Providing feedback is an essential part of all managers’ responsibilities. Employees need to know what they are doing well, what they need to improve on, whether their work output is in line with expectations, and how well they are contributing to achieve the team or organisation’s goals. However, what is the key downside with all feedback?
The hint is in the word; feedback. Feedback focuses on what has already happened and as we all know, we cannot change the past! Feedback does not focus on the dynamic opportunities of the future, but rather the limits of what’s already happened.
Marshall Goldsmith has raised the procedure of feedforward as an alternative day-to-day developmental tool to feedback, which involves focusing ahead and providing suggestions for the future.
Marshall’s research project of the outcomes of using feedforward, produced very positive results regarding feedforward. When asked to describe the exercise, participants commented positively with words such as, ‘great’, ‘energising’, ‘useful’ or ‘helpful’ and most commonly ‘fun’!
why we should implement feedforward
So why should you implement feedforward into your management practices? Marshall highlighted the eleven key benefits:
We can change the future.
Focus on providing ideas to be more successful, rather than focusing on failures – this will increase chances for success! Envisioning a successful future will have increased benefits compared to focusing on a failed past.
Help people to learn to be ‘right’.
Providing negative feedback on elements which people have done wrong all the time can tend to “produce defensiveness on the part of the receiver and discomfort on the part of the sender.”
Even providing constructive feedback can be risky as it focuses on raising mistakes and problems. However, the concept of feedforward concentrates on solutions to make things right, rather than issues.
Feedforward is suitable for successful people.
We are designed to accept feedback which is consistent with how we view ourselves, so through feedforward and offering suggestions to help achieve goals, successful people will more readily accept this than negative feedback.
Feedforward can come from anyone with knowledge about the task.
As we are focusing on the future and ideas for successful achievement, those providing feedforward do not need to know the person well; just need knowledge of the task.
Feedfoward is taken less personally.
Feedback is almost always taken personally, even though it is supposed to “focus on the performance, not the person”, almost all feedback is taken personally. However, feedforward focuses on something which has not yet happened, so cannot personally critique.
Feedback can reinforce negative self-image.
Feedback can end up reinforcing feelings we have of failure, whereas feedforward focuses on reinforcing the possibility of change for the future. Naturally, we struggle with self-reflection enough and don’t need to have negativity reinforced. This is counterintuitive to what feedback is trying to do!
Most of us hate receiving feedback, equally as much as we hate giving it.
Providing negative response is hard and many leaders simply are not good at receiving or giving it.
Cover the same material as feedback.
If, for example, a presentation goes badly, rather than focusing on the failure of the presentation and what went wrong, concentrating on helping to prepare and making suggestions for future presentations can be more beneficial… Especially as you can deliver the recommendations in a more positive way.
Feedforward tends to be much quicker and more efficient.
Proposing ideas for the future gets straight to the point and provides everyone with positive takeaways. Propose ideas and don’t allow for negative judgement or debate.
No association with judgement.
This is one big limitation of feedback; the association with judgement can have negative and confidence-damaging effects. However, feedforward does not need to be associated with positions of superiority and instead focuses on acting as a peer and being helpful on the same level.
Feedforward increases attentively listening.
Marshall found in his research that when receiving critique we spend so much concentration on how we will respond to the comments that we end up not fully listening and appreciating what the other person is saying. Comparatively, in feedforward we don’t need to think about how we will reply, but simply just respond with thanks.
Feedback is still an important part of management; however, implementing feedforward in day-to-day interactions can be much more beneficial. Using feedforward can have dramatic, positive impacts on the quality of communication and the increase of receptiveness to messages. A more dynamic, open organisation will result and as Marshall comments, “one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past.”