A fresh look at feedback – the 5-stage Improvement Centred © feedback model

In a past blog I talked about why I thought the common “Praise Sandwich” was not a useful way of delivering feedback. In this post I’ll outline an alternative. An alternative not based on the “positive”/ “negative” feedback models of the past but rather one that is learner-led and based on improvement, personal reflection and consent. The model itself is based on two assumptions that must be considered for this model to work. They are:

Learners are self-directed

Assuming that learners are self-directed is about acknowledging that learners have choice. They can choose to accept your feedback or not. The decision about whether they act on your feedback is up to them. This choice, the learner’s self-direction, is what separates feedback from a directive. While the two are often confused, a directive is not feedback. Telling someone to do something, often with the implication of consequences, implies little self-direction from the learner.

Empowering learners with choice builds ownership and encourages responsibility. It empowers the learner to take on your feedback and find their own way. This, however, requires something from you as the deliverer of the feedback. It requires your feedback delivery to be persuasive, engaging and learner led. It requires you to build rapport with the learner so they trust you and trust your judgement.

Feedback is about improvement and improvement is positive

When I ask my students how they feel about getting better at something, how they feel about improving, what do you think they say? Of course, it’s the same thing you are probably saying, “I feel good about it”, “It’s a good thing”, they smile, they laugh, some of them think it’s a silly question but no one ever says “Hmmm, no, I like getting worse at everything I do”.

So when feedback is based on improving performance in a particular area, it’s positive. It comes from a transformational position rather than one that is transactional. Real feedback is delivered by people who are interested in the person’s development, they want the person to succeed and improve. Real feedback is delivered by people who are interested in building people up rather than putting them down. Real feedback comes from people who have good intentions.

Now that we have covered the assumptions that underpin the learner-led, improvement-centred model let’s take a quick look at two terms that are used in the model.

“Working Well”: This is the reinforcing feedback, the stuff the person should repeat and continue to do. It’s working well, it’s a strength.

“Do Differently”: This encompasses two different kinds of feedback, corrective and developmental:

  • Corrective feedback outlines those things that the person should change or stop doing. Usually it is the things the person is doing wrong and needs to change.
  • Developmental feedback is like a hybrid of corrective feedback and reinforcing feedback, it’s the two mixed together. It involves identifying what’s working well but also doing something differently. It’s like saying “you are doing xyz right, but if you alter this about your approach xyz will be 20% better”.

The Improvement Centred Feedback © Model


The model has five stages:

  1. Appreciation
  2. Reflection
  3. Permission
  4. Feedback
  5. Integration

Let’s look at each stage individually.

Appreciation: Thank the person for their efforts. Take a moment before you say anything to genuinely thank them for their efforts and input. Be genuine, pause and be sincere.

Reflection: Ask the person to reflect on their performance. Ask them what they thought worked well and what they would do differently next time. Importantly, ask them to start with what they thought worked well. In my experience people often start by taking about the things they didn’t do well. Starting in this place is not my personal preference. I like to start by celebrating what worked well and then looking at what needs to change.

Permission: Ask for permission to give feedback. This is the step most people miss. They give feedback without asking permission. Feedback that is sought is more likely to be listened to, adopted, and less likely to be challenged. The person should want your feedback and if they don’t want it why are you giving it? Feedback that is not wanted is a directive. There is nothing wrong with directives but they are different to feedback. Feedback is about choice and when people have choice they develop ownership, they feel empowered; a directive is a command or demand, it has a tendency to do the opposite.

Ask the person “Do you mind if I give you some feedback?”. I know what you are thinking, it’s what everyone thinks at first, “What if they say no?” It’s a good question, but consider this. In all the years I have been asking learners this question, to literally hundreds of students, only two have said no, and both of them just wanted to know how I would respond! How I respond is always the same, I say “Are you sure, it’s really good feedback!” It works. Besides, if the person respects your opinion won’t they want your feedback?

Feedback: Deliver the feedback in a conversational and friendly manner. Discuss what you thought worked well and what could be done differently. Invite the person to ask questions. Aim to give a variety of reinforcing, corrective and developmental feedback. Finish on the point you most want the person to go away and think about.

Integration: Like asking for permission, this step is often overlooked but it is an essential stage. This is where the learner internalises the feedback and commits to future action.

Firstly, ask the person if they thought your feedback was fair. Ask “was that some fair feedback?” Ask what point resonates the most with them what part of the feedback they thought was most useful to them. This is a really important part of integration, asking the learner what feedback was most relevant and applicable to them. They might say “I think I really need to work on my introductions, I have had this feedback before and hearing it from you has really highlighted that I need to work on it.” This integration allows you an opportunity to ask the learner how and when they will integrate and practice the new skill.

Depending on the context of the feedback you may choose to add a level of formality to this stage by documenting it. Formally documenting the commitments made in the integration stage can have real value and developing an action plan is a potential output of this stage.

So there you are, a learner-centred feedback model based on improvement, reflection and consent. Practice it during your next feedback session and let me know how you think it worked.

Key takeaways

  1. Reflect on how you currently approach feedback conversations and how you view them. Do you think of feedback as positive or negative?
  2. Begin asking students to reflect on their performance before you deliver your feedback
  3. Ask for permission before giving feedback
  4. Deliver feedback as what “worked well” and what could be “done differently”
  5. Don’t forget to ask how they will action on your feedback and look for real integration possibilities, not just intentions. The Improvement Centred © Feedback model is designed for results!

Tony Kirton is the founder of Engage Learning and Development an organisation committed to developing and delivering engaging learning programs that inspire behavioural change.

Contact Tony directly on 0497 686 242 or fill out the form below and we will get in touch.

Supercharge your next training session [3 nonverbal routines]

I’m often amazed at the nonverbal messages people send unintentionally, that have a big impact on how they are accepted and the impact they have. We all know how important these are and we regularly hear about various body language gestures that have a significant impact on our success. Well I’m not talking about nonverbal communication such as body language, pitch, tone or how often you pause, I’m talking about the nonverbal communication of a winning training session – environmental nonverbal communication.

What’s environmental nonverbal communication? I’m glad you asked! I’m talking about how you set up the tables, where you first greet a student, what is on the tables and how you use flip charts and the whiteboard. These all communicate something! Yes, they either make people comfortable or uncomfortable, they add to the ambience or they detract.

Greetings are important

Of all the nonverbal messages, the one that gets most attention is how you greet the student when you first meet them. How you greet someone is important. Your handshake, eye contact and distance are, of course, critical. But so should where you greet them. Waiting at the front of the room to greet a student should be avoided. Rather walk slowly and confidently toward them as they enter the room. There are two very good reasons you should do this.

  1. Moving forward is a display of comfort and we move away or remain at a distance when we are uncomfortable or uncertain about a person and their intentions. By moving forward, you are saying “I’m comfortable with you and I’m happy you are here”.
  2. It gives status and importance to the person we are moving towards. Waiting for people to approach us gives us status and sends a message that we have higher status than another. While this might be appropriate in situations where you need to command importance and status, it doesn’t belong in adult learning environments. When a student enters the room, they should feel important.

Provide snacks and fruit

This is a low cost action that has high impact nonverbally. Not only does it make sense to have fresh fruit and snacks available from a learning perspective but having these types of foods available communicates a number of strong nonverbal messages such as “we care about you” and “your health is important to us”.

Position the food and snacks in a prominent place and advise students of their presence when they arrive. Add this simple, low cost nonverbal to your training sessions and watch how many students make positive comments and eat the refreshments!

Maximise use of flip charts and whiteboards

Maximise use of flip charts and whiteboardsHow a facilitator uses a flip chart or whiteboard says a lot about their facilitation style and skills. The way you convey and record your ideas demonstrates how you think about that idea or the person delivering it.

Messy and disorganised recording does not convey “this idea has value”, it conveys “I can’t be bothered”.

Here’s a few hints for creating great flip charts and powerful whiteboard images so effective that people will want to take photos.

Here’s a few hints for creating great flip charts and powerful whiteboard images so effective that people will want to take photos.

Mr Sketch Markers
My favorite pens to use are ‘Mr Sketch’. They are bold colorful and smell great too!

Use the right pens

This is important. A fresh colourful set of pens is essential for a great flip chart. On my flip charts I use Mr Sketch Scented Markers, the ones that smell like a bag of fruit flavoured lollies.

As well as smelling great, they have a great variety of colours and have nice bright, bold colour that stands out. Same goes for the whiteboard, except I use an extra-large bold tip and a fresh one to start every training session.

Draw a border

I’m forever amazed how experienced facilitators overlook this. This is what gives your flip chart character and makes it stand out and helps to focus the viewer’s eye. Be creative and use colour to create contrast and impact.

Start with a central theme

This means start in the middle and work your way out. Don’t list items from top to bottom. Starting in the middle allows you to create a Mind Map-like effect with a number of branches coming from the centre image. Tony Buzan’s research found that Mind Mapping or exploring ideas from a central theme using colour and images, enhanced creativity and retention.

Use capital letters

Capital letters have more straight lines than their lower case friends. This means the text is more likely to be clearer as there is less margin for error. Take your time when you write each word and work on keeping your lines straight.

Key takeaway

Recognise your own environmental nonverbal communication and try some of these tips in your next training session. I guarantee you’ll experience great feedback from your students!

Tony Kirton is the founder of Engage Learning and Development an organisation committed to developing and delivering engaging learning programs that inspire behavioural change.

Contact Tony directly on 0497 686 242 or fill out the form below and we will get in touch.

Can toddlers teach us anything about training? [5 tips to try]

Playing with our 18 month old daughter, I found there are some parallels between children’s play and great training practices. So here are 5 tips worth sharing:

1. Flexibility is key

While we have a session plan to follow, we need to be flexible based on what they group needs in the moment.

Parents know that even the best laid plans don’t always fall into place with kids! Things might take longer, or the activity that was entertaining yesterday (or even 5 minutes ago) might now be a source of irritation! Flexibility is key.

As trainers we also need to demonstrate flexibility. Even the most rigorous session plans don’t always fall into place as we would like. When the situation or mood of the group changes we need to be flexible too, think on our feet and adjust our delivery to better suit the learning group.

2. Innovate and change it up

Changing up for delivery methods keeps both you and your learners engaged.

Whether you are a parent or not you can probably imagine that our 18 month old daughter moves through a variety of interests on a regular basis. My wife and I constantly devise new ways of engaging with her in a fun and exciting way. From making the sounds of barnyard animals to the invention of a sock puppet named “Francis the Pig” we are constantly changing our material.


As trainers we have to do the same with the way we deliver content. What people find interesting and engaging can depend on the learning group, demographic and workplace (to name a few) so we need to mix it up and keep it fresh. This is not only great for our learners but it keeps stretching us as trainers and helps to keep us at the top of our game!

3. Lead by example

Like parents, trainers are in a  position to role model the behaviours that we expect of our students.

One of the things I’ve noticed our daughter does a lot is replicate our behaviour and how we perform certain tasks. We didn’t show her how to drink from a glass, she copied us. We haven’t directly showed her how to brush her teeth, she observed us at a young age and replicated the actions. This has made me more aware of things I do and do not do around the house!

As trainers we are role modelling the required skills and attitudes for our learners. Whether we like it or not, we are on show and our behaviour, including our attitude is on show as the benchmark standard. We need to keep this in mind not only when we are delivering a lesson but before, after and even during breaks.

4. Let them take risks but be supportive

red bull
We need our learners to step outside their comfort zone and we should be there to support them to do it.

Our daughter loves playing in her stroller. She loves hopping in and out of it and gets a real buzz when she climbs up and down. While it is stable, there is a small risk it will tip over – a risk she is unaware of. To help her avoid injury we keep one hand or foot on the stroller while she hops in and out laughing and smiling all the time. We keep an eye out when we feel she needs a helping hand.

Great trainers do the same with their students. They are always looking out for students that might need that extra level of support and generate suggestions and ideas of how they can help.

5. Don’t take yourself too seriously

One of the best forms of humour in the training room is having a laugh at yourself. 

If there’s one thing you can’t do when playing with an infant is take yourself too seriously. Acting like a silly kid is part of the game! Whether I am crawling around on the floor, making the sounds of a farmyard animal or smiling with orange peel in my mouth, I know the joke is on me.

While I don’t do these things when I’m training (for obvious reasons), I try not to take myself too seriously. As trainers we can do this by being prepared to have a laugh at ourselves or be the centre of a joke. It can relieve the tension of a serious learning session. But keep in mind that any joking needs to be about you, not the students or the course material.

Tony Kirton is the founder of Engage Learning and Development an organisation committed to developing and delivering engaging learning programs that inspire behavioural change.

Contact Tony directly on 0497 686 242 or fill out the form below and we will get in touch.


Time to Freshen the ‘Feedback Sandwich’ [3 Reasons Traditional Feedback Models are a Waste of Time]

Delivering effective feedback can be a challenge. While it can be tough, feedback is one of the best ways to improve performance. But why is it so difficult? When I talk to learners in my training sessions, I often hear a similar concern. You probably already know what it is! You guessed it, people struggle with delivering corrective feedback, that is, the feedback that involves suggesting the person needs to do something differently. Conversely they rarely struggle with encouraging “you’re doing this well, keep doing it!” reinforcing type of feedback.

Why are we so reluctant to deliver honest constructive feedback to someone when we know it will help them? To be honest there are probably a multitude of reasons: from feelings about how the person will react, to how they have had feedback delivered to them in the past – and if it was a positive or negative experience.

While there can be many reasons why people shy away from delivering the feedback people often need the most, I believe there are three reasons holding people back that are often overlooked.

1) Traditional feedback models (such as the “Praise Sandwich”) are flawed

You know the model I’m talking about. It comes in many forms, it’s been delivered as the staple feedback model for the past 25 years. It has many aliases: the “Praise Sandwich”, the “Feedback Hamburger” the “Bathtub”. This is the model that describes feedback as a step by step process, and encourages the user to cushion “negative” feedback with soft and fluffy pillows of positive feedback.

Here are 3 problems with the “Praise Sandwich”:

  1. It encourages the belief that certain types of feedback are positive or negative.
  2. It works from an assumption that the person receiving the feedback couldn’t bear to take being asked to do something differently unless it is surrounded by reinforcing feedback.
  3. It is at odds with the rule of primacy and recency. Originally known as the serial position effect and traditionally relating to the recall of numbers, this effect tells us that people tend to recall information presented first and last easier than information presented to them in the middle of a communication. Unfortunately, the “Praise Sandwich” tells us to position the corrective feedback in the middle, the place where it is least likely to be remembered.

2) Feedback is often labelled as “negative or “positive”

Think about some of the beliefs or language you hear people use about feedback. When I ask students about feedback, without fail they refer to feedback as “positive” or “negative”. Perpetuated by some common models about feedback (more on this later), this is the idea that some types of feedback are negative and others are positive. Let’s think about that for a moment – since when was improvement negative? Shouldn’t that be what genuine constructive feedback is about – improvement? So why would it be seen as a negative thing to improve and become better at something?

Why does the term positive or negative matter? First, when delivering feedback, it should be constructive. If it’s constructive and genuinely focused on improvement then it can’t be negative. Whether the person sees it as positive or negative is up to them but it’s not your place, as the deliverer of the feedback, to label it “negative”. Think about it, if you go into a feedback situation thinking, “I’ve got some negative feedback to deliver”, how likely is it that the recipient will perceive it as negative? Very likely.

So, forget the positive and negative labels and just focus on your feedback being constructive.

3) The various forms of feedback are not recognised

So if feedback is neither positive nor negative, what type of feedback is there? Generally speaking there are four types of feedback:

  1. Appreciative
  2. Reinforcing
  3. Corrective
  4. Developmental

Appreciative feedback

Appreciative feedback is about saying “thank you”, it’s about recognising and appreciating effort and contribution NOT performance. This is important because despite someone’s best efforts sometimes things don’t always go to plan. There might not be cause to celebrate but where there is effort you can appreciate.

All feedback conversations should start with a statement of appreciation. The simplest form of appreciation is “Thank you” or “I really appreciate the effort you have put into this. You have encountered many challenges and your effort in pushing through those has been outstanding”. While this might seem common sense, it’s not common practice, with years of organisational research finding that people often don’t feel appreciated at work.

Reinforcing feedback

This is the feedback most people deliver well. Reinforcing feedback highlights what’s working well, this is the stuff you want people to repeat. For example, “the introduction to your presentation was excellent, your opener was well timed and you engaged the audience straight away with your enthusiasm and passion. This is something you should reflect on and repeat, well done”.

Corrective feedback

Delivering corrective feedback is where most people have difficulty. These are the things you want the person to do differently. It’s the stuff that needs to change. For example, “your work needs closer attention to the detail, particularly the spelling, grammar and sentence structure. Consider having a co-worker review it before you distribute it to your team.”

Importantly this is not a negative statement, it’s constructive and focused on improvement.

Developmental feedback

Developmental feedback is in a way a hybrid of both corrective and reinforcing feedback. It is about identifying what someone is doing well and advising them how to improve it. You might say, “Your Power Point Presentations are well constructed and generally of a high standard. However, I think there are some small adjustments you can make and will have a big impact on your slides and how your audience reacts to them. They are…”

Developmental feedback is about finding out what people do well, identifying ways that it can be improved and communicating that effectively.

So, before you deliver your next feedback conversation, take a moment to consider and incorporate some of the above principles into the conversation!

Tony Kirton is the founder of Engage Learning and Development an organisation committed to developing and delivering engaging learning programs that inspire behavioural change.

Contact Tony directly on 0497 686 242 or fill out the form below and we will get in touch.