Providing feedback has long been considered to be an essential skill for leaders. As they strive to achieve the goals of the organisation, employees need to know how they are doing.
They need to know if their performance is in line with what their leaders expect. They need to learn what they have done well and what they need tochange. Traditionally, this information has been communicated in the form of "downward feedback" from leaders to their employees.
Just as employees need feedback from leaders, leaders can benefit from feedback from their employees. Employees can provide useful input on the effectiveness of procedures and processes and as well as input to managers on their leadership effectiveness. This "upwardfeedback" has become increasingly common with the advent of 360° multi-rater assessments.
But there is a fundamental problem with all types of feedback: it focuses on a past, on what has already occurred -- not on the infinite variety of opportunities that can happen in the future. As such, feedback can be limited and static, as opposed to expansive and dynamic.
Over the past several years, I haveobserved more than 10,000 leaders as they participated in a fascinating experiential exercise. In the exercise, participants are each asked to play two roles.
In one role, they are asked provide "feedforward" -- that is, to give someone else suggestions for the future and help as much as they can.
In the second role, they are asked to accept feedforward -- that is, to listen to the suggestions forthe future and learn as much as they can. The exercise typically lasts for 10-15 minutes, and the average participant has six or seven dialogue sessions. In the exercise participants are asked to:
Pick one behaviour that they would like to change. Change in this behaviour should make a significant, positive difference in their lives.
Describe this behaviour to randomly selected fellowparticipants. This is done in one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, such as, "I want to be a better listener."
Ask for feed forward -- two suggestions for the future that might help them achieve a positive change in their selected behaviour.
Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Participants are not allowed to critique the suggestions or even to make positive judgementalstatements, such as, "That's a good idea."
Ask the others what they would like to change.
When the exercise is finished, I ask participants to provide one word that best describes their reaction to this experience. I ask them to complete the sentence, "This exercise was …". The words provided are almost always extremely positive, such as "great", "energising", "useful" or"helpful." The most common word mentioned is "fun!"
What is the last word that most of us think about when we receive feedback, coaching and developmental ideas? Fun!
Here are 11 reasons why feedforward can often be more useful than feedback as a developmental tool.
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.
Athletes are often trained using feedforward. Racecar 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.
It can be more productive to help people be "right," than prove they were "wrong". Negative feedback often tends toproduce defensiveness on the part of the receiver and discomfort on the part of the sender.
Even constructively delivered feedback is often seen as negative as it necessarily involves a discussion of mistakes, shortfalls and problems. Feedforward, on the other hand, is almost always seen as positive because it focuses on solutions -- not problems.
Feedforward is especially suited to...