Quality communication is the glue that holds organizations together. By using feedforward—and by encouraging others to use it—leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations.
by Marshall Goldsmith
Leaders have to give feedback and performance appraisals have to be made. This is a given. Yet, there are many times when feedforward is preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions. Feedforward is a group exercise, the purpose of which is to provide individuals with suggestions for the future and to help them achieve a positive change in the behaviors as selected by them. Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency, feedforward can make life a lot more enjoyable.
Here are 10 reasons participants in my classes see feedforward as fun and helpful as opposed to painful, embarrassing, or uncomfortable. These descriptions provide a great explanation of why feedforward can often be more useful than feedback as a developmental tool.
1. We can change the future. We can’t change the past. Feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. By giving people ideas on how they can be even more successful (as opposed to visualizing a failed past), we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.
2. It can be more productive to help people learn to be “right,” than prove they were “wrong”. Negative feedback often becomes an exercise in “let me prove you were wrong.” Feedforward, on the other hand, is almost always seen as positive because it focuses on solutions – not problems.
3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people. Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals. They tend to resist negative judgment. I have observed many successful executives respond to (and even enjoy) feedforward. I am not sure that these same people would have had such a positive reaction to feedback.
4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task. It does not require personal experience with the individual. One very common positive reaction to the previously described exercise is that participants are amazed by how much they can learn from people that they don’t know!
5. People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback. In theory, constructive feedback is supposed to “focus on the performance, not the person”. In practice, almost all feedback is taken personally (no matter how it is delivered). Feedforward cannot involve a personal critique, since it is discussing something that has not yet happened!
6. Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Feedforward can reinforce the possibility of change. Feedback can reinforce the feeling of failure. Negative feedback can be used to reinforce the message, “this is just the way you are”. Feedforward is based on the assumption that the receiver of suggestions can make positive changes in the future.