Feedforward: Looking to the Future to Improve the Present

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“Feedforward? But weren’t we supposed to talk about feedback?Feedforward, feedforward, feedforward… What is that? Imagine you are about to give an important presentation at work. Instead of one of your colleagues coming up to you at the end and saying “Hey, the presentation was good, but yes… you lacked data”, they come up to you and offer suggestions on how to make this presentation the best one ever.

This is what we call feedforward.

This was the conversation we had with a client when we were preparing a training programme for their managers.

It happens to us quite often.

It turns out that feedback everyone knows about it, everyone has taken a course or read a book, everyone talks about it (although I don’t know how much it is “properly” practised … hahaha) and, on the other hand, the feedforward haven’t heard as much. When, in essence, what we are talking about is an improved evolution of thefeedback. Feedforward = feedback + proactivity.

What is Feedforward?

Feedforward is like a GPS for your professional and personal life. Instead of telling you “You ran the red light three blocks ago”, it warns you in advance “At the next intersection, turn right”;

This technique is future-oriented, giving you recommendations and advice on how to improve in your future tasks or day-to-day situations.

Unlike feedback, which evaluates past behaviours and outcomes, the feedforward provides guidance and advice for your future, through concrete and targeted improvement.

Before we go on, I would love us not to forget another very important point: what is our relationship with criticism.

It may be the elephant in the room that no one wants to comment on.

Most of us take criticism badly. According to some statistics, 70% of people react by feeling hurt by a critical comment, 20% reject it by denying it, and only 10% reflect calmly, internalise what they are told and decide whether or not to change their behaviour.

This difference in the reception of criticism can be due to a multitude of factors. However, it is usually quite closely linked to our internal insecurity: the less secure we are, the more vulnerable we are to criticism.

Therefore, feedback can sometimes be perceived as critical and even negative (especially if it focuses on errors); whereas the feedforward is generally positive and motivating, as it focuses on future improvement actions.

In my experience, feedforward is a valuable tool when working in a team. Being more appreciative tends to strengthen relationships and create a more collaborative working environment. Offering suggestions for the future empowers people, giving them the confidence to improve and succeed.

If no one ever gives you feedback it is very easy to get used to your own shortcomings, in any dimension of your life. Alvaro Gonzalez Alorda

How to use Feedforward

Very good.

And how is that done?

Giving feedforward is like being a good sports coach: not only do you point out what was not done well, but you give specific advice on how to improve.

Schematically, it is a conversation that should be structured in 3 parts:

1.- What I like about ….

I love it…

Concrete things (Facts) that I have done right

2.- What I would like to see more of…

And if in addition…

1 specific thing you want it to do differently

3.- Benefits

This will allow you/us to…

2 or 3 benefits

As you can see, being proactive is essential.

It is crucial that comments are directed towards future behaviours and outcomes, avoiding a focus on past mistakes and, above all, that they are concrete and practical so that they can be easily implemented. Instead of saying “improve your presentation”, you could suggest “try structuring your presentation into three main sections for clarity”.

This is where empathy plays a key role. By offering feedforward, we must be able to understand the other’s point of view and be in tune with it. Without empathy, our suggestions may sound cold or insensitive. It is not just about giving instructions, but about creating an atmosphere of trust and understanding.

The key is to phrase the suggestions in a way that motivates the person to improve, for example, by saying “I am sure that, with your communication skills, you can improve even more if you practice clarity in your points”. Instead of pointing out what is wrong, suggest some tip of how it could be better. In the example, it could be “To better capture the audience’s attention, you could start with an interesting anecdote”.

Alberto Camus

OK. Very good.

I know how it is done.

And the other, what?

What about the one who is receiving feedforward?

You are absolutely right. Doing so effectively is also crucial for personal and professional growth. And, above all, for your professional relationship.

It is essential to listen with an open mind. That goes for being willing to consider new ideas and/or approaches; not dismissing suggestions immediately just because they are different from what you usually do. That is the first of all.

Also, showing gratitude to those who have taken the time to offer you that feedforward is critical; a simple “Thank you for your suggestions, I will take them into account for my next task” can make all the difference.

In practical terms, evaluate and prioritise suggestions, as not all of them can be implemented immediately. Focus on those that are most relevant and prioritised for your current situation. Look for ways in which you can incorporate and put into practice the suggestions received.

Finally, take the time to reflect on the feedforward received and how you can adjust it to your style and context. Not all suggestions will work for everyone, so adapt them to your needs.

And it is here that I do not want to forget another fundamental element: face-to-face communication plays a crucial role in this whole process. Sometimes, the excessive use of technologies, such as e-mails, Teams, Slack… can impoverish the quality of our relationships and increase conflict. Direct conversation allows for a better interpretation of suggestions and avoids misunderstandings. Moreover, it demonstrates a level of empathy and concern that simply cannot be conveyed through a keyboard.

And now, what…

I invite you to try it.

Feedforward is a powerful tool that allows us to look to the future with optimism, improving our present.

At a time when the world is changing so rapidly, when continuous improvement is key, we cannot afford to miss any opportunity to grow and develop. Using feedforward gives us the ability to anticipate and adapt, whether at work or in our personal lives.

Learning to give and receive feedforward effectively can transform our interactions, our relationships and our results.

Remember, criticism can be difficult to handle, especially when we feel we are being labelled or judged. Therefore, offering feedforward can be much more effective and less painful. And if in addition…in this time where the quality of communication is often compromised by technology, recapturing those face-to-face conversations can make a big difference in how we give and receive these valuable suggestions.

So, let’s get on with it!

*Article written by Antonio Moya – AM Coaching.

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