Performance Reviews: Why the Compliment Sandwich Isn’t So Delicious


16248269Hooray! It’s time for a performance review.

Chances are, your team won’t have this reaction. At many organizations, annual evaluations create anxiety among employees. But what about supervisors? Many of them are nervous, too – especially when they need to broach uncomfortable topics.

According to a World of Business Ideas story, one of the worst things bosses can do to soften the blow of criticism is to serve a “compliment sandwich.” Here’s an excerpt:

What is a Compliment Sandwich? Well, beyond being one of the worst management techniques ever invented, it’s a way of trying to give critical feedback to somebody without making them feel bad. Basically, you give somebody a compliment, then you layer in a criticism, then you complete the sandwich with another compliment.

Don’t make the common mistake of trying to squeeze a negative performance critique or correction between layers of positive reinforcement. Imagine you’re Frank and your boss has just called you in for a little feedback. “Frank, you’re a world-class programmer, the absolute best. You’re probably the smartest guy in the department. You’ve been pretty nasty during our weekly meetings and it’s causing some hurt feelings. But I’m saying all this because you’re just so darn talented. I really just want to see you flourish.”

If I’m Frank, I just heard: “I’m great. I’m smart. Waa waa waa. I’m great. I’m smart.” Frank heard some compliments, then the sliding trombone sound of Charlie Brown’s teacher, then some more compliments. But he certainly didn’t hear anything about his job being in jeopardy or even that his performance is anything other than great.

Interesting. This amusing video starring “Puppet Mike” and colleagues shows the compliment sandwich in action.