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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Feedback: Nobody Wants a Shit Sandwich!

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“It’s NEVER OK to feed people shit sandwiches. Try perfume instead.” – Steve Cooper

Sergeants and Inspectors are required to provide feedback to support improvement, address concerns and manage negative performance issues. Giving feedback is an expectation for police leadership roles, so your behaviour on this will be assessed as part of your promotion selection process.

‘We Take Ownership’

CVF Competencies Values

“I give constructive and accurate feedback.” – CVF behaviour, College of Policing

Feedback is an essential part of the College of Policing’s Competency & Values Framework used in police promotion processes throughout the UK. This is a clear part of the CVF value, ‘Transparency’. Feedback is also integral to the CVF competency, ‘We Take Ownership’.

In a Sergeant or Inspector promotion board, you are expected to demonstrate these behaviours at Level 2; this means not only responding to feedback positively as part of your own CPD, but also able to provide constructive feedback to others.

Stop Serving Shitty Sandwiches!

Police leadership feedback

Feedback is widely (and crudely!) described by police officers as a ‘shit sandwich’. It is commonly prescribed, as one way to ‘constructively’ provide feedback to improve something negative. It is thought that this softens the blow of providing difficult feedback. Here’s how it goes when an aspect of an individual’s performance needs to be addressed: To avoid being too direct, you start with something positive (a slice of tasty bread). The negative aspects are then delivered, but to finish ‘on a high’ another positive aspect of the individual’s performance is conveyed to complete the sandwich.

On a very simple level, it might sound something like this:

“You’re starting to settle in well with the team on this section, well done. Your file preparation needs some improvement, you missed some evidential criteria from the last file you submitted. Your recent arrest of A. Nother for burglary was a good piece of proactive work though.”

There are criticisms to this model of feedback, one being simply that people can see straight through it. Although commonly used, this feedback approach is often misused for a number of reasons:

  • It’s the lazy option, a timid approach. Delivering negative feedback as part of communicating and reinforcing standards often requires courage and focus on specific behaviour or conduct.
  • Nobody likes shit sandwiches, yet some supervisors have only this option in their leadership toolkit. Feedback can be delivered more supportively and effectively. Those with higher levels of emotional awarenessare better equipped to seek and give positive and negative feedback.
  • It’s a clichéd approach, astute recipients know what you’re doing so no matter how well-intentioned the positive aspects may be, people only ‘pick up on’ or hear the negative issue, reducing or diluting the impact of positive ingredients.

Unfortunately, the shit sandwich remains on the menu at many police stations around the country. So, the following sections outline a couple of alternative ‘Chef’s specials’ as food for thought…

BEEF Up Your Feedback

BEEF Feedback Policing

“Catch someone doing something right and let them know you clocked it.” – Kenneth Blanchard.

A more effective alternative to provide feedback is ‘BEEF’, a simple mnemonic to help you structure and deliver information.

  • Behaviour: Describe and summarise what the person has done.
  • Example: Provide a specific instance of when this happened.
  • Effect: State clearly the effect it had on people or its result/outcome.
  • Future: Advise what needs to happen or change from now.

This is a more flexible approach to delivering accurate feedback for all kinds of situations, positive or negative. Importantly in the context of police promotion, it is a great way to demonstrate your self-awareness and concern for developing others (CVF competency, ‘We are emotionally aware).

By emphasising the behaviour in question and what needs to change it keeps the focus clear cut without the recipient feeling it’s personal. The focus is on improvement.

CVF emotionally aware

To sustain balance for your teams the ratio of positive and negative feedback is worth thinking about too. Negativity bias means that bad/negative information is more powerful to the human brain than good/positive things by approximately 5:1. This means ‘balance’ might be seen by providing five pieces of positive feedback to your team against every area requiring improvement.

Support develop grow
Support and develop your teams with feedback

Unlike the shit sandwich, which emphasises weaknesses, the BEEF model equips emotionally aware supervisors to provide strengths-based feedback too. There is evidence emerging in organisations and the field of sports that people are more engaged and excel when working to their strengths.

Fuel for the Soul: Perfume

Recognising police work

“Recognition and praise are high octane food for the soul.” – Bruna Martinuzzi

Why not provide praise or recognition on its own? Just perfume. Not diluted or contaminated with any anything else. They are powerful motivators and cost nothing. In a compelling article on praise, Bruna Martinuzzi outlines how employees consistently rank genuine ‘appreciation for work well done’ over ‘good wages’. Leaders can build trust and motivation by providing this ‘high octane fuel for the soul’. This is particularly relevant today when workplaces are increasingly occupied by ‘millennials’ and ‘Generation Z, who seek more regular feedback than their ‘Baby Boomer’ and ‘Generation X’ counterparts.

Bruna provides some pointers on giving meaningful praise, including:

  • Praise has a “best before” date. Well-meaning managers often simply don’t find time for it. You must move it up the ‘to-do’ list; Don’t delay until the (dreaded!) PDR time. Remember also, that no one should discover ‘new’ feedback in their PDR.
  • Think about your language to make your words more impactful. “This was pure genius” or “I would have missed this if you hadn’t picked it up” is more memorable than a bland, “Well done”.
  • Deliver praise or recognition, then leave. Do not mix it with other matters.

Here’s an example from one of my recent happy customers, Nathan, who gave me some beefed-up, high-octane fuel for the soul having passed his promotion board first time:

  • Behaviour: After attending your masterclass, I was successful in promotion to Inspector.
  • Example: Using the same techniques and with your support, I have again been successful for a specialist DI post last week. This proves the high quality and durability of your course.
  • Effect: I received glowing feedback from the interview board.
  • Future: I would highly recommend Rank Success if you want to win first time.

What is your intention when you deliver feedback? What do you want to happen? How do you want the recipient to feel? Be clear about this from the start. How do you currently seek and deliver feedback? How might you improve on that?

There is a Chinese proverb that says, ‘Perfume always clings to the hand that gives roses’… what do you want clinging to your hand??

Here’s some final food for thought on why meaningful feedback is important…

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Feed… Now!


If you found this blog helpful and you’d like more tips and guidance on effective promotion preparation, why not download a FREE GUIDE: ‘7 Things Promotion Boards Also Look For’ to help you on your way? You can also use code POLICEHOUR20 at checkout, to save 20% on any Rank Success digital promotion toolkits or bundles.

Kind Regards, Steve

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Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper writes expert promotion content to support the development of UK police officers.

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