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The “Nice” Sandwich

The “Nice” Sandwich

Several times in the past month I have heard criticisms from managers about the “Nice Sandwich” approach of providing performance improvement feedback. If you are not familiar with the “Nice Sandwich,” it is a formula that many managers have been trained to use when providing feedback to their team members, especially the constructive kind. The formula looks like this:

Top slice of bread: Nice comment/recognition of something good the person has done

Sandwich filling: Constructive feedback, performance improvement issue

Bottom slice of bread: Nice comment/thank you for your contributions

At its worst it can sound like this: Suzie, “I really value what you bring to the table. You are a great team player. But I noticed that you’ve been late at lot lately. What’s going on?” The end of the meeting may sound like this “In closing, you are an important part of this team Suzie. Thanks for all that you do.”

What’s the issue with this approach? When not well executed it can come off as disingenuous. This is especially true when the “nice” part of the sandwich is overly vague or is not related to the actual feedback. What exactly does Suzie bring to the table? How she is a team player, and what does that have to do with being late?

This approach can also throw the recipient off kilter. When a manager begins a conversation by listing good attributes or accomplishments, the team member is led to believe that the conversation is going to be a positive one. It’s stressful enough to be on the receiving end of feedback of this nature, but add in the element of surprise and it’s no wonder that team members often become defensive.

Finally, the intent of this approach is not always team member focused. Let’s face it, providing performance improvement feedback can be nerve wracking and it makes a lot of managers uncomfortable. The Nice Sandwich eases the discomfort for the manager, but not necessarily the team member.


The solution:

Get to the point quickly, especially when providing constructive feedback. Be specific and focus on the behaviors and impacts. For example: “Suzie, I’ve documented 3 occasions in the past 30 days when you have been 15 minutes or more late coming into work in the morning and did not notify me. You are a valuable member of our team. You are 10% of this team so when you are not here, we’re not running at full capacity. Tell me about this recent tardiness…”

If you do practice the nice sandwich, be sure that positive comments are related to the feedback that’s being provided. When moving from the “nice” part to the constructive feedback part of the conversation, avoid using transition words like “but” or “however.” Consider the difference between these two examples:

  1. “Suzie, your contributions to this team, especially in handling customer service matters, are valuable, but I noticed you’ve been late a lot lately.”
  2. “Suzie, your contributions to this team, especially in handling customer service matters, are valuable. You are an important part of the team and when you’re not here, it impacts all of us. Tell me about you’re your recent tardiness.”

In the first example, the word “but” negates the recognition that’s been given for handing customer service matters. In the second example, the transition word is removed completely so that Suzie’s contributions are not minimized. Consider ditching the transition phrase altogether or using the word “and” instead.

Interested in learning more about effective, efficient communication for your team? Contact our experts at Pathfinder Strategies or (888) 529-0240.

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