Feedforward, a concept introduced by business educator and coach Marshall Goldsmith, is rapidly gaining traction, and for good reason. Properly used, feedforward can help create a better workplace by aiding individuals in moving beyond the invisible barriers that hinder their productivity and performance.
What is Feedforward?
Simply put, feedforward focuses on future-oriented solutions. When we give feedforward, we focus on a person's future development rather than critiquing and judging their past performance.
For example: when anyone comes to you for advice on something, focus on suggesting potential solutions for their challenges without commenting on their behaviours that may have led to that problem.
Feedforward vs Feedback
The challenge with feedback is that it may concentrate more on past actions, and with evaluation focusing on the mistake/ weakness of those actions.
People giving feedback may not pay as much attention as they should on proposing objective and potential solutions for future improvement. Feedforward, on the other hand, allows people to concentrate more on giving potential, practical and objective advice that is helpful for actual improvement in the future.
Instead of insisting on how their customer service abilities have been less than effective in the past (feedback) and holding on to that to critique employees, one may instead give suggestions, on how to handle customer concerns more effectively in the future (feedforward).
The Benefits of Feedforward
Implementing a feedforward communication strategy has a number of clear advantages in a wide range of personal and professional circumstances.
- Feedforward focuses on the future and improvement, steers clear of comments on previous behaviours or outcomes that cannot be changed.
- Feedforward is behavioural or is about specific actions rather than general/ unfocused ideas.
- Feedforward is empowering since it simply provides optional routes for advancement or self-development.
- Feedforward is courteous and aids in the reinforcement of healthy group dynamics and collaborative connections between people.
- Feedforward is participatory because it gives all affected people actual tools to help solve potentially recurring bad situations.
- Feedforward aids in conflict resolution by repositioning connections in a positive and supportive light.
- Feedforward is not judgmental, making the recipient more comfortable when receiving advice.
Formulating feedforward advice may not be easy in the first place. We are only human, and we are bound to have our personal subjective opinions and judgments interfere with the process of giving other people recommendations.
However, as we apply feedforward more regularly in workplaces and social life, we will soon get used to it and be more comfortable in using it. Practising feedforward may help us become more concentrated on future solutions and improvement rather than focusing on past problems. It helps us develop a habit of looking forward instead of backward.
When the habit of feeding forward is well established in teams across the organisation, it can become a shared or cultural practice in the real sense of the term.
When current employees help model this practice to new members, the constructive advantages of the process become collective and multiplied.
This culturally ingrained behavioural feature contributes to the genuine meaning of being solution-focused, constructive, action-oriented, future-oriented, proactive, and responsible in organisational cultures.
The application of feedforward is now one of the tools I personally use for helping transform teams and cultures. It's also great for coaching culture transformations which typically need a bit of an overhaul of how people communicate and give feedback by replacing it with feedforward. Once inculcated into the culture, it's fair to say that the company is well on its way to developing a true coaching, constructive, and positive culture.
You can practice giving feedforward to another person, who could be a close friend, family member, or a colleague, anyone may work. One of you may initiate a feedforward loop. Both participants will have the opportunity to give and receive feedforward.
Suggested instruction of practising feedforward:
1. DESCRIBE YOUR GOAL in short and straightforward terms. For instance, “I want to get better at: finishing more tasks every week.”
2. RECEIVE IDEAS. Your partner will provide ideas on how to reach your goal. There should be no mentioning of the past, no judgement of the goal. The emphasis should be on making future progress. "One idea to finish more tasks every week is: to have a checklist."
3. LISTEN CAREFULLY. Listen to the advice, avoid any sign of judgement. Note the ideas down.
4. SAY "THANK YOU". Ideas given are gifts and the only response is "Thank you". Do not say anything else as adding anything else is making a judgement. There is a huge difference between "Thank you" and "Thank you, that's a great idea" as the latter is passing judgement, the former is not.
5. SWITCH ROLES. Repeat the process, this time with your partner stating their goal and you providing them feedforward.
With the strengths and gains of Feedforward, let's learn to apply it in our daily work and social life starting NOW!