Feedforward: Why this method makes sense for your company

By Sebastian Heinz
Published 03.10.2021

Few would question the usefulness of feedback. Clearly, respectful feedback from others is an important tool in developing one’s own personal strengths. 

Often, one way that companies anchor feedback within their institutions is through annual employee reviews. In a changing labor market, and with the demand for changing the culture of discussion within companies, however, this approach is no longer considered up to date. New technologies deliver solutions for gathering feedback in real time, thereby establishing an active feedback culture. 

Traditionally, feedback comes from managers, who dictate what goals should be achieved. Just like employees need feedback, however, managers can also benefit from the feedback of their employees. 

Feedforward: Listening, instead of finding fault

While feedback relates to the past and evaluates previous performance, feedforward is focused on the future, on possibilities and opportunities, and on employee potential. 

Feedforward is all about listening and asking supporting questions.
The goal of this dynamic method is to get to know employees better, and help them discover their strengths and development goals. Questions focus on the employee's positive experiences. After listening attentively, the goal is to summarize what you have heard and ask if you have understood everything correctly. This allows the employee to reflect on their own history. 
Then, you look for tasks together that could help boost employee motivation. 

This approach, therefore, is a dynamic one. There is no way to change the past, but we can influence the future.

Example of feedback: Your suggestion for listing the points was too complex and incomplete. You need to review it once again and make some changes.

Example of feedforward: To make your presentation appealing to the customer, I would recommend noting the points and checking them once again. You are welcome to ask me for support if something is not clear.

Implementing this method within companies promotes employee development. The focus is on identifying new opportunities for boosting success, positively emphasizing future performance (in this example, that the customer would like the way the list is designed).

How does this differ from feedback?

Even when feedback is constructive, it can still be a frustrating experience - since it focuses on discussing faults and deficits. Unfortunately, in practice employees almost always take feedback personally.

Feedforward, in contrast, cannot contain personal criticism, since it is a discussion of something that has not yet occurred. It is almost always perceived as positive, since the focus is on the solution.

Feedback can also reinforce a feeling of failure. Whether in a private or professional context, giving someone “help” can involve pointing out their shortcomings, even branding them with a label that can be hard to escape. Feedforward, in contrast, emphasizes opportunities for change. 

Successful people, in particular, develop a defensive attitude when confronted with negative judgment, and tend to have a very positive self-image. Everyone is more likely to accept feedback that matches up with our own self-perception, and reject feedback that contradicts it. There is no resistance to feedforward, since it is not taken as personally as feedback.

For more details and to learn how to apply this method, see this article by Marshall Goldsmith, who has dealt intensively with the topic of feedforward. 

An agile environment is essential to apply the feedforward method, which cannot be employed as part of an annual employee review. It requires active communication between managers and employees, not only looking back towards the past, but promoting individual performance with concrete ideas for change and improvement. This allows managers to greatly improve the quality of communication, thereby contributing to a more open and dynamic organization. 

Does this mean eliminating all feedback?

No, but feedback is more effective when it is provided frequently, and in an accessible manner. It should be given during the situation in question. Classic employee reviews are not a beneficial way to provide feedback. 

FLOWIT helps make individual employee strengths more transparent, and identify the best way to promote these in order to foster overall development. The goal is not simply looking back on the past, but implementing the tools of a feedforward culture. Evaluations help make self-perceptions and external perceptions clear.