What An Oreo Cookie Can Teach You About Feedback

It is that time of year when many leaders are preparing to conduct annual performance reviews.  Yet, many leaders struggle with coming up with the right words to provide positive – yet constructive - feedback.

An important factor in providing feedback with both candor and care is to accept that mistakes are a natural progression towards goal achievement.  In his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz describes how a self-guided torpedo uses negative feedback to correct itself when off course.

 “The torpedo accomplishes its goal by going forward, making errors, and continually correcting them.”

People achieve goals in similar ways to a torpedo in motion.  We move forward, do some things right, make some mistakes, and then have the opportunity to correct them so we can stay on track to complete tasks, meet deadlines, ensure quality work, and achieve goals.

As a leader, a key part of your role is to help people correct mistakes by learning from them.  This requires you to first accept mistakes as reality and view feedback as helpful.  When you do, you are better positioned to give feedback in a meaningful and constructive way.  Because how you view mistakes will impact the words, tone and body language you use to provide your feedback.

Another factor in providing meaningful feedback is to language it effectively, professionally, and graciously.  An approach commonly known among veteran leaders is the “Feedback Sandwich”.  However, I prefer to think of this approach as an “Oreo Cookie”.  The same principles apply – provide praise, then corrective feedback, then more praise.

An Oreo Cookie has a much more joyful and helpful feel to it than what has commonly become referenced as the sh** sandwich. 

Here is an example of how you would use the Oreo Cookie Approach on someone who was making mistakes in compiling a report:

“I appreciate your willingness to take on that last minute reporting project. (praise) There were a few areas that were missing updated data. (correction) With the same diligence you used in tackling this project within a short period of time, I know you will ensure you have the accurate information next time.” (praise + expectation)

If you need to improve your ability to give more balanced, meaningful feedback, here are a few self-coaching questions for you:

  • What is my belief about mistakes? Do I accept them as an opportunity for learning?
  • What fears do I have about giving feedback? How can I overcome these fears?
  • What do I know about this individual’s personality or work style? How might I need to adapt my leadership style to support them in receiving the message the way it is intended?
  • How can I language my feedback so that it provides praise, draws attention to the area that needs improving, and reinforces my expectations for them?

When delivering feedback with both candor and care, it can be received in a way that reinforces your belief in them and provides valuable insight.  Given in the spirit of helping others make course correction - versus drawing attention to their mistakes - team members just may thank you for it.

Lisa Holden Rovers, MSc, CPHR, PCC, is the Founder of Workplace Matters. Since 2005, Lisa has been coaching entrepreneurs and executives to grow as leaders and spark team cultures that thrive. She’s an award-winning human resources professional and a certified leadership and team coach who is passionate about helping people step into what is possible.  

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