Small Business Strategies: Managing employee performance — with a criticism sandwich

woman with staff brickIf you’re a boss, you have to occasionally give some negative feedback to employees. But plenty of people react to criticism defensively, and either begin offering excuses or get so upset they shut down completely. So how do you say it so they can hear? 

I’ve found one of the best ways is to offer a criticism sandwich. First, you talk about something they’re doing well. Then you offer the criticism. And finally, you top it off with another compliment. 

This sandwich approach is based on the assumption that you hired this employee for a reason and that he or she offers many strengths. The criticism is regarding only one small part of your employee’s performance, and is not by any means your entire experience of this person’s work. Often the very thing you’re criticizing is in fact the flip side of a strength. Perhaps this employee is not so good at catching details. But the flip side is that he or she shows a strong ability to see the big picture. 

So you might first talk about this strength, and how valuable it is to the company. Then, calmly and unemotionally, discuss the issue you need the employee to correct, such as a growing tendency to let errors in the work slip past. Finish up by once again praising this employee’s strengths and your confidence that he or she can overcome this one issue. 

Everything you say must be true, however. If you praise your employees for things you don’t believe they’re really much good at, you’ll undermine their ability to trust your feedback, whether negative or positive.

Some will also catch on to your technique. I once told a friend about the criticism sandwich, which he then used successfully with many employees. Until one woman stopped at the door to his office after such a discussion and said, “You know,  you say f**** you nicer than anybody I’ve ever known.”


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