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Team Effectiveness

Need to Give Feedback? Try a Feedforward Approach

A Feedforward Approach

Consider the Benefits of Future-Focused Management

Feedback has been a staple of the management process for decades, reaffirming expectations for important positions and offering employees insight into their performance. However, while feedback has proven to be beneficial, there is a new trend in the management world—feedforward, a future-oriented approach that doesn’t focus on past behaviors but instead drives development and confidence in leaders.

What Does Feedforward Mean?

We have all experienced feedback throughout our lives. Whether it was during childhood, when we received back our English paper back with a big red-letter grade at the top and notes on each page, or whether it is at work, when your boss sits you down to debrief a large project and discuss what should’ve gone differently. Feedback can be rewarding, and nerve-wracking, often leaving you with regrets about the past and hyper-focused on the “what-ifs.”

Instead of referring backward, feedforward places focus on the future. Developed by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, an executive leadership coach and author, the concept of feedforward can replace negative—and positive—feedback with open discussions about how situations can be improved upon in the future and solution-oriented goals for both the leader and the organization.

To exhibit the transformational effects of feedforward, Goldsmith conducted an experimental exercise with over 10,000 leaders, asking them to both provide and receive feedforward, while remaining focused on fostering future growth and avoiding any critique of past performance. Prompts and directions included:

  • Choose to change one behavior to make a positive difference in their lives.
  • Describe this behavior to others.
  • Ask for two suggestions for achieving a positive change in the behavior.
  • Listen to suggestions and take notes without commenting on them.
  • Thank others for their suggestions.
  • Ask others what they would like to change.
  • Provide feedforward – two suggestions aimed at helping them change.
  • Say, “You are welcome,” when thanked for the suggestions.

Goldsmith's exercise only took about 10-15 minutes , the results were in—people described the exercise as ‘energizing,’ ‘useful,’ and most surprisingly, ‘fun.’ Goldsmith stated that, “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, we increase their chances of success.”

Feedforward vs. Feedback: 3 Benefits of Looking to the Future

To put it simply, feedback is what has occurred, and feedforward is what could be. One of the best ways to discuss the difference between feedforward and feedback is with an analogy:

Imagine you are driving a car on a road trip. Feedback is looking in the review mirror, contemplating the distance you covered, the traffic you ran into on road so far, and your regrets about not getting gas as the cheaper station. Feedforward is taking a break at the rest stop to enter your destination on Maps, planning out which route is the best, determining which gas station would be the most cost-efficient, analyzing traffic pattens, and avoiding tolls where you can.

In this analogy, there is less benefit to ruminating on the first half of the road trip where you had a few hiccups—what matters now is looking to the future, becoming excited to reach your destination, and paving the best path to get there with a solutions-oriented approach.

Three key benefits to feedforward include:

  1. Feedforward fosters a creative mindset geared toward growth. A growth mindset is the key to personal and professional success. Employees are encouraged to think outside the box, coming up with their own innovative solutions to the challenges that lie ahead. This not only provides a diversity of potential strategies but also empowers team members to take ownership of the improvement process. When individuals are motivated, they begin to seek out new skills and knowledge to enhance their performance.
  2. Feedforward reinforces psychological safety. People should always feel comfortable taking risks, sharing ideas, and expressing themselves at work. Unlike feedback, which can often have a negative undertone, feedforward offers an open dialogue between management and employees, helping them to feel supported and valued in their growth and development journey. When employees are supported and not judged, they are more likely to be driven by future successes rather than ruminating on past failures.
  3. Feedforward keeps people aligned with organizational goals. Feedforward is action-oriented and future-focused. By giving regular feedforward to leaders and employees, this ensures that personal and professional development efforts are directly related to organizational objectives. When each and every employee is on the same page about organizational goals, this offers a clear direction, increased focus, and more accountability on all levels.

The feedforward approach is not just an enhancement to traditional feedback—it's an evolution in how we guide others toward excellence. It's a belief that our best opportunities are ahead of us. Implementing feedforward requires adaptability and a commitment to evolving management practices. By understanding its benefits and subtle differences from feedback, managers can empower their teams to reach their full potential.

With better psychological safety, every leader, employee, or team member can contribute, challenge, and bring the best of themselves to your organization. Psychological safety training is a proven tactic for creating engaged teams who trust one another, commit to common goals, and achieve bottom-line results. Follow the link below to register for our upcoming workshop and explore how psychological safety can positively impact your leaders, teams, and organizations:

Register for The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Public Workshop

Kara Janssen

Kara Janssen creates engaging content that connects our clients to the FlashPoint brand and mission, helping them grow as leaders.