Police leaders at all levels are required to provide feedback to support improvement, address concerns and manage negative performance issues. This is particularly the case for supervisors and managers at the rank of Sergeant, Inspector, and Chief Inspector. Giving feedback is an expectation for these police leadership roles, so your behaviour will naturally be assessed as part of your promotion selection process.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
‘We Take Ownership’
“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 however integral to the CVF competency, ‘We Take Ownership’.
In your Sergeant, Inspector and Chief Inspector promotion board, you’ll likely be 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 Shi**y Sandwiches!
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard
Feedback is colloquially (and rather crudely!) described by police officers and the public alike as a ‘s**t sandwich’. It is commonly prescribed as one way to “constructively” provide feedback to improve something negative. There is a widespread misconception that two slices of stale bread can somehow ‘sandwich’ and soften the blow of providing difficult or corrective feedback. I use the term ‘stale’, because the s**t sandwich is a well-known, clichéd, and inauthentic feedback method.
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. In order to finish ‘on a high’, another piece of stale bread conveys a positive aspect of the individual’s performance, to complete the sandwich.
On a very simple level, it might look or 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 that people see can straight through it. Although commonly used, this approach to giving feedback 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 upon specific behaviour or conduct.
- Feedback can be delivered more supportively and effectively. Nobody likes s**t sandwiches or supervisors who have only this option in their leadership toolkit. Those with higher levels of emotional awareness are far better equipped to seek and deliver both positive and negative feedback.
- It’s a clichéd approach, most recipients know exactly what you’re doing and can smell it a mile off! No matter how well-intentioned the positive aspects may be, people tend to focus on the negative issue, reducing or diluting the impact of any positives.
Unfortunately, the s**t sandwich remains on the menu at many police stations around the country. Why not choose to stop serving s**t to your colleagues, regardless of how it is disguised or packaged? Instead, let’s explore some alternative options from the Chef’s specials board and more wholesome food for thought…
Time to BEEF Up Your Feedback…
“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, care and concern around developing others.
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.
To sustain balance for your teams, the ratio of positive and negative feedback is also worth thinking about. 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. How often does that happen?
Unlike the sh**t sandwich, which emphasises weaknesses, the BEEF model equips emotionally aware supervisors to provide strengths-based feedback too. Evidence in organisations and sports alike shows that people are more engaged and excel when working to their strengths.
Fuel for the Soul: Perfume
“Recognition and praise are high octane food for the soul.” – Bruna Martinuzzi
Why not provide praise or recognition on its own? Just the perfume. Not diluted or contaminated with anything else. Praise and recognition are powerful human 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’. Satisfaction with the job, colleagues and line managers are cited far more frequently in exit interviews than salary, as reasons for leaving an organisation.
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 tend to seek more regular feedback than their ‘Baby Boomer’ and ‘Generation X’ counterparts. Consider the following Simon Sinek discussion on millennials in the workplace for example…
Martinuzzi provides some pointers on giving meaningful praise, including:
- Praise has a “best before” date. Well-meaning managers often don’t find time for this. You must move it up the ‘to-do’ list, don’t delay it until it’s PDR time.
- 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, this has a watering-down effect.
Here’s an example from one of my many successful customers, Louise, who kindly gave me some beefed-up, fuel for the soul, having recently passed her promotion board:
- Behaviour: I just wanted to let you know that I have successfully passed my Sergeant’s Board.
- Example: I purchased your extremely helpful toolkits and listened to every podcast and watched each YouTube video you have provided.
- Effect: I can’t thank you enough, as I really felt it helped me get into the right mindset and get me through the process.
- Future: Thank you again, I’ll be in touch in a couple of years when I’m ready to face the Inspector’s Board!
An important aspect to consider when you aim to provide feedback as part of your leadership responsibilities is your intention. What is your intention when you deliver feedback? Be clear about this from the start. Here are some questions to support and provoke your thinking:
- What do you want to happen?
- How do you want the recipient to feel?
- How do you currently seek and deliver feedback?
- What might you do to improve on this?
Consider also the following Chinese proverb:
“Perfume always clings to the hand that gives roses.”
What do you want clinging to your hand? I’d certainly rather be smelling of the roses, than the manure!
It’s not just feedback where you can use this BEEF model in your professional interactions either. Here’s a final thought on where else you might choose to use it…
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word…
I began this meaty blog with how the art of giving feedback can be key to demonstrating CVF behaviours, such as ‘taking ownership’ or ‘transparency’. It can also form part of the CVF ‘We Are Emotionally Aware’ competency. In particular, you could also use this mnemonic for a beefed-up, heartfelt apology.
Making mistakes or upsetting people is a normal part of life and work. Sometimes, or for some people, it can be hard to find the right words to make amends and sincerely apologise. Sure, a ‘cake fine’ works for some straightforward bloopers. However, interpersonal gaffes, particularly those affecting team dynamics, may need a little more. You’ll need to demonstrate your more compassionate leadership capabilities, beyond the Krispy Kreme errand.
- Behaviour: Briefly summarise what you did.
- Example: Provide a specific instance of what in particular you got wrong.
- Effect: Recognise the effect your behaviour and actions had on others. Apologise for that.
- Future: What would you do differently in future?
You might not need such a model and you may be entirely comfortable when ‘fessing up’ if you’ve done something wrong. You might be an expert in clearing the air and moving on with delivering great policing. However, you might also find this useful food for thought as an option for your future interactions. Either way, you will earn greater respect among your team as they observe you recognising and accounting for your actions (rather than just bullishly charging on, whilst the elephant is still in the room!).
I’ve suggested how you can use this BEEF mnemonic for giving praise and making a sincere apology. You might instead come up with your own, better, and bovine-free way of doing things. Adjusting your leadership style is part of your ongoing leadership CPD, and means you’ll become a stronger and more authentic police leader as a result.
I hope you’ve found this blog helpful, and I look forward to serving up another in due course.
Kind Regards, Steve
Want to go further right now? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, and/or my Police Promotion Masterclass. You can also contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videos, eGuides, a podcast.