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Linking ‘feedback’ and ‘feedforward’ to create a holistic leadership approach

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

The latest leadership trend is “feedforward”. Much like its namesake, feedforward is the opposite of feedback – wherein it looks to the future rather than dwelling on the past.

Feedforward was defined by Fellow: “[Feedforward] might be a new term to many. Rather than focusing the discussion on mistakes or areas of weaknesses in activities that have already happened, feedforward approaches provide commentary and information for improvement while the action, event, or behaviour is ongoing.”

“Feedforward also has a much more future-focused orientation, so recipients of feedforward advice feel empowered to leverage insights about themselves for better performance in the future.”

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The benefits

This trend can help to give employees a complete and holistic learning experience by not only discussing what has happened but also looking to the future and guiding expectations.

According to LinkedIn, 58 per cent of professionals in the Asia-Pacific region believe that both feedforward and feedback support career growth by reducing anxiety and helping them have a clearer vision of their targets and goals.

“Feedforward can complement traditional feedback and performance reviews by adding a future-oriented perspective and provide employees with a holistic view on career progression,” commented LinkedIn career expert Cayla Dengate.

“The business environment at work is changing rapidly, so feedforward offers an opportunity for leaders and managers to provide clarity and help employees visualise and set actionable strategies to achieve success. This can be done through informal catch-ups or coaching sessions. Professionals can use these discussions to identify opportunities for skills development.”

Honore S Prasad discussed some of the benefits as:

  • Focuses on the future instead of the past.
  • Helps discover team members primed to lead.
  • Feedforward focuses on the development of a better future.
  • Impacts learning new and effective methods to solve problems.
  • Eliminates the risk of negativity and offers motivation and support.
  • Provides suggestions, recommendations, and encouragement.
  • Replaces positive or negative feedback with future-oriented solutions.
  • Breaks through barriers and makes progress at a faster pace.

So, how can leaders leverage this management style to help boost efficiency? According to Ms Dengate, there are five key steps:

  1. Use positive language: During your reviews, leverage feedforward by using positive and encouraging language. Feedforward can provide positive reinforcement for individuals and use the opportunity to promote a culture of empowerment and continuous improvement. Feedforward can help promote a growth mindset in the workplace where employees are encouraged to view challenges as opportunities for learning and improvement.
  2. Ensure it’s a dialogue: Feedforward should not be a one-way conversation, but a dialogue. Listen to the other party’s thoughts and feelings and acknowledge their perspective. Ask them what they think they can do to implement the suggestions and what challenges they might face.
  3. Set SMART goals: SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This approach removes generalities and guesswork, sets a clear timeline, and makes it simpler to track progress.
  4. Follow up and monitor progress: Once you have had a discussion, set up time for follow-ups and regular check-ins to provide ongoing support that will help ensure accountability and consistent improvement.
  5. Learn how to conduct future-forward performance discussions: If you still find it challenging to start feedforward conversations, here are some LinkedIn Learning courses that can help with identifying ideal outcomes and mapping growth for the year ahead, whether for yourself, your peers, or your teams.

The downside

While some may see this hack as a game changer to employee reviewing, not all agree it is beneficial. As discussed by Catherine Fisher, feedback is a crucial aspect of development, and if feedforward is detracting from this, employees may not be receiving the support they need.

“We all know feedback has a negative stigma around it – but it shouldn’t. Feedback is an opportunity to celebrate achievements, grow, and, yes, look forward. And remember: we never stop learning, and feedback is a huge piece in this,” said Ms Fisher.

“It’s actually a disservice to not provide feedback as it limits [your] time for reflection and growth.”

Linking the two

While feedforward may seem like a new and improved process for developing employee skills, we mustn’t forget the power of feedback. This is why a combination of the two can be effective in creating a holistic review process.

Ms Fisher continued: “This method deliciously combines the past with the future, making for productive feedback that will still leave your employees feeling motivated to move forward and grow from their mistakes. In this instance, you could also use the ‘sandwich’ method, which begins with a piece of positive feedback, goes into more constructive feedback, and then finishes with a positive.”

Expanding leadership and development skills should be a concern for all professionals. By linking both feedback and feedforward, you’re ensuring that employees receive the best review possible that can assist in promoting workplace development.

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Training

Training is the process of enhancing a worker's knowledge and abilities to do a certain profession. It aims to enhance trainees' work behaviour and performance on the job.

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