Feedback vs. feedforward

As a business owner I don’t get the blessing or the curse of feedback from a manager to improve performance.  If I want an analysis of what did or did not work in the past and what to do about it in the future, I have to provide that on my own.

Years past, I did this in the form of typical feedback.  When I worked in corporate America I got lots of feedback.  Sometimes I was in the frame of mind to hear it in the spirit in which it was intended, but most of the time I was left feeling defeated, defensive and deflated . . . far from the intended outcome of inspired.  Even as the provider of my own feedback I was harsh on myself.  ”You could have put more effort into that presentation,” “Why did you wait until the last minute to call them back?” “Why did you do that all by yourself and not ask for help?”  The questions made me defensive with myself!

Fortunately, I learned about Marshall Goldsmith’s simple, yet brilliant, feedforward concept.  For the same reasons I refuse to do training at corporate “retreats” but agree to be part of corporate “advances,” I had to refuse to offer “feedback” and instead provide “feedforward” for myself and my team.

Feedback feels judgmental and critical.  Feedback focuses on the past and what went wrong.  It emphasizes problems and leaves people feeling defensive.

According to Goldsmith, feedforward is about encouragement because it focuses on solutions and what can go right in the future.  When done right, feedforward is highly motivational and gets people into positive action.

Let’s look at two ways a manager can talk with a direct report:

Scenario 1

Manger:  I’d like to talk with you about the presentation you did yesterday.

Employee:  Okay.  (Internal dialogue:  “Oh, no . . . I’m about to get raked over the coals.”)

Manager:  I noticed that you didn’t set expectations or ask any questions.  You did a lot of talking and we never learned what the prospect really needed.  (“I quickly pointed out three areas for improvement.  Certainly they will now remember to ask more questions.”)

Employee:  Well, I tried setting the expectation, but he just got right into the issue so I didn’t think it was necessary.  He already told me why he wanted what he asked me for so I didn’t need to ask any other questions.

Manager:  Okay, but try to set expectations and ask more questions next time.  Okay?

Employee:  Sure.  (“Whatever.  All I need to remember next time is to not take my manager with me.”)

Scenario 2

Manager:  I’d like to talk with you about the presentation you did yesterday.

Employee:  Okay.  (Internal dialogue:  “Oh, no . . . I’m about to get raked over the coals.”)

Manager:  First of all, I want to remind you that we are about to have a conversation about how presentations can be even more effective in the future.  We’re talking about what you can do, and how I can support you as your manager, in future presentations.  We’re just using yesterday’s presentation as an example to learn from.  Okay?

Employee:  Okay.  Sounds good.

Manager:  What do you think went well and what would you like to do differently?

Employee:  I think we established great rapport.  I could tell by the questions he was asking that he really trusts me.

Manager:  Good, I saw that too and I commend you.

Employee:  I did feel like I was doing a lot of the talking.  I think I do most of the talking in a lot of different scenarios.

Manager:  I agree with you.  Have you come up with any ideas on how to notice it sooner or alter it?

Employee:  Not really.

Manager:  Are you open to some ideas?  We can brainstorm.

Employee:  Sure.

Rather than go on with the scenario, what is important to notice is that in Scenario 2, the manager has the employee in a state of mind to brainstorm solutions.  The manager also created a sense of ownership on the part of the employee to change and if the scenario continued, a sense of partnership between both of them to help the employee improve in the future.

It didn’t take any longer.  The same content was covered.  There is a game plan moving forward and the employee is more likely to follow through, improve and appreciate their manager.

Certainly the feedforward concept is important in managing and interacting with any employee, but when it comes to Onboarding and managing new hires, it’s essential.  Most new hires are still evaluating their decision to take the job in the first six months and if they are hammered with a bunch of typical feedback sessions, they are less likely to stick around for more and less likely to make lasting improvements.

Categories: Management & Leadership