Enough of Feedback! Give me some Feedforward...Please!

by Narayan Kamath 3 minutes read

Asking and providing feedback is, without doubt, one of the qualities we look for and admire in leaders. We also admire people around us - colleagues, friends, family, who care enough to give us feedback. After all, as Dr Ken Blanchard puts it, “Feedback is the breakfast of Champions”. As with breakfast, sometimes feedback does not agree with us. Imagine you, a very successful executive on the fast track, have been working on behaviors that you know you need to change, to sustain and accelerate your growth in the organization.

Say, this is about “Empowerment – Encourage others to speak freely by not interrupting…”.

You have been working diligently on this (your daily behavioral checklist actually makes you smile), and on the advice of your Executive Coach, you regularly seek feedback from your stakeholders – checking in to see how they see you doing. You expect everyone to tell you how great you are doing.

Unfortunately, when you ask your stakeholders how you are doing, everyone seems to recall the one occasion (3 weeks ago!) you interrupted the shy new intern in your team during a project review meeting!

Sound familiar? How would you feel? Would you philosophically accept that perception takes time to change and continue to work as diligently as you have for the last 6 weeks? If you are like most people, you will probably feel discouraged and your commitment towards practicing the new behavior will waver. The key reasons mentioned by Marshall include:

Feedforward works because it focuses on the future, which we can change, while feedback is about the past that we cannot relive

It is more productive to help people focus on what is “right” than to dwell on what they have been doing wrong .

Successful people like feedforward – because it offers them ideas on working towards their goals

Feedforward can be provided by anyone who is familiar with the task, even if they do not know the leader very well. This is particularly useful when you are involving a stakeholder who you do not have a long relationship with but is nonetheless important in the improvement journey (example your new boss!).

People do not take feed-forward as personally as feedback. While in theory, feedback is supposed to be about performance/behavior and not the person, in reality people take feedback personally, especially successful people.

Feed-forward can reinforce the possibility of change, whereas with feedback , there is a risk of reinforcing personality stereotypes and negative self-fulfilling prophecies.

Most people hate receiving (and even providing) negative feedback (even when we frame it as developmental or area for improvement)

Feedforward can cover almost all the learning intended via feedback, but avoid the stress of reliving mistakes committed in the past

Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback - no time is spent on being defensive or judging the idea

Feedback is often associated with judging – so people are especially wary about providing feedback to their peers and managers. Feedforward is not seen as being judgmental.

People tend to listen more attentively to feed-forward than to feedback. This is built into the process, where the receiver is only allowed to say “thank you”. In feedback, very often, the receiver is thinking about his response, rather than paying attention to what is being said.

I am not suggesting in any way that feedback is not relevant or that it has no place in the organization. My submission is – when dealing with behavioral change, using feedforward is more likely to result in positive and sustainable change in behaviors than only feedback.

So are you willing to give feedforward a shot?

Narayan Kamath

Narayan has over 26 years of functional and general management experience in small and large companies, leading small as well as large diverse teams. He has a rich and diverse experience of working and leading teams in a variety of functions including Business Development, Projects, Technology, Operations, HSE, Supply Chain and Engineering.


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