FeedForward vs Feedback

Updated: Nov 2


Two women sitting at a table discussing work

This month our theme is "Practicing FeedForward." To kick-off the month, we're going to discuss the difference between feedback and feedforward, and why that subtle difference is important.


I first came across the term "feedforward" in one of our previous Book Club picks, How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith. Once I saw the term, I quickly adopted it as a way to change my mindset around what people should walk away with when you are debriefing an event, a presentation, a work task, or even a speech in Toastmasters.


What is FeedForward?


FeedForward is focused on the future. You’re seeking out what you can do differently in the future. There’s an acknowledgement of what might have gone wrong or where you want to improve, but not extensive time dwelling on an event. The goal, of course, is to glean just enough to be able to point yourself or another in the direction of improvement.


When you receive FeedForward, it should be from someone who is supportive of your improvement – whether a supervisor, leader, peer coach, or “cheerleader." They can help support the activities or effort that will help you improve. FeedForward is also provided in space that is safe and judgement free. You are not judging yourself, and no one else is either.

FeedForward also helps us establish a vision for a better future. FeedForward comes with possibility thinking and potentially many solutions for the improvement you are seeking.


The bonus of FeedForward is that it can essentially be sought from everyone. You don’t have to reserve sharing with just a single supervisor or coach for accountability. You can ask your peers or work colleagues for suggestions after sharing what you are working on.


Consider trying out these simple starters when asking for FeedForward:

  • I’m working on….

  • What have you found useful to overcome…

  • My goal is to improve in ________what have you found useful to improve in ________.

Feedback


Now that you know what FeedForward is, you can probably guess that feedback, in general, focuses more on the past - What and why things went wrong, where errors occurred, how that mistake might have impacted another person, department or outcome. Quite possibly, it also includes some positive feedback that focuses on what went well and how you performed, which provided the desired outcome or produced an outstanding result.


Looking at what happened in the past isn’t bad, but it's focused on the opposite direction of where we want to go. Unless the giver intentionally talks about next steps or improvement steps, feedback typically stays focused on what has already happened.


Most times feedback comes from one or two sources or perspectives. This limitation can cause challenges if the feedback isn’t balanced.


When giving feedback, managers sometimes fall victim to spending way too much time dissecting what went wrong, taking things apart and getting too granular on the small elements of where things need to improve. This might be effective if the needed improvement is truly that detailed, but for the most part that's not the case. Managers need to be specific enough for understanding but it shouldn’t feel like a person is being picked apart.


Feedback generally feels personal. When a leader or manager is giving feedback, their tone, body language, and word choice can be very impactful – both in negative and positive ways. If you need to provide feedback, making a conscious effort to prepare the conversation and anticipate the receiver’s response can make those feedback sessions go smoother.


If you need to provide feedback because there are true corrective actions needed, remember to focus on the behavior and not on the individual. When the behavior is the topic, it is less personal. Specific examples of what you have observed will help the person understand your concern or value your praise. Specificity on the good behavior helps it become more personal in an appreciated way.


Consider trying out these simple starters when providing feedback:

  • Thanks for taking the time to discuss (Event, Result, etc.)

  • I’ve noticed that… (describe the behavior) produces (describe the result/outcome)

  • I appreciate your contribution towards…

  • My goal is to help you improve in _________.

  • What do you think is great first step in achieving_____________.


Whether you desire to grow personally or professionally, asking for FeedForward and Feedback is essential to identify where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there. Not all managers are experts in providing both. Seek out opportunities when you can get not only Feedback, but also FeedForward.


Look at each feedback or feedforward session as an opportunity to ask, “How can I improve and make progress?" Remember that even if feedback is poorly delivered, we can look for takeaways on how we can get better at what we do.


How do you like to receive feedback or feedforward? What have been some of your best experiences where you were able to see change that was needed and there was effective delivery? Share by leaving a comment when you become a site member!