I am stimulated to write this after reading an email from Mark Murphy at Leadership IQ. Basically, what Mark is talking about is the whole issue of giving people compliments on their work. And I really disagree with his premise in some simple ways.

Mark wrote:

Please Stop the Compliment Sandwich

What is a Compliment Sandwich? Well, beyond being one of the worst management techniques ever invented, it’s a way of trying to criticize somebody without making them feel bad. Basically, you give somebody a compliment, then you criticize them, then close with a compliment.

Here’s how one training company describes the Compliment Sandwich process (this is so absurd it would be hysterical, if only it weren’t offered seriously):

  1. Decide where your employee needs to improve his/her performance.
  2. Think of something they do very well related to the situation. For instance, if you think that they are always late, try how they get straight to work once they arrive, or how they volunteer to stay late).
  3. Choose another positive point to remark on. This should be very loosely related to the above point.
  4. Deliver the first compliment. “Hey, Jon. Already deep in your work? Wow, you just got here!”
  5. State where you would like to see improvement. “It is almost 9:50, though; you’ve been late a lot recently…maybe you need to find a way to miss that morning traffic.”
  6. Finish with the last compliment. “Oh, by the way, your car looks fantastic!”

Scott’s thinking is somewhat different, in that I feel that compliments can be a positive PART of performance feedback, but that it should not represent the major component:

Where I beg to differ is that the so-called Compliment Sandwich is sure an awful lot better than the Critical Construct or the Negative Hammer or the Godzilla Meets Bambi approach of some managers who can find little or NOTHING positive to say about an individual’s performance and offer their “Constructive Criticism” as a constant way to involve and motivate people for performance improvement.

Samuel Goldwyn probably typified that approach, given he said:

“When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”

Goldwyn was probably not the most involving and engaging managers we’ve ever seen but he did head MGM movie studios and certainly “managed people.” There are LOTS of other such “leaders” who would have been a lot better if they had sandwiched their criticism with a few positives now and then, in my opinion. Pointy-Haired_BossThink Dilbert cartoons and the pointy-haired boss that everyone can identify with…

Most people would find some positive recognition to be useful. And managers should, most assuredly, offer some feedback and advice on when the performance is not up to standard and needs to be corrected. What we sometimes see is managers avoiding those people who are hard to deal with, and this greatly affects the overall workforce. Better a screaming match with the worst performer and bad actor than paying them more money for each unit of work, insofar as how it affects the overall work team.

My suggested approach is around building strong performance feedback systems so that performers themselves know how they are doing on critical performance issues. I write about that and offer a feedback analysis checklist on this blog post:

Performance Feedback! Breakfast of Champions

I also suggest facilitated work improvement discussions around the themes of building performance improvement teams and teamwork among people in the workgroup. Since most people are un-engaged, why not facilitate some discussions about what roadblocks need to be addressed and what best practices need to be shared and supported. I call that Engagimentation or Dis-Un-Empowerment and you can read about some of those ideas by clicking the linked text above.

Mark is selling a seminar. Me, I am just saying that things could be a lot worse (and they ARE a lot worse) in a lot of workplaces. The statistics clearly indicate that reality. Boss spelled backwards is self-explanatory.

Yet bosses can see the future and can coach and mentor and can provide effective motivational feedback to assist people in transformation. It is a reframing and a re-anchoring of perception to the core of behavior and desired change and improvement.

It is about seeing potential and acting upon it:

Mentoring Coaching haiku

So, continue to make things better by allowing your people to make things incrementally better and recognize and reward those improvements with your specific comments,

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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Also published on Medium.