7 Benefits of FeedForward vs Feedback

by Marshall Goldsmith

Here are seven reasons why managers and leaders like FeedForward and find it helpful as opposed to painful, embarrassing, or uncomfortable. Their answers offer a greathow to give positive feedback with feedforward 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. Race-car drivers are taught to look at the road ahead, not at the wall. By giving people ideas on how they can be even more successful, we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.

2. FeedForward can come from people we have never even met. It does not require personal experience. One very common positive reaction to the exercise is that participants are amazed by how much they can learn from people they don’t know. For example, if you want to be a better listener, almost any fellow human can give you ideas. They don’t have to know you.

3. Face it! Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it. I have reviewed summary 360-degree feedback reports for more than 50 companies. These two items: “provides developmental feedback in a timely manner” and “encourages and accepts constructive criticism” , almost always score near the bottom on co-worker satisfaction with leaders. Traditional training does not seem to solve this problem. If leaders got better at providing feedback every time the performance appraisal forms were “improved,” most would be perfect by now!

4. FeedForward can cover almost all of the same material feedback can. Imagine you have just made a terrible presentation in front of the executive committee. Your manager is in the room. Rather than make you relive this humiliating experience by detailing what went wrong, your manager might help you by offering suggestions for future presentations. These suggestions can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way – without making you feel even more humiliated.

5. FeedForward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say: “Here is an idea for the future. Please accept it in the positive spirit in which it is offered. If you can use it, great! If not, just ignore it.” With this approach almost no time is wasted judging the quality of the ideas or trying to refute the suggestions. This kind of debate is usually negative, wastes time, and often counterproductive. By eliminating judgment of the ideas, the process becomes much more positive for the sender, as well as the receiver.

6. FeedForward can be a useful tool with managers, peers, and team members. Rightly or wrongly, feedback is associated with judgment. This can lead to very negative – even career-limiting – consequences when given to managers or peers. FeedForward does not imply superiority of judgment. It is more focused on being a helpful colleague than an expert. As such, it can be easier to hear from a person who isn’t in a position of power or authority.

7. People tend to listen more attentively to FeedForward than feedback. One participant in the FeedForward exercise noted: “I think that I listened more effectively in this exercise than I ever have in my life!” When asked why, he said, “Normally, when others are speaking, I am so busy composing a reply that will make sure that I sound smart that I am not fully listening to what the other person is saying. In FeedForward, the only reply that I am allowed to make is ‘thank you.’ Since I don’t have to worry about composing a clever reply, I can focus all of my energy on listening to the other person!”

When to Use FeedForward

The intent of this column is not to imply that leaders should never give feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned. The intent is to show how FeedForward can often be preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions. Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency, FeedForward can make life a lot more enjoyable. When I ask managers how they felt the last time they received feedback, the most common responses are negative. When managers are asked how they felt after receiving FeedForward, they reply that it was not only useful, but also fun.Marshall Goldsmith Effective leadership skills video DVD training

Life is good.


My recent book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher’s Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

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