No one likes a shit sandwich

One of my first jobs was a Snowboard instructor. When I was 16, I spent my winter weekends teaching at Blue Mountain through a ski and snowboard club called Ravens, which transported kids to Collingwood from Toronto. During my first year, I taught beginners – mostly kids aged 8 to 12 who had never been on a snowboard before. Anyone who has learned to Snowboard knows the first few days really suck. You spend a lot of time on your bum, hands, and knees. It’s a lot of getting up and falling down while you get comfortable balancing on your edges.

Instructing beginners involves demonstrating the basic elements of how to turn and providing a lot of feedback. You’re constantly pointing out what to do differently and trying various tips to see what lands with the learners. “Bend your knees!” “Keep your back straight!”

Becoming a level 1 instructor is fairly easy. I had to demonstrate a basic-to-intermediate riding competency, and then learned varying techniques, tips, and training tricks as part of an instructor’s course. During the course, I received my first introduction to the shit sandwich feedback method. The shit sandwich feedback method goes like this: start by giving a compliment or saying something encouraging (top bun), then give some critical feedback (shit meat), before ending with some nice words (bottom bun). “Hey Sarah, you’re doing great out there! Next time, make sure your knees are wider than your ankles over the board. You’ve got this!”.

Fast forward a few years. My first job after University was an Investment Banking Analyst and in my second year I was tasked with leading the summer intern training program. Before the interns arrived, I participated in a brief instructor’s session where I was surprised to be re-introduced to… you guessed it… the shit sandwich feedback method! Exact same concept, very different application.  “Hey Max, love that you’re digging through the company’s annual report! Next time, don’t forget to check if they have any Restricted Stock Units outstanding when you’re calculating the fully diluted share count. Great initiative though – you’ll get it next time!”

If you’ve ever had a manager use the shit sandwich feedback method on you, you’ll know it gets old, fast. The pattern becomes obvious and as a result, you ignore the inauthentic initial compliment (top bun), the real feedback becomes diluted (shit meat), and the positive finisher doesn’t feel genuine (bottom bun). If you’re a manager, cut the buns and deliver the shit straight up. People generally want to improve and if you’re going to give someone valuable feedback, go bun free. There are plenty of other opportunities to share praise, encouraging comments, and positive feedback. At a minimum, remove one of the buns. Your team members will thank you for it.