Sandwich to eat or say?

I once had a manager tell me during my appraisal, ‘Vivek, you have great potential, your intent is good but there are some very fundamental things that you are missing, you need to fix that quickly or else there will be impact but you are a nice guy and am sure will do well’.

This was many years ago but it left me confused and I was not sure what I should make of it. In fact, if someone said this to me today, I would still remain confused. However, my ratings and hikes clearly indicated that all had not gone well.

It is appraisal time in India in most organization and while there is the new buzz on ‘check-in’ and ‘constant feedback’, there is a fair chance that most people would not have heard from their Managers for most parts of the year. There are going to be a lot of surprises and when it comes to performance, I doubt if anyone likes to be surprised.

What adds to the surprise (and frustration) is Managers giving the classical ‘Sandwich feedback’. Say the good things, then the bad things and some good things again. This is done in an ambiguous manner and in my mind this leaves people confused and frustrated. More so when hardly or no dialogue has happened during the year.

I have always asked Managers – ‘Would you like ambiguous, beating around the bush kind of feedback from your bosses’? The answer is always ‘No’.

So, if we don’t like it as Managers, why would we want to be ambiguous with our teams?

Yes, there are various factors like our own personality related challenges, lack of clarity (most often we are not prepared before performance meetings due to our own work pressures), potential impact to working relationship etc. that stop us from giving direct, professional feedback.

However, as Managers I believe that we owe our people:

  • Clear, factual, evidence, data driven performance feedback
  • Assessments that are not driven by emotions alone
  • Performance feedback that is not shadowed by our own biases

And yes, being direct is not being rude. We largely tend to think that way and believe people will feel bad. In my view, people feel worse when they feel the dialogue was not fair, factual and honest.

Every professional wants to take the problem head on and is reasonably mature to do so. So, what stops us from providing the message clearly?

Sandwich to eat or say? I think each one of us should decide…