Manure Delivery

Right after avoiding it, the most commonly employed managerial strategy for dealing with feedback is, delaying it. The first approach is poor form… the latter approach is cruel.

Have You Seen this Movie?

Place yourself in a setting where you are sitting down for your annual performance evaluation. In your mind, the year has been filled with smiles and pats on the back from the boss and co-workers. Your frame of reference is, All is Good,  and you are genuinely excited for the opportunity to talk to the boss about how you can contribute more.

This good feeling lasts for about 5 seconds into the conversation.

As quickly as the smile on the boss’s face fades, you’re being fed the first piece of the “But” sandwich, slathered in “To Be Honest With You” sauce. It sounds like this: “You’ve done great this year, But, to be completely honest with you, we have some concerns.”

The first bite tastes stale and rotten at the same time. And who the heck is “We” and why didn’t they tell you they had concerns? Never mind that the boss just confessed he was lying to you all along and is only now being truthful. (Note to everyone: use of the “to be honest with you phrase is a guaranteed credibility killer. Strike it from your vocabulary.)

As the reality sinks in that this conversation isn’t about what you’ve done right or what you can do to contribute more, you swear you can hear the beeping of the dump-truck as it backs up and prepares to unload a year’s worth of everything you did wrong, all at one time.

The above conversation takes place somewhere in a corporate office daily. I’ve heard this countless times, and most recently from a good friend.   Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of this stale, rotten sandwich and dump-truck criticism.  Feels good, doesn’t it?  Not.

While I would love to wave the proverbial magic wand and see all who abuse this most important of developmental tools, placed into feedback jail and rehabilitated, reality tells us that our primary focus must be on our own behaviors.

4 Steps You Can Take to Stomp Out Dump-Truck Feedback:

1. Frequently ask the boss for feedback. If “How am I doing” elicits a grunt and a snarl with no input, try variations, including, “What do you need me to do more of?” or, “What can I do to help improve performance?” or, “How can I better help you?”  Creating an opportunity for the conversation might just open a dialogue and keep the dump-truck in the parking lot.

2. Get this right when it’s your day. If you supervise or manage others, get this right from the start.

3. Teach good feedback practices. If you supervise or manage those who supervise or manage, teach the right behaviors and hold people accountable for getting this right with their people.

4. Give some feedback on the feedback. If you are victimized by  a “Dump Truck” approach while being force fed a “But” sandwich slathered in “to be honest with you” sauce, give some frank and professional feedback on the feedback process. And yes, I mean, good, behavioral and professional feedback…slightly different than the thoughts running through your mind. And then ask the questions in #1 above.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Everyone loses…the firm, the manager and the employee, when the manager delays giving feedback. Some managers may be beyond rehabilitation, but you control your own actions.Tips for strengthening your command of the feedback process are never more than a web search away. And, “to be honest with you,” (see, it doesn’t feel good, does it?), most professionals want and appreciate regular feedback…positive and constructive. As it becomes your turn to carry the management torch, make certain that the Feedback Dump Truck ends up on the scrap heap, along with the “But” sandwich and jar of “To Be Honest With ¥ou” sauce.

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Art Petty is a Chicago-based management consultant focusing on strategy and leadership development. Art regularly speaks on innovation in management and leadership, and his work is reflected in two books, including the recent, Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development. (download a free excerpt at Art’s facebook page.)

Art publishes regularly at The Management Excellence blog at

Prior to his solo career, Art spent 20+ years leading marketing sales and business units in systems and software organizations around the globe. You can follow Art on twitter: @artpetty and he can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]