Improve performance with feed forward techniques

We’ve all been in the situation of either giving or receiving feedback on performance. Nine times out of ten this is never a completely comfortable experience! When we have to hear negative feedback it can make us feel upset, defensive, or angry. Even when our feedback is constructive it can be taken the wrong way, leaving both parties feeling awkward, and making it less likely that improvements to performance will take place.


Psychologists have found that most people ‘hear’ negative feedback ‘more’ than positive feedback; we tend to remember with sharp clarity the bad things, and forget about the good things that were said. For this reason, in the education sector techniques such as ‘three stars and a wish’ are used, where feedback is framed as here are three great things you’ve done, and here is one thing that you could work on. Business has adopted this technique to an extent, with managers encouraged to frame bad feedback in-between good feedback so you can start and end the conversation on a positive note – a technique known informally in the HR sector as a ‘sh*t sandwich!’


However, a new trend making its way from education to business is the idea of ‘feed forward.’ This is where instead of providing feedback on what has happened, we provide solutions for what needs to happen in the future. So rather than ‘this year you turned up late every day’ you might say ‘next year your goal is to be in at 8.30am every day.’


Feed forward is all about providing clear guidance on future goals and objectives without offering positive or negative criticism. Feed forward provides ideas on how people can succeed in the future which can be influenced by the right behaviours, rather than dwell on failures of the past which cannot be changed.


Feed forward empowers your team to contribute to meaningful objectives and gives them something tangible to work towards. Rather than giving negative feedback to an employee who makes a mistake (“you did this the wrong way”), you can discuss how they can complete the task in a more efficient way in the future: “on our next project you will use the system created by the team to store all the information, which will mean everyone can find the information that they need without having to waste their time and yours asking you to find it for them.”


From a manager’s perspective, it is usually more productive to help people learn to be right rather than prove where they were wrong. For example, if a team member doesn’t engage in conversation in weekly team meetings, rather than criticise them for this (“You let everyone else talk in the meeting and just stare into your coffee”), you can coach and encourage them to participate more in the future: “It’s important that we hear about the work you’re doing, I’m going to give you an agenda item in the next meeting so that you can talk about it.”


Feed forward moves the focus away from the individual towards future performance. It doesn’t involve personal critique and sets people on a course to achieve their goals.