Thought Leadership

Feedforward Or Feedback?
Here’s How To Pick The Right Management Strategy

Every boss knows that their business is only as good as their employees. That is why having a stellar workforce is an integral part of running a successful company. It would be unfair to say that every employee is perfect, to err is human, but the only way to better ourselves is by learning from our mistakes. Most managers and bosses believe that feedback pushes an employee’s self-growth and improvement, but that’s rarely the case. Pointing out an employee’s flaws or shortcomings doesn’t encourage them to strive harder, but it makes them doubt their own abilities and lower their motivation to work. So how can one help their employees improve and grow? Well, you can try switching from feedback to feedforward.

What’s The Difference Between Feedback And Feedforward?

Feedback refers to informing an employee about what we think of their current performance and how they can better it. Simply put, feedback is akin to criticism, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. If not delivered properly, feedback can greatly demotivate a person and hamper their ability to learn.

Feedforward, a concept developed by business educator and coaching guru Marshall Goldsmith, refers to an approach where an employer gives their employee suggestions for the future and helps them in whatever manner they can. Here you eliminate any negative feelings that develop with feedback and instead create a sense of excitement and motivation as you are helping your employees plan for the future.

Here’s how you can switch from feedback into feedforward:

  1. Reinforce The Positives

The main reason why feedback doesn’t work is that employers mainly focus on the negatives. In certain situations, when your employee has made a mistake, it is important to build them up rather than beat them down. A feedforward approach involves highlighting the things that your employee has done well. When you provide positive reinforcement, you cultivate an environment that encourages your team to work harder and not repeat mistakes again. The Disney Institute believes that positive reinforcement is one of the easiest and quickest ways to improve employee happiness and effectiveness. In fact, recognition programs are a major part of the organization’s culture.

2. Focus On The Future Instead Of The Past

As an organisation, try implementing a forward-looking approach. According to Marshall Goldsmith, chances of achieving future success can be increased if we give people ideas on how they can be even more successful. For example, instead of asking your employee, ‘Why didn’t that work?’ ask them, ‘What did you want to have happened?’ This creates a goal that your employee can work towards in the near-term future. Having your inputs and suggestions on how they can achieve their goal also encourages them and results in accomplishment-driven work culture.

3. Implement Open Communication

Feedback has always been a one-way street from management to an employee but feedforward opens up the opportunity for two-way communication. Since feedforward is not judgmental but respectful and empowering, it cements avenues for improvement for superiors as well. American retailer Zappos firmly believes that transparency and two-way communication is what makes their internal and external communication effective. Building open and honest relationships with communication is one of their core values. With a feedforward approach, your employees can inform you about any management issues that they face without fear of a negative reaction. This can help you resolve any conflicts caused by a hierarchical model.

According to a research poll conducted by Gallup— an analytics and advisory company— only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work. Research has also shown that feedback only improves performance about one-third of the time. So it’s no surprise that companies such as Adobe, Accenture and Deloitte, to name a few, have shed the old approach of Feedback and are switching to Feedforward.

Switching from Feedback to Feedforward might not be the easiest but once you open the door towards continuous positive communication that revolves around future-focused plans, you will pave the way for achievement-oriented work.