‘Flavour-of-the-month’ techniques at work
One of the things that I’ve noticed in delivering management development trainings over the past couple of decades is the widespread cynicism about… management techniques.
Their cynicism is sad and it’s great!
- It’s great that so many people now recognise that management and leadership is about how you engage with people – and not just about having a bag of tricks to get your own way.
- It’s sad because the baby is often thrown out with the bathwater, as they say. If you want to effectively engage with people there are some excellent tools available for doing this. But… unless these are based on a principle-led attitude towards people they are likely to not work or to backfire.
The Appraisals Workshop
Take the idea of ‘How to make staff appraisals positive and encouraging”’ Many managers have learned to do this in a mechanical manner and using techniques in which they have little or no belief.
Take new manager Sarah, for example. Sarah has been to her organisation’s latest quickie workshop – this one was on how to do magnificent appraisals and she has learned the 5, 10 or 20 ‘essential tools’ for managing appraisals.
She has probably learned a technique for
- putting people at ease
- making good eye contact
- having ‘good’ body language i.e. not folding her arms or crossing her legs
- looking sincere, saying ‘Umm..hmmm…’ and nodding a lot when listening
- setting SMART objectives and establishing milestones
- eliciting ‘commitment’
- etc, etc.
…she has probably also learned The Feedback Sandwich! – that much-derided technique for coating the bitter pill of criticism with a little sugar to make it easier to digest!
The Feedback Sandwich
This is actually a great way to blend both pleasant and not-so-welcome messages in an appraisal. In it’s simplest form you tell the person:
- Something you like
- Something you don’t like
- Something else you like.
So the ‘not like’ bit is sandwiched between the ‘liked’ bits and the person leaves the session feeling good because things ended on a high note.
If it is used with skill and with sincerity it works very well in
- managing people
- being an effective parent
Unfortunately it is rarely used effectively – because it is rarely used sincerely.
Which is why it is better known as the Bullshit Sandwich.
The Bull**** Sandwich
Sarah, fresh from her sheep-dip workshop in appraisal techniques, decides to try her new techniques out in her appraisal with Mike and it goes something like this:
- “I liked how you handled Project A – that was quite successful and saved us a lot of money…but…” (Time taken 3 minutes)
- “… we need to address your time-keeping… and the untidy state of your desk…and, and and….” (Time taken 20 minutes)
- “Oh, and before we wrap up, I liked that email you sent me last week – well designed and clear. Nice work!” (time taken 30 seconds)
Sarah’s experience of the appraisal: “I think that went excellently. I used that technique to get my point across and wrap up the appraisal in less that 25 minutes. Excellent. Definitely an efficient management tool!”
Mike’s experience of the appraisal: “I got no appreciation of my work on the Project A – instead I had a twenty minute grilling about trivia – with a couple of insincere platitudes thrown in. I’m off to look for a job where my skills will be appreciated”
… used skilfully, the Feedback Sandwich is both effective and powerful. This is why we use our own version of it in some of our NLP management workshops: it provides a simple-yet-powerful framework for managing formal appraisals and coaching sessions.
Yet the success of this framework or technique is dependent on how it is used. And to make it work optimally the manager must:
- Genuinely want to make the other person appreciate their own successes and strong points
- Use it as a series of questions rather than verdicts e.g. ‘what are your 3 best achievements in the past 3 months?’
- Devote, at the very least, as much time and attention to the opening and closing ‘likes’ as to the performance improvement bit in the middle
- Be quite sincere in emphasising the appreciative points (Surprisingly, a lot of managers are unable to give genuine praise.)
- In dealing with performance improvement aspects, focus on how improvements can be achieved rather than on why things didn’t go to plan
- Treat the appraisal as a process where both parties are constructively appraising the performance and seeking to make it even better – rather than one blaming and the other defending.
And it helps if the manager or mentor or coach actually likes the other person, too. The Feedback Sandwich works best if it comes from the heart.