The Reality of “The Supervisor Sandwich”

3 Minute Read

Confrontation is certainly not the easiest part of being a manager. In fact, it’s probably your least favorite. It’s human nature to avoid interpersonal discord. Many people hope a problem just corrects itself without our intervention. But, is that manner of thinking really reality? How can you provide coaching for an employee, co-worker, or even your own supervisor and have it be a positive experience? We’ve all heard of “The Supervisor Sandwich.”

It’s long been provided as a consistent method of confronting employee performance issues.

The process is taught consisting of three steps.

  1. Say something nice about the person.
  2. Tell them about the problem.
  3. Follow up with something else nice.

Now, we understand that the intention of this is to avoid hurting the person’s feelings and to leave them feeling good about the interaction. But think about a potential “Supervisor Sandwich” conversation… “Donna, we sure appreciate you coming to work. You are always late, but once you finally get here we are glad to see you.”  What do you think Donna heard? Did she hear that her presence was valued and respected or is she thinking, “What was that middle part again?”

Most employees want to know when they are doing something wrong or when they’re not meeting your expectations.

Possible reasons why they aren’t performing to their potential could be that they:

  • are unaware of the expectation.
  • are pushing the limits to see where the line is drawn.
  • know they are not meeting the expectation and are waiting for someone to say something.
  • don’t care.

Despite the reason, it’s ultimately your responsibility to make the employee aware of the situation, solicit a solution, and monitor the correction.  It may not be the easiest or most enjoyable part of the job. But it is one of the most crucial.

Imagine making a staff presentation only to discover later that you have lunchtime broccoli in your teeth. You ask your supervisor if she noticed it and she says, “Yes, but I didn’t want to embarrass you by saying something.” Wouldn’t you have appreciated it more if you knew before your presentation? Yes, it might have caused short term embarrassment, but saved you from being the joke around the office for some time to come.

Allowing an employee to continue not meeting expectations is allowing him or her to fail. And it’s a sign of disrespect. Taking the time necessary to correct, coach, and confirm is helping that person be more successful. And it can strengthen your relationship.

You can be pleasant, positive, and pointed. Stop yourself from using buffer statements simply to avoid addressing the real issue. Get to the meat of “The Supervisor Sandwich” while being private, empathetic, and sincere. It may not be what the person wants to hear, but it is what he or she needs to hear.  Once the issue is conveyed, the solution can begin. In the end, your employees will thank you!

More tips on how to hold your team accountable here.