Why feedforward is so important
Everyone – yes we’ll stick out our necks here and say everyone – wants to do a good job, to meet or even exceed their goals, to deliver results. Feedforward is the tool that can help you assess whether you are behaving in such a way that you can deliver the best results possible. This means a balance of positive and contstructive feedforward.
As the example above highlights, we all have blindspots. It’s very hard to really look at yourself completely objectively. In addition, unless you have the chance to see yourself on video or hear yourself on audio, you don’t really see or hear what other people experience. You are also not aware of how you can affect the way they feel through your behaviours.
The best feedforward is objective and behavioural, it focuses on behaviours, which are often easier for others to see. If someone can show us what we do well and what we can do better, we have more than a fighting chance of being able to repeat and multiply what we do well – and change what’s not working for us.
A client we recently worked with was blown away by the positive feedback he received in his 360 feedback process. Becoming aware of what others appreciated in him, lifted him and energised him to do more with all his strengths and capabilities. He just hadn’t realised quite how much he impacted other people in a good way. Up until then his impact had been accidental and now with his new awareness it can be intentional and even more consistent.
Feedforward is not just a “nice to have”. It is much more important than that. When feedforward is shared in a good way; constructively, supportingly, objectively and respectfully – it can make the other person really listen – and only when we really listen can we understand and experience the feedforward and start to see the benefits of it – what it can do for us.
Let us share another of our many personal and professional examples of feedforward to explain what we mean.
One of the best experiences I’ve ever had with feedback, came from my manager some 20 years ago when I was relatively new as a leader. I thought I was quite a good communicator and took pride in my ability to express myself clearly. In a meeting with a senior person in the organisation, I posed some questions, challenging what he had said – in what I thought was an effective way, although I didn’t really get a great response. After the meeting, my manager came up to me and said: “I know you have a lot of good things to say and your questions are relevant, but whenever you challenge someone, your body langauge and your tone of voice become aggressive. And for that reason, people get defensive and don’t quite hear what you say – and you aren’t having the impact you could have, if you asked your questions another way. And I think it’s a shame, because as I said, you have a lot of good things to say and could contribute more.“
I was horrified! I had no idea that was how I was coming across. And at first I didn’t want to take it onboard – it couldn’t be true, surely!
And as the shock subsided, I realised that she had actually given me a great gift (up until then I had scoffed at the notion of “feedback being a gift“). She could just as easily not have said anything (it probably would have been easier) but she cared enough to tell me as it was, because she wanted me to grow, she wanted me to be able to be more, to do more. And I was grateful beyond words. If she hadn’t told me I might still have been putting people off, unaware of my impact.
One of my greatest learnings was this: If you give honest, helpful feedback, focused on observed behaviours and the impact of these, which emanates from good intention and care for the other person, then feedback is incredibly useful.
A feedforward culture
By giving feedforward in an effective way, you can start to create a culture where people feel comfortable to talk to each other about pretty much anything. What it comes down to is respectful and supportive transparency. By being open to feedforward and seeing it as a gift, we encourage others to share their feedforward. The more that happens, the more open conversations between people become and the more natural and non-threatening feedforwarding becomes. It becomes part of the culture, a culture where honest feedforward helps people grow and develop, for the benefit of themselves as well as their colleagues and the organisation.
To create a feedforward culture you need to start giving and receiving feedback regularly, practice to openly share and discuss. A good place to start is to give someone a piece of positive feedforward. Just tell them about something you have observed that has worked really well and has had an impact on you, the team and/or the wider organisation. Start small and start to see the effects.
How to do feedforward well
So let’s have a look at some proven ways to give and receive feedforward well.
- When giving feedforward
- Be friendly sincere yet professional
- Share what you have observed the other person do (behaviours)
- Tell them what the impact of their behaviour is (positive or negative) – on the team, on the organization and on you
- Make suggestions for what they could do next time (eg. more of the same or something different)
TOP Feedback Model © Mandy Flint & Elisabet Vinberg Hearn
From “The Team Formula: A Leadership Tale of a Team who found their Way“
Here’s an example of how it could sound.
“Thanks so much for getting us all organised and together for that meeting, it was a really good meeting. The part that you played was important, you kept us on track and sent us all the details in advance. It helped us to be more efficient and get to the point quickly. I appreciate how organised you are and how you manage to do it in a very positive way. The way it affects me personally is it makes me feel comfortable that you have everything covered and I can relax. The team is comfortable with it too and this allows us to be more efficient in the wider organisation, so thank you – and keep doing it!”
- When receiving feedforward
- Start by assuming positive intent. Assume they mean well. The person could have NOT told you and then you would have been none the wiser about your impact
- Listen with an open mind. Hear them out, don’t be too quick to jump in and try to disprove what they are saying. Don’t defend it. If a person is sharing feedforward with you, they have observed something that you may not have – keep an open mind. If it’s unclear to you, ask questions to find out more. This is also true for positive feedforward
- Sometimes we don’t take positive observations seriously enough, waving it away, maybe even feeling uncomfortable about praise. The advice is this: if someone has taken the time to share, show them that you appreciate the interest and support by really listening and taking the information onboard
- Otherwise you are in danger of creating a vicious cycle of people avoiding giving you feedforward and the next time they won’t. If you dismiss the positive feedforward with a wave of the hand they won’t do it again as it could feel like you didn’t take the feedforward in and after all it was quite hard for them to do it in the first place
- Thank the person for the feedforward. Let’s face it, unless the feedforward is positive, (even that can be hard) it might have been hard for them to do, but they did it anyway – for you
- Consider what to do with the information you’ve been given. Not all feedforward needs to be acted upon, but you would do well to at least reflect on what you’ve learned and decide if it’s valid, actionable and crucial for achieving success. Just like a birthday gift, it is your choice what you do with it, some you love and take onboard, some you say thanks and maybe don’t use, some you choose to do nothing with or just let go of
We all need to know how we are doing, how we and our actions and behaviours are perceived by others. Flying blind is not a good idea. We need the feedforward of others, and they need ours.
So make feedforward part of your success habits. Give it helpfully and respectfully and receive it gratefully and with an open mind.
Start today and enjoy the results – it starts with you.
“Kind people say what they always think, kindly” Dan Rockwell
Mandy Flint & Elisabet Vinberg Hearn. Authors of award-winning book “The Team Formula: A Leadership Tale of a Team who found their Way”