Providing feedback has long been considered an essential skill for leaders. Employees want to know from manager that they are meeting expectations while managers also have become accustomed to receiving feedback from their staff.

But the problem with all feedback is that it focuses on the past, on what has already occurred and therefore can’t be fixed. Difficult feedback becomes especially embarrassing to receive – and just as painful to give.   

Dr Marshall Goldsmith, winner of the Thinkers50 Leadership Award (sponsored by Harvard Business Review) suggests a different approach, and originator of the stakeholder centered coaching methodology which I am trained in. He calls it “feed-forward”.

It works like this.

  1. Someone chooses one behavior they’d like to change like giving more engaging presentations. They choose something that if it were to be improved would make a significant positive difference in their work.
  2. They share their goal “I want to give more engaging presentations” with a selected number of people who they work with closely. It could be staff, customers, suppliers or other partners or stakeholders.
  3. They then ask for 2 suggestions for the FUTURE that might help them make a positive change. No feedback can be given. The focus must be on the future.
  4. The feed-forward receiver then listens attentively to the suggestions and takes notes. They are not allowed to comment or critique, or even to say, “that’s a good idea”. They must simply thank the suggestion giver for their suggestions.
  5. The suggestions giver then swaps over to become the feedback receiver, and the process is done again.

The result, when asked to describe their reaction to this experience? The words provided are almost always extremely positive, such as “great”, “helpful” and “fun!” Probably the last word that comes to mind when we consider any feedback activity.

8 reasons why you should try feed-forward to develop yourself and your team

  1. We can change the future
  2. It’s more productive to help people to learn to be “right” than to prove they were wrong
  3. Feed-forward works well especially with successful people who are committed to achieving their goals
  4. Feed-forward can come from anyone who knows about the task.
  5. People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback. Although feedback is supposed to be about behavior, in practice, feedback still feels personal. It’s feels like judgment.
  6. Most of us hate getting or giving feedback and traditional feedback training and feedback models don’t work.
  7. It’s faster and more efficient than asking for those feedback emails at appraisal time or conducting 360-degree feedback.
  8. People tend to listen more attentively to feed-forward, rather than planning a protective response.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve the culture of continual improvement in your workplace, click here.