How is Delivering Feedback Related to the New York Times’ Recipe for Plum Cake?


I was poking around online for a dessert recipe to prepare for a dinner party and came across a renown plum cake recipe; and feedback has been the focus of many coaching sessions recently. This is how I connected the dots between these seemingly unrelated topics.

The New York Times published its plum cake recipe annually between 1983-1989 and then declared it wouldn’t print it again; reader outrage was immediate, and the Times agreed to print it every year going forward (when summer is turning to fall and it’s the perfect time for plums). What strikes me about this beloved recipe are the multitude of possible variations that readers have shared — substitute cornmeal in place of some flour, experiment with other fruits, add lemon zest, and on and on. Yet the basic recipe remains intact.

It got me thinking. Like this plum cake, delivering feedback requires a basic recipe. All good feedback models such as AID, FAIR and Manager Tools, to mention a few, incorporate three key ingredients.

  • Describe the behavior that is observable (what could be captured on a camera?)

  • Discuss the impact of this behavior (on you, others, the person receiving the feedback)

  • Decide on a plan to deal with this behavior (this may involve one step or several)

Feedback models may seem confusing at first glance. Should I deliver feedback in private or more casually? How many items of feedback should I deliver at once? Should I “sandwich” adjusting feedback between affirming comments? My advice is to focus on the three key ingredients of the feedback recipe and allow for variations depending on the context, your personal style and characteristics of the person receiving the feedback.

As we know, feedback can be affirming or adjusting. The rough guide is that 80% should be affirming and 20% adjusting. The three key ingredients of the feedback recipe that I am suggesting works well for delivering both types of feedback.

Baking this plum cake for my upcoming dinner party is an act of love. I also believe that giving feedback is an act of love. Using this feedback recipe, you are communicating to the person receiving the feedback that you want to help him or her to be more successful in the future. That’s love… and good management!