Lessons from a simple model on how to turn feedback into action.

By Luke Sklar and Amber Hudson

Giving feedback – it’s often uncomfortable, icky, frustrating and messy.  The ability to give great feedback separates the good from the great.

We recently had our annual SW+A company off site.  At this event we had the pleasure of having Dr. Karyn Gordon speak to our team about giving great feedback.  And the model she used (not hers, it’s been around a while) was brilliant in its simplicity and ability to be used in any feedback situation, even the icky ones.  You can use it with a direct report, your boss, your spouse, your boss’s spouse, even with your kids.  From giving feedback on a new campaign or a marketing plan, a new outfit or a bad decision this method works.  It’s called the Hamburger Feedback Model.

Here’s the idea. When offering a critique, start with a compliment that’s related to the critique on something that the person has done well.  This is known as the top bun.  Then segue into the meat which is the constructive criticism.  Then you end with the bottom bun, which is another helpful compliment that outlines why this is important and what your intention is.  Essentially this model allows you to sandwich the critique between two related compliments. This prevents frustration and leads to action.  Here’s an example:

Just a greasy patty:

Hey Jimmy, this industry report you pulled together is pretty bad.  I’m guessing Brand Manager Sally would rather toss it in the garbage than listen to your suggestions.  Try again.

A delicious hamburger

Top Bun:  Hey Jimmy, remember that report you pulled together on industry trends last month?  It was so clear and so focused that Brand Manager Sally adjusted her brand plan to capitalize on one of the trends. 

The Meat:  This latest report is missing the same degree of clarity and focus.  And the implications are unclear.  I’d like you to write up another draft that is at the same level as the other report.

The Bottom Bun:  I’m telling you this because I know you’re capable of writing great reports.  And if you do this it would really help Brand Manager Sally and she would see the ROI in the work you are doing.  What do you think?

While it may seem like it, adding soft buns is not about sugar coating so the person won’t flip out.  It’s about getting to action.  And on the flip side, as researchers we should know feedback is just data. Not only should you give it, but you need to ask for it if you want to learn.

So, you can be like Nancy Grace, Bill O’Reilly, Joan Rivers:  three mouth pieces who just loooove throwing the meat around.  Or you can add some nice buns and give it a shot, you may be surprised!