Gilbert Brenson Lazan
President of AMAUTA INTERNATIONAL
The term "feedforward" was coined in a discussion with Jon Katzenbach, author of
The Wisdom of Teams, Real Change Leaders and Peak Performance.
A challenge that many supervisors face is that of engaging more experienced
employees in productive performance discussions and keeping the interaction
motivating. Author Marshall Goldsmith (Adapted from Leader to Leader, Summer
2002) describes the process of feedforward as an energizing alternative - or
complement - to feedback. Rather than focusing on the past, it pro-actively
supports others in being successful in meeting their goals or developing new
Feedforward is simply an interaction that includes giving input, coaching and an
opportunity to prepare in anticipation of challenging performance demands.
Building on Goldsmith's ideas, here are seven reasons to use Feedforward:
1. Feedforward directs attention to creating a positive future, not dwelling on
a failed past. It is almost always seen as positive because it focuses on
generating solutions - not problems.
2. While feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative
self-fulfilling prophecies, feedforward communicates the assumption that the
receiver of suggestions can make positive changes.
3. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same "material" as feedback without
making the employee feel embarrassed or humiliated by low performance. This can
be especially advantageous with a multigenerational and multi-cultural
4. Feedforward can be more motivating to experienced employees because it
assumes capability and focuses on helping successful people achieve their goals.
5. Feedforward does not require knowing the person well or having a reporting
relationship. It can come from anyone who knows about the work or task
6. Feedforward is generally experienced as more collaborative and less personal
than feedback. People tend to listen more attentively and less defensively,
taking in what could be helpful.
7. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. There
is less need to discuss and process the feedback, because there is less personal
FeedForward Background and Exercise Instructions
Providing feedback has long been considered to be an essential skill for
leaders. As they strive to achieve the goals of the organization, 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 to change. 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 "upward feedback" has become increasingly common with the
advent of 360� multirater 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.
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 for the future and learn as much as they can.
The exercise typically lasts for 10-15 minutes, and the average participant has
6-7 dialogue sessions. In the exercise participants are asked to:
Pick one behavior that they would like to change. Change in this behavior should
make a significant, positive difference in their lives.
Describe this behavior to randomly selected fellow participants. This is done in
one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, such as, "I want to be a
Ask for feedforward - for two suggestions for the future that might help them
achieve a positive change in their selected behavior. If participants have
worked together in the past, they are not allowed to give ANY feedback about the
past. They are only allowed to give ideas for the future.
Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Participants are not
allowed to comment on the suggestions in any way. They are not allowed to
critique the suggestions or even to make positive judgmental statements, such
as, "That's a good idea."
Thank the other participants for their suggestions.
Ask the other persons what they would like to change.
Provide feedforward - two suggestions aimed at helping the other person change.
Say, "You are welcome." when thanked for the suggestions. The entire process of
both giving and receiving feedforward usually takes about two minutes.
Find another participant and keep repeating the process until the exercise is
When the exercise is finished, ask participants to provide one word that best
describes their reaction to this experience. Ask them to complete the sentence,
"This exercise was �". The words provided are almost always extremely positive,
such as "great", "energizing", "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!
Participants are then asked why this exercise is seen as fun and helpful as
opposed to painful, embarrassing or uncomfortable. Their answers provide a great
explanation of why feedforward can often be more useful than feedback as a
In summary, the intent of this exercise is not to imply that leaders should
never give feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned. The
intent is to show how feedforward can often be preferable to feedback in
day-to-day interactions. Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency,
feedforward can make life a lot more enjoyable. When managers are asked, "How
did you feel the last time you received feedback?" their most common responses
are very negative. When managers are asked how they felt after receiving
feedforward, they reply that feedforward was not only useful, it was also fun!
Quality communication - between and among people at all levels and every
department and division - is the glue that holds organizations together. By
using feedforward - and by encouraging others to use it, leaders can
dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations,
ensuring that the right message is conveyed, and that those who receive it are
receptive to its content. The result is a much more dynamic, much more open
organization-one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than
dwelling on the mistakes of the past.
provided by Gilbet Brenson-Lazan
Gilbert Brenson-Lazan is President of AMAUTA INTERNATIONAL, LLC, Bogot�,
Colombia - West Hartford, CT, USA.