Author: Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development in the workforce. One blog is about that. The other is about tennis.

This thing about the feedback sandwich

For a while now I’ve been meaning to write something about the feedback sandwich. What is it you ask? It’s that cowardly act of not having a difficult conversation.

Err… what?

Sorry. That didn’t explain it at all. It’s that “technique” often delivered as being an effective way to give someone bad feedback.
1) Tell someone the good thing they’re doing.
2) Tell them the bad thing they’re doing.
3) Tell them another good thing they do.

There. All better.

Sometimes. I. Could. Shout.

Let’s unpick this thing.

First of all what message is the person supposed to listen to? You’re giving them three clear pieces of feedback, but in reality only want them to focus on the negative feedback. But that message is hidden in the positive stuff. So, how is it clear which message they’re meant to listen to?

People have selective hearing. They’ll hear what they want to. If you’re trying to give some negative feedback, they’ll (mentally) protect themselves by not paying attention to the negative thing. Because you’ve given them two bits of good, they don’t need to pay attention to the negative.

If you try to focus only on the negative, even though you’ve given two positive messages, you completely negate the impact of those positive messages. Instead, what the person thinks is you were lying about the positive messages. So, there was no point in giving the two positive messages.

In truth, this is not about giving the person feedback in a compassionate way. It’s about protecting the person delivering the feedback. The person delivering doesn’t want to feel bad because they’re not skilled enough to give bad feedback on its own. That has nothing to do with the person receiving the feedback at all.

What it comes down to is this. We’re adults. Yet the old ways of working mean we treat each other in ways of hierarchy and power and control which are long gone now. They’re old. But, there are plenty of us holding fast to tried and tested methods, “because they work”. The problem is, they only work because there’s nothing better been tried or practised. The brilliant thing is, there are skilled people who can deliver bad messages well, and we need to learn from those people better.

I’m a firm believer in dealing with reality. If someone’s doing a bad job, be clear and unequivocal about it. That’s not to say you have to be horrible, rude or nasty. It means help someone know exactly why something didn’t go the way it should have, support them to do better, and be respectful enough to treat them as adults.

I’m also an advocate of building people’s strengths. If someone is awesome, tell them, in clear, unequivocal terms. Shout about it, let others know, reward that behaviour and make a song and a dance about it. We don’t do that nearly enough (particularly us Brits and our stiff upper lip nonsense), and it’s rubbish that we don’t.

Don’t muddy the two though.

what have you done to kill innovation today?

Sukh Pabial:

Just read this brilliant piece of writing.

Originally posted on fool (with a plan):

No InnovationPeople are naturally creative and inventive. Most of it has been squeezed out of a person by the time they enter the workforce, but a little always remains. Creativity and innovation are the bane of exacting accuracy and efficiency. Trying something new or different slows things down and introduces errors and variability into processes. It flies against the virtues of the status quo and state of the art best practices.

Yet, no matter how much you insist on ruthless adherence to rules, policy, and precedent, there will always be people in your organization who find new paths. Here are a few thoughts for preventing them from disrupting your business:

Who you hire is crucial to the company’s future. If there is a preferred “type” for your organization, hire those people. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious – ethnicity and gender are easy to play to and that’s really an amateur move. A…

View original 777 more words

Provocation, obtuseness and self importance

I was at a conference over the summer and heard a guy who is one of the HR Director’s at Sky. Apparently he’s very successful. He worked for Getty Images, and made so much money from them he didn’t have to work again.

He told us this after he proceeded to let us know he was going to be provocative, because apparently that’s his MO.

This was him trying to be all credible and talking from a place of authority.

I mean, you know, fuck him. Fuck him very much.

Complete apologies for the use of foul language there, dear readers. But jeez, this was such epic levels of being obtuse that I was surprised he didn’t just ask people to queue for his autograph after his bit was done.

Did he talk good stuff? Annoyingly, yes. What grated on me was how he used this platform not to share his good knowledge, but instead to sing his own praises so much that I think he is his own groupie.

Ok, enough of this guy.

Jeff Turner of Facebook. He’s doing the rounds at the minute too.

I mean here’s a guy from a cool company and he’s being asked to speak on the circuit, as is expected, and he’s not adapted his conference talk one bit. Pretty much every time I hear about his talk I could tell you what he’s going to talk about.

I get it. I do. You’ve delivered a good talk once upon a time, and suddenly every conference organiser wants you there. Why change the topic, or even why be humble about being asked to talk? Hell, we’re in a day of self-promotion, and what better way to self-promote than just be arrogant and all up yourself?

Except, you know… modern day… arrogance sucks… self importance was never important… being obtuse shows how much of a knob you are… something about authentic leadership… something about being a role model for the profession… something about the big companies not knowing their arse from their elbows…

I can be provocative with the best of them. Except the one thing I always maintain, fundamentally, is respect for the people I’m with. I quite possibly do act in a condescending way, and I do quite possibly patronise. I am heavily reliant on people to let me know. Importantly, though, I’m careful to not listen to the praises in the absence of the honest feedback. I care that people feel invited to have a discussion with me. Not just for their dignity, but because I believe I don’t know everything. I know some things, and with others I learn more.

There’s just as much responsibility in being provocative as there is in being a leader or in having money. If we don’t act responsibly, then we believe our own hype far too much.

Dear readers, you rock


I’m at the stage of my blogging where I’ve got a strong regular following, and new people are finding my blog too. I still find the writing enjoyable, and there seems to be no shortage of things to write about. From comments, and from interactions I have with people, I am told that my writing has relevance.

One of the common questions I’m asked is how do I find the time to write? These days, it’s such a regular activity that it just happens for me. I don’t have to find the time to write. I don’t have a plan for my blogging. It’s very rare I draft blog posts – once it’s written I pretty much hit ‘publish’. That often means I haven’t clearly thought through what I want to say, and my writing reflects that. My writing, as I’ve described before, is my way of thinking outside my head.

And as I was reminded recently by Tim Scott, I once said “Blogging, it’s my thing yo.”

I tend not to write controversially, although I often make my position clear on certain topics. That tends to mean some people aren’t sure how to react to what I write. If it’s something they have an interest in, I’ve pretty much excluded them from having a proper dialogue with me. I’m ok with that, but it’s not my intention. My intention with my writing is for me to express myself, and invite others to think with me.

I just write when the bug bites. The WordPress app on Android is pretty good for me. The dot com site is pretty awesome and I can access from most devices. So it’s not like there are any barriers to my writing.

And, I guess importantly, I don’t tend to write about issues facing my actual organisation. Instead, things that happen at work inspire me to write about my perspective from my profession and what it means across other organisations. That allows me the freedom to write as an internal practitioner. I know there are people who think there are boundary issues with such things, and I don’t deny that reality. For me, though, I’ve found a way to make it work, and be open about it with anyone who knows me, both in work and personally.

This week I hit 70,000 blog hits. I’m proud of that, and I’m really joyed that people find the time to read what I write. It’s very personally satisfying and brings me a lot of personal enjoyment when I write. I want to share, though, that for the truly best bloggers out there this milestone happened a long time ago for them. And, for the peak of that group, they achieve this number of hits in a month!

But, for me, this is an important milestone. I’ve been doing this blogging lark for about 5 years now. I’m averaging about 2000 views a month depending on how often I write, and how well read the various pieces are. I find comments interesting – there’s no big answer for how to get people to comment. If they do, that’s personal choice. And FYI, this is my 508th blog post. That’s a lot of writing!

It’s hard to say what topics are better read than others. And it’s hard to say what you should or nor write about. As with most things, it’s the quality of the writing which invites a readership. For sure, I’ve written pieces which I thought were great pieces of writing, but have not been read well. That’s not to say poor writing gets read well, cos that’s just not true.

I mean, all I’m saying is thanks you lot. Some of you have stuck with me for years. You guys are awesome. Some of you have recently found me. Thank you for enjoying my writing. And some of you dip in and out of my writing. You are always welcome.

Oh, go break some ice!

Icebreakers. Energisers.

Ugh. Right?



There are plenty of times I hear people complain about being made to do an energiser or icebreaker. And when I hear the actual problem, it’s that often there is little relevance of the exercise in relation to the session they’re about to take part in.

See, as an L&Der that cuts me to the core.

There are L&Ders and trainers (yes, there’s a difference) out there who are asking people to connect or engage in an activity with the best of intent but they’re landing flat and hard on their face.

These things matter in the L&D world. It’s about priming people to get set for the next level of activity. A well thought out activity is key to engaging the people you’re with. If they’re to give the best of their thinking and their time to the session, every moment you’re together needs to be crafted. This doesn’t have to be done by the facilitator, it can be a co-created agenda and event. But all the same it needs to be purposeful and valuable time with one another.

Call them what you will, icebreakers and energisers serve an important purpose. Often, all that’s missing is providing the right context for doing the exercise. Once people have that understanding, the exercise is normally accepted.

And depending on the exercise and how well people engage with it, they start to apply their thinking and intelligence to the session at hand with ease.

For sure I’ve been guilty of getting enthusiastic about a new thing I learned and want to try it out on my unwilling subjects! How fun! But also how self-serving, and completely limits the learning experience. I’m sure many of us have said:

“Just try it!”

This is one of those easy points of annoyance that people hate to experience. We influence that. So let’s help people have a better experience.

Using artwork as a coaching tool

I’m delivering a lot of coaching training at the moment. Needs of the business and all that. As happens to us L&Ders, when you repeatedly train on one topic, I start to tinker with how I’m delivering the session. One of the things I’m highly mindful of when I do this is that it needs to be supportive of the learning experience.

I pay attention to what others in this shared world of work do. Particularly I’ve been paying attention to Doug Shaw and his Art for Works Sake series, and Simon Heath and his invitational approach to using art as an expression at the recent Glasgow L&D Connect unconference.

What they’ve both helped me to come upon is how artwork can be a vehicle for discussion.

Unless you maintain artwork as a hobby or do it as your main thing, many people forget how to put pencil to paper to create art. The practise itself is not supported in many businesses, because it’s not a (directly) productive endeavour for making money.

I’m not on a crusade to reinvigorate art in a work setting. But I am interested in challenging people’s perceptions of their barriers and of their limitations. It’s far too easy to dismiss something as difficult and not take the time to explore why or what’s going on there. And it’s even easier to not focus on what t might look like if it were better.

So the first exercise I get the group to do is draw something in their view. I’m explicit in letting people know that their skill kf drawing is entirely consequential in this context and that even if the drawing is just a series of lines, that’s enough.

I then pair people up and ask them to coach their partner to do the next iteration. Again I’m careful to not give the instruction to make it better. This isn’t about judgement. It’s about helping the partner to explore what they’re doing and what they would try again or try differently.

It’s also important to note I’m not a very arty person. I don’t find drawing easy. I enjoy it but need to spend time with it. I’m asking people to practise something as a way for them to have dialogue later.

I find that the coaching conversation that ensues raises a lot of interesting insights. Some people judge the other person’s drawing. Some people offer direction via their own interpretation – e.g. “you are drawing a boat. It needs to have sails.”. Some decide to take authority “I’m the coach, you need to listen to me”. Some ask questions about what the person was trying to achieve. Some provide feedback. Some offer options for improvement.

All from an opening 20 min exercise.

70:20:10 and the challenge to L&D

Warning: Nothing I’m writing about below is new or disruptive.

In the L&D world in recent years there has been a growing advocacy around changing the way we understand how learning happens at work. There’s a steady movement moving from instructor led and presentation led learning as a default to creating and cultivating more natural ways for people to share information.

With technology now at the forefront of giving people new ways to connect, share information, knowledge and practise we’re seeing a real move to technology becoming an enabler of better working and better learning.

The 70:20:10 model promotes thinking around the efficacy of learning mechanisms. 70% of our learning at work happens through on the job activities. 20% happens through peers and social based activity (also includes coaching and mentoring activity). 10% happens through formal training programmes and courses (including e-learning).

It’s easy for people to get caught up in the numbers of the model. They seem to represent an intuitive sense of the reality.

One of the things it really does is challenge the skill set of the L&Der to adopt new thinking about how learning takes place. If only a small amount of learning happens via the courses and courseware we hold so close to our hearts, then how do we enable the rest to happen?

It’s a big question. There are practitioners out there making it happen. This model helps to provide a way of developing thoughts and ideas on the new skills knowledge and practise that sits around this new world of learning.

What kind of things are these people doing?

- On a leadership development program using online collaboration tool as a default for connection, sharing and knowledge delivery
– Internally inviting people to design their own courseware with clear guidance around good e-learning design and principles to stick to
– Holding a regular internal open mic session where people can talk on any topic and everyone is invited (and yes, people attend)
– Using open space as an engagement tool at a staff conference
– Simply allowing YouTube access
– Introducing an internal social network like Yammer to allow for internal discussions and knowledge sharing to take place (and no it doesn’t get abused)

I’m involved in a lot of discussions and spaces where these things get discussed a lot. That’s mostly been because of Twitter and some amazing connections I’ve made with others. These connections have given me the support and strength to be brave in my organisations. My practise is far from revolutionary but it is certainly different. I know this because I hear many stories of people being subject to the same old same old learning design and learning practise.

Change isn’t afoot. Change is here. The 70:20:10 model isn’t a panacea. It’s an interesting alternative. When I’m talking about these things with my business areas I don’t talk in terms of the model. I talk in terms of performance impact and business relevance. That’s not a hard switch.