As Millennials and Generation Z people continue to make-up a larger portion of the workforce, it’s important to evolve in how we interact and communicate. Performance reviews, for example, are largely conducted annually to deliver and hear feedback based on past performance. Feedforward is focused on future performance and about what’s next rather than what’s been.
Ideally, feedforward should follow any feedback so the person receiving the information has an immediate opportunity to course correct. This is important to all of us, but especially for those in younger generations.
While most people dislike giving or receiving feedback, feedforward information (when welcome) can be satisfying to both giver and receiver. That’s because feedforward information is based on learning, possibility, and future performance. It’s less personal and more about what the right behavior looks like going forward.
In my coaching practice, gathering and providing 360 feedback is extremely helpful for me to better understand how my clients show up at work. It provides a baseline for where they are at this time in their career. However, this is only a starting point. Effective coaching is also about providing a prescription for the path ahead. It’s about laying out a plan and help implementing that plan for how to acquire new skills, practice different behaviors and essentially improve how to better show up as leaders. That’s feedforward.
Much of coaching is rooted in helping individuals understand what they should continue doing, start doing, and stop doing based on what will help them grow as leaders. Using feedback for understanding what is and feedforward for what can be is essential for this growth.
Feedforward delivery should not be limited only to coaches as every manager and leader can and should provide this kind of direction and support to their direct reports. It is not punitive based on past performance, but directive and supportive based on what is possible and necessary.
The classic feedback sandwich comprised of giving praise, then criticism, followed by more praise can often leave employees confused and irritated. On the other hand, feedforward information enables direct reports to listen attentively and take immediate action because it’s not sandwiched around a criticism.
While feedback is often vague or too general, feedforward is specific and actionable. Feedback is likely focused on a mistake or failure, and feedforward is without criticism or judgment. And while feedback can be static as it is about a particular point in time, feedforward is about bringing about motivation for positive change.
It is ultimately the combination of providing feedback and feedforward that enables employees to thrive. That’s because it helps people learn what they should continue doing, stop doing, and start doing in a direct and supportive manner.
Perhaps most important, feedback and feedforward should not be delivered only on an annual basis at a performance review. Instead, it should be delivered as quickly as possible to provide immediate benefits. Because people are generally more comfortable providing and receiving feedforward information, this should make it much easier and less intimidating than once a year.
Incorporate feedforward in your regular feedback sessions with your direct reports because this is good for them, good for you and good for the organization.