Moving forward – with ‘feedforward’

After exploring the various components of feedback, including giving feedback and seeking it out, we know that it can be productive, informative and usually helpful, particularly when the motivation behind it is sincere.

While it’s often good to reflect on what went well and what needs improving when it comes to feedback, there’s a new term in town that’s becoming more widely used outside of the coaching and business leadership realm. It’s called ‘feedforward’, and as the name implies, it’s all about designing forward, future-thinking possibilities when discussing performance.

Facing forward

The feedforward concept was made popular by leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith. The goal is to give (and receive) ideas and suggestions for the future instead of looking back. As Goldsmith stated, “Feedforward can reinforce the possibility of change. Feedback can reinforce the feeling of failure”. People can’t change their past behaviour, so in some instances, simple feedback might be too late and ineffective. When using a feedforward approach however, we focus on the development and growth that we hope to see in the future. It shows we have faith in someone’s potential; that there will actually be a ‘next time’! This works wonders in improving not only performance, but it also helps boost morale and confidence.

Consider this feedback example: “You missed the entire section about the new software, and you seemed nervous, but otherwise it was very current and relative”. Compare that to a feedforward scenario: “Next presentation, would you consider doing a run-through in advance with cue cards? Keep in mind that this group is very eager and fun; no need to ever be nervous. It’s great that you continue to stay current on this topic”. The difference between the two is clear; the feedforward example leaves opportunities for growth and learning. It also allows for discussion or even brainstorming opportunities.

The future looks bright

The idea with feedforward is to provide the ideas and observations as early as possible that are future-focused. This can be negative or positive, either corrective or affirming comments about future performance. The point is that discussions should be around what is expected and how to shape future events by focusing on changes going forward.

Whereas feedback is more of an evaluation or opinion, feedforward involves coaching, guiding, and improving possibilities. Whether we’re chatting with a friend about their misadventures, working with an employee, or talking to our children, feedforward conversations can reveal possibilities that will improve performance and behaviours, and ultimately help others reach their goals. The next time we’re in a situation where we’re asked to give feedback, give feedforward instead and see where it goes.

“I am not interested in the past, except as the road to the future.” – Gianni Versace