Providing feedback has long been considered to be an essential skill and a task for leaders. Employees need to know how they are doing and if their performance is in line with what their leaders expect. Traditionally, feedback is provided to team members about where they are in the relation to their goals, evaluate progress, identify knowledge and skill gaps, and corrective action. A fundamental problem with feedback is it focuses on the past and overlooks the improvement opportunities that can happen in the future.
To flip the focus from the past to the future, management expert and coach Marshall Goldsmith introduced a concept of “feed-forward”. Feed-forward looks ahead to the next opportunity to perform better and offers constructive guidance on how to improve.
Feed-forward has three principles: Positive, Future Focused, and Solution Driven. Let me elaborate on this.
While feedback can reinforce the feeling of failure, feed-forward reinforces the possibility of positive change. E.g. “Your report is wrong (feedback)”, “To make it more meaningful, what if we add this to report?” (feed-forward).
Feed-forward is based on the assumption that the receiver of suggestions can make positive changes based on the inputs. It can be more productive to help people be “right,” than prove they were “wrong”.
Feed-forward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. Traditional feedback is past focused as it’s a piece of information about past activity and performance. e.g. “You seemed like you were not prepared for this presentation.” (Feedback). “What do you think you might need to prepare for future presentations?” (feed-forward).
Feedforward is simply giving someone a suggestion for what they can do in the future, instead of dwelling on the past.
Feedback seldom provides clarity and discussion opportunities about how to improve or bring changes. Feed-forward, on the other hand, is almost always focusing on solutions – not problems. e.g. Questions like “what if”, “what else”, and “how to” will enable holistic solutions. Here, people discuss and decide the actions they need to take for improvements. Also, feed-forward is a great technique to give ideas or suggestions instead of just identifying issues.
Fact is, most of us hate negative feedback or a discussion of mistakes, shortfalls, and problems. I suggest practicing feed-forward to convey the right message by making the other person receptive to ideas and being open to change. It can be used in day-to-day interactions to make behavior change or performance improvement conversations a lot more enjoyable.