Industry Magazine Get JACK'D Magazine Winter 2019 | Page 17

“When I was preparing for the meeting with the CEO, I learned that all three consultants had tried to compliment him, and he saw right through it. It was time to take the feedback sandwich off the menu and be radically candid.” 17 HOW DO you give feedback to a CEO who’s twice your age? I was 25, a new professor called in as a last-ditch, Hail Mary effort to save a dying company. They had already fired three consultants, so why not try me? The CEO had been leading longer than I’d been alive. After several weeks of watching him in action, interviewing his senior team and gathering data from his employees, it was time for me to bring down the hatchet. His company had merged with another firm and he was still trying to figure out where to go. His team desperately needed him to outline a vision. When I went to colleagues for advice, they all told me the same thing. Put a slice of praise on the top and the bottom, and stick the meat of your criticism in between. It’s the compliment sandwich, as Stewie Griffin called it on Family Guy—a technique for giving feedback that’s popular among leaders and coaches, parents and teachers. But when I looked at the data, I learned that the feedback sandwich doesn’t taste as good as it looks. Problem 1: The positives fall on deaf ears. When people hear praise during a feedback conversation, they brace themselves. They’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it makes the opening compliment seem insincere. You didn’t really mean it; you were just trying to soften the blow. Problem 2: If you avoid that risk and manage to be genuine about the positives, they can drown out the negatives. Research shows that primacy and recency effects are powerful: we often remember what happens first and last in a conversation, glossing over the middle. When you start and end with positive feedback, it’s all too easy for the criticism to get buried or discounted. Giving a compliment sandwich might make the giver feel good, but it doesn’t help the receiver. Instead, try these four steps to make your criticism feel constructive: