Is the Feedback Sandwich Full of Baloney?

bologna in a vacuum packageQuick show of hands … how many of you were taught to use the sandwich method when delivering negative (or as I like to call it, constructive) feedback?

Many of us have but I must admit, I’m not a fan.  Here’s why:

  • Surrounding the message regarding the behaviour that needs to change or the performance that needs improvement (the meat) in between two slices of praise (the bread), takes the focus away from the change needed.  If the last thing your team member hears is that they are doing well, chances are that is what they will take away from the meeting.
  • The feedback sandwich doesn’t support the intention of the meeting or discussion.  If you expect a change in behaviour or performance, focus on that instead of beating around the bush.  Honest, truthful, respectful feedback inspires trust.
  • It’s a little condescending in that it sends the message “you are not strong enough to hear this”.

The sandwich method may help ease the task of delivering constructive feedback, but it’s not particularly effective.  Instead of using the feedback sandwich, try the following:

  1. Before entering into any discussion, know exactly what behaviour or performance standard is not being met.  How often? When? Avoid using words like always or never.
  2. Focus on one improvement at a time.  Sometimes, those baloney sandwiches were so loaded with meat, it was overwhelming.
  3. Don’t ignore areas of success or excellence. Include them in the natural flow of conversation, instead of just in the beginning or at the end.
  4. Be specific about what change is required and why.  Involve the employee by asking why they think the change is important or who is impacted when a behaviour or standard is not met.  Identify the positive results that will occur when the change is complete or even in process.
  5. Don’t compare one employee to another.  Nobody likes to be told they should be more like so and so.
  6. Don’t use judgmental words like lazy or slow.
  7. Involve the employee in discovering the ‘why’ and ‘how’.  Perhaps more training is required.  If so, how will it be delivered?  A workshop?  Partnering with a workplace coach or another team member?
  8. Develop a plan. How will you assess or monitor change and when will you next meet to review progress?
  9. End the meeting with an expression of confidence in the employee.

When feedback is delivered respectfully and with the intention of helping someone be better at their job, it makes the message easier to hear.  While many people would much rather hear how amazing they are, instead of their shortcomings, most of us also realize we are not perfect and appreciate an honest, sincere offer to help.

What do you think? 


A Towel Would Have Been Nice

Rainy dayMy daughter Amy recently spent a few days in Amsterdam. She arrived at midnight in the pouring rain.  Amy walked into the first hostel looking for a safe, dry place to stay.  No empty bed was available.  She walked back outside into the rain and on to the next hostel. Again, no bed.  Three more times she tried with no luck.  So she got in a taxi and went to another area of the city where there were more hostels.   It took two more tries before she finally found an empty bed.

Now call me a crazy customer service lady, but wouldn’t it have been nice if just one person had said “You look tired and soaking wet. The weather is lousy outside.  We don’t have any beds left but how about I make a few calls to see if I can find you one.” And then, maybe, just maybe she could have been offered a towel to dry off  a little bit and a hot cup of coffee or tea before heading back out into the nasty weather.

The second to last hostel she tried did at least recommend the name of a hostel close by and gave her directions on how to get there, so that was better than all the others.

None of the first hostels Amy tried could give her exactly what she wanted .. a warm, dry bed and a roof over her head.  I imagine if the people working had taken a moment to ask themselves ” If this was me, what would I like?”  they would think:  I’d want someone to recognize that I am tired and cold.  I’d want someone to try to find me a place to stay.

Sometimes, customer service is nothing more than looking up and really seeing the person in front of you. Has anyone provided that kind of personalized, caring service to you lately?  



Looking at the World Through the Eyes of Robin Williams

Robin Williams was an incredible talent and will be missed.  Perhaps it’s a little weird that when I learned he had died, Sesame Street popped to mind.

Almost two years ago, I shared a Sesame Street clip with Robin Williams and the two-headed monster talking about conflict.  (Find it here.) Recently, I discovered a different Sesame Street clip (an old one!) with Robin Williams and Elmo.  Watch at all the different uses Robin William came up with for a stick.

Very often, we get stuck on one right answer, one right way of doing things or or one way of seeing the world.  What exciting changes could we bring to the world around us if we all opened our mind up a whole world of possibilities?

R.I.P.  You left a legacy and will be missed.

Watch Out for Customers!

  • Breaking News: Customer tries to get freebie AGAIN!vintage newsboy
  • This just in: Reports say number of cranky customers on the rise.
  • Business Bulletin: Customers are clueless.
  • In the News:  Customers the highest cause of stress in service professionals.

As humans, we tend to focus on the ‘bad stuff and forget about the good stuff or the normal stuff.  When an anomaly happens, it makes the headlines. Big, bold letters and dramatic language sell papers, encourage clicks and create huddles around water coolers.  Just think of all the headlines and intense media coverage last month regarding the safety of air travel.  The loss of life is tragic.  I cannot begin to imagine the depths of pain and suffering felt around the globe because of that. Too often though, that’s where we get stuck. We forget about the millions of people who got on a plane and arrived safely at their final destination.

I see this same perspective in the service industry.  Sharing stories about unreasonable, cranky customers is common.  Some people go on and on about the cranky, rude, or “out to get a freebie” customer. After a while, they start to perceive all customers as cranky, rude and out-to-get something.  Their attitude towards customers tends to bring on more stress than the actual customer.

Yes some customers will lie to get freebies from you. Some are crankier than others.  As for clueless – the customer isn’t the expert. They’re not supposed to be, so don’t expect them to be.

Here’s an idea.  Instead of sharing stories about the “bad’ customers, share stories about the good to great ones. Count how many good to great customers you serve in a day instead of how many ‘bad’ customers.  Focus on the many positive customer interactions, instead of on the small percentage of cranky, rude and out-to-get something people.  You’ll be happier, and when you’re happier, your customers are happier.

Do this on a regular basis and in no time, you’ll be watching for the customer instead of watching out for the customer.


How to Create Customer Focused Voice Mail Greetings

telephoneI left a voice mail last week for someone who promised to call me back at his earliest convenience.  His voice mail greeting didn’t ask me to leave a time when a return call would be convenient for me.  He didn’t say he would call back within four hours or one business day.  My call was going to be returned when it was convenient to him.

Now, in the grand scheme of customer service, this type of greeting is not a deal breaker.  I’m not sure anyone would slam the phone down in disgust and refuse to do business with someone because of that.  But being the nit-picky customer service person that I am, I believe that even seemingly insignificant customer touch points like a voice mail greeting is an opportunity to make the customer or potential customer feel important.  And I don’t mean adding the cheesy “Your call is important to us/me” line to your message.  That line probably causes more eye-rolls these days than moms and dads do when they speak to their teenagers!

Creating a customer focused voice mail greeting means taking into consideration the person who is calling you.  Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t speak too quickly, too loudly or to softly.  The caller needs to be able to understand what your greeting says.
  2. Change your message if you are going to be away for an extended period of time.  Don’t forget to change it back when you return!
  3. Let the caller know when they can expect a call back or better yet, ask the caller to leave suggested times when he or she will be available.  It helps avoid the dreaded telephone tag.
  4. If possible, provide an alternate contact name and number if immediate assistance is required.  The alternative “press 0″ is appropriate if you also provide the name of the other person. This saves the caller from having to explain what is needed to the person at front reception.

By the way, the message I left last week has still not been returned.  It has been four business days. While the message may not be a deal breaker, no response to the message could be.  Perhaps he is away on holidays, forgot to change his message and will call back with an apology when he returns.  Perhaps something unexpected is keeping him away from the office.  It happens.

When thinking about your voice mail greeting, also think about who can change your voice mail greeting for you (create an outline or script for that person) and pick up and respond to messages left prior to the greeting being changed.

Getting the voice mail greeting right costs nothing except the time it takes to record it, but it can make the difference between a positive or negative first impression. In customer service, we need to create as many positive impressions as we can, so don’t leave that all important first one to chance.

Related Blogs:




The Power of Humility

Humility gets a bad rap.  Humility is not meekness or submissiveness.  The act of being humble is not a result of low-self esteem.

Humility is strength. Humility acknowledges and is grateful for personal strengths. Humble people recognize and acknowledge when others are better, faster or more knowledgeable than they are, not because they feel weak, but because they don’t feel the need to overshadow everyone around them.

Humility acknowledges personal weaknesses, but not with a sense of shame. Humility is strong enough to ask for help or develop a plan to become stronger.

It takes courage to be humble, because humility translates to vulnerability. But those who are brave enough to be humble, to be vulnerable, create an opening, an invitation to trust. Trust is the power of leadership. Obedience may happen without trust, but loyalty won’t.

Humble leaders don’t consider themselves better than other simply because of rank or title. They don’t demand special privileges for themselves.

Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Ghandi were all humble leaders leaders. They changed lives. Their contribution to bettering our world was immense. They garnered admiration and respect worldwide. They were humble AND powerful.

A modern day humble leader is Arthur T. Demoulas, the popular ex-CEO of Market Basket.  He visited stores, he attended weddings and funerals, he fought to better the lives of the people who worked in the stores.  And those people are standing behind him. Some are walking off the job. Some have been fired because of their vocal support.  Many who do show up are joining the picket lines when not on the schedule.  This is pretty much unheard of in today’s climate where general distrust of CEO’s is pretty high.  The company is losing millions  and are considering selling the company. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.


power of humility


Humility is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of great strength.  Are you strong enough to be humble?


Do You Let Efficiency Get in the Way of Great Service?

Multi-ethnic business people sitting holding clocks over faces.Which is more important?  Completing a customer transaction in’ x’ number of minutes or having the customer walk away feeling valued, respected and cared for?

Too often, bowing down to the gods of efficiency and effective time management get in the way of building and creating relationships with the people we live with, work with or serve.

When service providers are expected to process ‘x’ amounts of call or customer interactions per hour, will they take the extra step of anticipating customer needs or responding fully to questions?  When the focus is on process and not service, customers feel like a number (because they are!), not a person.

Yes, more transactions can be processed when we don’t take the time to answer questions our customers may have before they ask them. Yes, transactions take longer when we stop, put down the papers or lift our head up from the computer, face our customer and give them our full attention.  It may mean we have to answer a few more questions or be asked to provide additional detail.

There are ways to become more efficient. Cut down on red tape, policies and procedures that slow tasks and activities down.  Bundle activities by task or location.  Know the answers to the questions most often asked so team members don’t need to search for the answer. When a search is required, note the answer down and share it with team members.  Ensure your team members have received the training they need, which may not necessarily be the training you are providing.

Efficiency is important. Effective time management is important. But when they become more important than the customer, you may end up having more time on your hands than you’d like when the customers stop coming.

14 Reasons Training Fails

” Training is a waste of time and money.” Businessman Looking At Colleagues Sleeping During Presentation

“It didn’t work the last time we did it.”

There are times when training is a waste of time and money.  I’ve found that when training does not produce behavioral change, there are generally some underlying reasons to that. Here are fourteen.  What other reasons can you think of?

One:  When everyone must take the training, not because everyone needs it but because it’s easier to put a whole bunch of people in a training session than deal with the individuals who are not performing to standard.

Two:  When the participants have no idea why they are there, what they are being trained on or how it will help them be more successful at their job.

Three:  When you’re being over-zealous with training.  Training is good.  Too much training, especially when the participants don’t understand why they are there, is exhausting.

Four:  When it’s boring!

Five:  When the principles taught are not backed up or supported by the executive and management team.

Six:  When the training is not in alignment with organizational realities, current or future.

Seven:  When it’s not tied to a specific goal or objective.

Eight:  When a toxic, negative work environment exists.

Nine:  When the learner doesn’t have the necessary skills to process or apply the learning.

Ten:  When the learner’s current knowledge, skills and abilities are not acknowledged and recognized.

Eleven: When it is rushed, either by packing  too much information in a session or not allowing participants time to absorb and practice before introducing the next level or topic.

Twelve: When there is no clear statement as to what a successful training session will achieve.  If end goals are not clearly stated, it is very difficult to measure success.

Thirteen:  When the training doesn’t address the real issue.  For example, a full-day of customer service training won’t improve customer satisfaction scores if the real problem is skill or knowledge based. When team members don’t know HOW to do job tasks, they become frustrated and customers become frustrated.  Or perhaps the team leader never provides any feedback or only provides negative feedback, so morale is low and the “can do” attitude has died.  In that case, training one supervisor how to be a strong leader will be more effective.

Fourteen:  When short-term thinking prevails.  Sometimes, results are immediate.  If a safety policy is not being followed, new behaviours, such as always wearing a harness when working on a roof, should be seen immediately. Mastering time management takes longer which means increased efficiency or productivity will be a more gradual change.


Training, when done well, is not a waste of time or money.  There are numerous studies that show training improves employee morale, productivity and the bottom line.  The key lesson is, before planning any kind of training, whether with an internal trainer or an external trainer, be sure you know why you are training and the end result you desire.  If you can’t clearly articulate that, go hang up the phone and go back to the drawing board.


When is Firing not the (first) Answer?

Woman fightingI’m sitting here watching an old CSI episode.  One of the characters, Sara, is lashing out at others on the team, losing her cool during person-of-interest interviews and directly defying the boss.  He wants her fired and is angry when her supervisor, Grissom, refuses to do so.

There are three reasons Grissom refuses to fire her:

  1.  She is damn good at her job and a valuable part of the team.  Her insubordination and bad attitude is a relatively new development and out of character for her.
  2. He allowed her behaviour to continue instead of addressing it immediately.
  3. He took the time to talk to her (finally) and discovered long-buried trauma brought back to the forefront from a previous investigation was the reason for her change in behaviour.

Insubordination, lashing out at others, must be dealt with.  It can’t be ignored or it will worsen and team morale will suffer.  However even direct defiance, if a new behaviour, does not necessarily warrant immediate firing.

Before taking that drastic, final step, leaders will take a good look at themselves to ensure they did not contribute to the problem.  Were they in any way unclear as to expectations?  Did they say or do anything that gave the impression of favoritism?  Did they ask too much from the employee and not provide the support or training to meet the new demands?

Leaders will also take the time to look beyond the behaviour and try to discover a reason for the drastic change.  It’s not that they can or should take on the role of counselor, but when an employee is struggling emotionally or mentally, find a way to help them get past that barrier and back to being a productive, valued member of the team.  Giving an employee the opportunity to resolve their difficulties so their performance and behaviour can improve  is good for team morale, the organization as a whole and is bound to create a strong sense of loyalty.

There are times when the damage is too great or the necessary change in behaviour does not happen.  In that case, it’s time to part ways. If that happens, be sure your documentation is in place, call the employee in, break the news professionally, firmly and compassionately and then move on.  It’s not that firing is never the answer. It’s just not always the first answer.

Book Review: Challenge the Ordinary

ChallengetheordinaryIn my post, Upright and Breathing Are Not Key Qualities, I shared two reasons why some employers hold on and keep less than stellar performers on their payroll.

Reading ‘Why Evolutionary Companies Abandon Conventional Mindsets, Challenge the Ordinary, Question Long-Held Assumptions and Kill their Sacred Cows’ confirmed another suspicion I had as to why some employers let them stay.  It’s easier to settle than create the environment where exceptional thrives.

Being the kind of company exceptional people want to work at and then want to stay at, demands a commitment to exceptional and a whole lot of hard work.

There is a wealth of information and wisdom in Linda’s book. I have tabs stuck on numerous pages and lots of highlighted information. Here are notes from just four of those tabs:

1.  The Competitive Advantage quadrant outlines four ways companies operate.  Some companies have a clear vision of future but no clear plan on how to get there. Others rest on the laurels of previous or even current success. Because they are successful now, they continue to operate exactly as they have always done and therefore, quickly fall behind.  Some companies look for instant gratification. They have short-term goals which are successfully implemented, but those goals are without long-term focus. Companies in the competitive advantage quadrant have a proven track record of success, but unlike those resting in their laurels, they ask the question “Is this still working  Can this be done better, differently, more exceptionally?”  Companies in this quadrant also have clear direction and take the time time develop strong execution plans.

2.  A change-oriented, learning culture is needed to achieve exceptional.  This really ties back to willingness to ask “Is this still working? Can this be done better, differently, more exceptionally?”  Providing training and coaching support is critical and exceptional leaders ensure their teams get that support, but a learning culture goes beyond that.  A learning culture also includes the assumption that positive change, improvement, happens when there is a pro-active approach to problem-solving.  It means an understanding of and willingness to take on the inherent risk of trying a new approach and perhaps failing. It is through trial and error that better solutions are found.

3.  Setting, sticking to and living  high standards.  Exceptional companies expect so much more than good or great companies. They set their standards high and they don’t let them slide. Mediocre or ‘good-enough’ is not accepted.   The leaders of exceptional companies understand that they must be the living, breathing example of what they expect from the people on their team.  They do not demand or expect more from others than they themselves are willing to give.

4.  A one-size-fits-all approach to coaching doesn’t work.  Some of you will know how much I dislike the one-size-fits-all approach to anything, so I couldn’t help but love this statement.  Coaching, rewards, recognition .. they all need to be done with the individual in mind.  What works for one individual won’t work for another.  Too many companies have approaching coaching, training, rewards and recognition with a one-size-fits-all approach and then abandon them because they don’t work.

These are is only four quick take-aways from Linda Henman’s book. If I kept writing, and I could, you would all need to go and get another cup or two of coffee.  In short, if you want to be the kind of exceptional company that draws star performers to you and then keep them with you, create an environment where stars flourish and shine.  Stars ditch companies that tolerate mediocrity and companies filled with mediocrity don’t attract stars.

Now go, work hard and shine!

(Thank you to Career Press for the opportunity to read and review Linda Henman’s book, Challenge the Ordinary.)

%d bloggers like this: