Feedforward vs. Feedback – What’s the Difference?

Feedforward vs. Feedback and Why Feedforward Could Serve Your Teams Better

The role of feedback between members of an organization cannot be overemphasized. In fact, employees typically rely on this mechanism to know if their performance aligns with the organization’s vision and if they’re meeting expectations. Without feedback, employees may feel lost or unmotivated.

Feedforward, a concept developed by business educator and coach, Marshall Goldsmith, is now an increasingly popular practice in today’s workplaces. This practice can provide leaders with useful insight and help create a more positive work environment for the future while assisting employees in moving past barriers slowing down and negatively impacting their productivity and performance.

Learn the difference between feedforward vs. feedback and how to use this efficient assessment tool for both employers and employees alike.

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What are feedback and feedforward?

When an employee receives feedback, they get information about how they’re presently performing. Feedforward is the reverse exercise of feedback. It’s the process of replacing positive or negative feedback with future-oriented solutions. In simple terms, it means focusing on the future instead of the past.

For example, instead of being provided with examples of how their customer service skills have proven to be less than effective in the past (feedback), an employee may be provided with suggestions, recommendations, and encouragement on how to handle customer complaints in the future (feedforward) more professionally.


More companies are making the switch

Traditional feedback involves positive praise or constructive criticism, which can either spur an employee to do more or less. Various researchers have shown that the feedback mechanism is not usually as effective as it seems. A Gallup poll found that only 26% of employees felt that feedback improves their professional performance.

In contrast, the feedforward assessment provides an avenue for employees to grow and avoid repeating past mistakes. A feedforward assessment can help employees learn new and effective methods to solve problems. Many organizations are making the switch and using feedforward assessments to improve the performance of their employees.

Constructive feedback can’t affect the work output of an employee if not delivered properly. A feedforward assessment can eliminate this risk as it removes negative connotations. Instead, employees should leave a feedforward assessment feeling motivated and supported.


How to conduct feedforward assessment

Start a feedforward loop. Both participants will get a chance to give and receive a feedforward assessment. When performing a feedforward assessment loop, follow these steps:

  1. DESCRIBE YOUR GOAL in simple and clear terms. The goal might be, “I want to complete more tasks every week.”
  2. ASK FOR SUGGESTIONS. Your partner will give useful suggestions on how to achieve your goal. There should be zero references to the past; the focus is on making the future better.
  3. LISTEN CAREFULLY. Don’t be a combative listener (improve your listening skills with these tips). Write suggestions down and only give positive statements, like “That is an impressive notion.”
  4. SAY THANK YOU. This is not a time for debate. Reflect on the suggestions provided.
  5. SWAP ROLES. Repeat the steps with your partner describing their goal and you providing feedforward.


Reasons to make the switch

Feedforward assessments give insight into how a situation can be improved in the future rather than focusing on positive or negative feedback. Feedforward is not judgmental; it is empowering and eye-opening. It reinforces positive interpersonal relationships between employees.

If you feel that your business, employees, or coworkers are stuck on a proverbial hamster wheel, feedforward can help you break through barriers and begin to make progress at a faster pace. It may also help you discover team members primed to lead.

Knowing the difference between feedforward and feedback makes the benefits easy to spot. Remember, the past is unchangeable, but the future is subject to change. Feedforward focuses on the development of a better future.


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