of my career. I know how important giving feedback is to the success of a company and its employees. How you approach the subject as a new manager determines your workforce quality and your team’s productivity. Whether you are building a new team or starting as a new manager, giving and getting criticism can be challenging, no matter how constructive it is. 

New Manager Training: The Feedback Sandwich

We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but without feedback, how will our employees get better at their jobs? Offering negative (and positive) feedback is crucial to your success and theirs. It’s important to learn how to remove your personal feelings about the situation and to give your team members space to do the same.  

Look at it like this: How do you expect to get better at your job? Time, experience, room to make mistakes, yes. But you also need feedback from your boss and your team members. 

Write it down on a post-it note, make a nice quote graphic and set it as your computer background, write it on the inside of your planner or notebook. The next time you feel like you’ve been stung by bees during your performance review, say it again. The next time one of your team members tells you that you could have communicated better, say it again. If you’re going to get really good at offering feedback, you have to be great at accepting it.

Now that you’re developing a thicker skin, you can help your team members to do the same. When you’re starting out as a new manager, you need guidelines on how to conduct performance reviews and one-on-one meetings during which you offer advice to team members on how they can do better. Even better than guidelines, you need a formula. Let me introduce you to the feedback sandwich.

The Feedback Sandwich. What is it?

The Feedback Sandwich is a manager’s way of providing feedback to employees using three stages. This method gives feedback by conveying a positive, reassuring statement, followed by constructive criticism, and then offering a compliment. This helps to keep the situation positive. It may be sugar coating, but if it helps the medicine go down, it does the job. 

Giving constructive criticism to employees when you are a new manager can be a bit tricky as humans by nature will take any criticism personally – at first. Just as you learned to accept criticism as a learning opportunity, you have to give your team members the opportunity to learn how to do the same. 

The feedback sandwich has the following advantages to the manager and employee:

· Softens the blow of hearing difficult comments.

· Encourages specificity in the feedback process.

· Allows employees to increase their receptiveness to criticism (by helping them understand that you still approve of them.)

· Enables meetings to end on a positive note.

· It can be helpful for managers who find it challenging to engage in criticism.


How to Offer Criticism Using a Feedback Sandwich

As a manager or supervisor, you will be more prepared to offer criticism with these tips for providing feedback sandwiches:

Be prepared. Managers must prepare the feedback with the solution and serve them together. Instead of feedback like, “You don’t listen to customers,” identify the problem and offer corrective measures. For example, “I noticed you interrupted that customer a few times. It could help you get better information to solve their issue if you let them finish what they have to say. Thanks for being great at your job!”

Be specific. State clearly what you want the employee to continue doing or what you would like them to stop doing. Make sure to focus on the point, not the person. It’s the action that you are applying constructive criticism towards, not the individual. Keeping the focus on the point usually helps to keep some of the defensiveness at bay. And if the situation allows, add a bit of humor. Approaching the topic in a light-hearted manner is another way to help the recipient be more open to the subject. Judge the behavior and you can take the bite out of criticism.

Suggest solutions. For feedback sandwiches to be effective, avoid leaving the employee hanging. When offering change-related feedback, give corrective, alternative behaviors to replace the problem behavior. For example: “This job can be stressful. When you begin to feel angry with a customer, I suggest you step away from the situation to cool down. Thanks for your hard work!”

Own your opinions. As an assertive manager, use “I” statements when giving feedback to your employees. This shows that you own the input. “I think or feel X” is more effective than, “people say X about you.” If my manager told me that people say things about me, it would simply make me paranoid and I’d rather that my manager own his or her feedback.

Know your boundaries. As a manager, don’t overstep on someone without authority or permission. Just because you are the supervisor, it doesn’t mean you have to correct all employees’ attributes. You have to know when to give feedback and when to stop.

Offering feedback is tough, but keep these tips in mind and understand that criticism is a skill that must be practiced in order to improve. Even if your first day as a manager is today, you’ve worked for good and bad managers throughout your career and you know the difference between them. The best managers not only offer constructive feedback, they also ask for it. Feedback is a two-way street and the best way to encourage your employees to be comfortable receiving feedback is to consistently ask them how you can improve. 


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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