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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

What is feedforward? Does it produce better results than feedback?

A pair of red glasses are held over an eye chart spelling out focus on the future.

Would you rather receive feedback or feedforward?

Since feedback is universally dreaded and feared, you would likely choose feedforward even if you have never heard of it before.

Both are approaches to assess and improve performance. How are they different?

Feedback is a reactive assessment that assesses past and present performance.

Feedback evaluates tasks or activities someone has completed or is currently engaged in. It includes an assessment of strengths as well as areas for improvement.

Feedback is evaluation based on how one’s performance stacks up to predetermined standards and goals. It often uses rating scales or rubrics to measure performance.

Even when constructive, feedback often feels judgmental and can be received defensively. Is there a better way to promote positive performance?

Feedforward is a proactive assessment that assesses how to succeed at a future task.

Feedforward takes a future orientation rather than looking at past or present performance. It assesses what is needed to accomplish future tasks and achieve goals and provides guidance in preparing to complete them with skill and expertise.

A feedforward assessment identifies what learning is needed and provides the support and resources necessary to succeed. Suggestions and recommendations are provided in an encouraging environment. Feedforward is perceived as more motivating and empowering than feedback.

Feedback and feedforward can both be important assessments of performance. Rather than only asking for and giving feedback, consider including feedforward in your approaches to improve and grow. Let’s learn how to use it.

Incorporate Feedforward into your performance improvement toolkit.

Feedforward is a concept developed by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, a business educator, author, and executive coach.

Descriptions of using feedforward include using it within one-on-one performance coaching as well as in group settings where it is used as an experiential exercise in giving and receiving feedback or used to build a team’s performance goals.

Feedforward in one-on-one performance coaching:

Providing and accepting feedforward is referred to as a feedforward assessment loop or a dialogue session. The process is quite simple:

  1. DESCRIBE THE GOAL OR BEHAVIOR CHANGE DESIRED. The partner asking for feedforward describes a goal or a behavior they want to change. This goal or behavior change should be one in which a change will make a significant, positive improvement in their lives. Use simple and clear terms, such as, “I want to complete more tasks every week.” Or “I want to be a better listener.”

  2. ASK FOR IDEAS AND SUGGESTIONS. The partner providing feedforward will give useful suggestions on how to achieve the goal or behavior change. The focus is on future performance with NO references to past or present performance.

  3. LISTEN ATTENTIVELY. The partner asking for feedforward accepts the suggestions with an attentive and receptive growth mindset and without getting defensive. They write the suggestions down and refrain from making comments or critiquing the ideas given.

  4. SAY THANK YOU. The partner asking for feedforward graciously accepts the suggestions provided.

  5. SWAP ROLES. Repeat the steps with the other partner describing their goal and receiving feedforward.

Feedforward in a group experiential exercise:

Participants take multiple turns playing both roles – providing feedforward and accepting feedforward. Participants engage in brief (approximately 2 minutes long) dialogue sessions, described above, switching partners after each session to continue gaining new ideas and suggestions for improved future performance.

Feedforward improves performance. Are you ready to try it?

With a focus on the future and an orientation towards how to develop and grow to reach our desired goals, feedforward is a positive, affirming practice that can be accomplished in less time and with greater acceptance than traditional feedback.

Rather than be judged for our shortcomings, we are provided with practical ideas we can proactively try.

Are you ready to try Feedforward? Feedforward improves performance. Now you know how.

“Feedforward is all about looking at not just who we are, but who we are becoming.” ~ Joe Hirsch, author of The Feedback Fix

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