Try feedforward instead of feedback

Annual appraisals can be beneficial, when done well, though I think that more frequent interaction between a manager and the person they manage is essential to bringing out the best performance in a person.  Not just informal one-to-one meetings, but a review of how things are going every few months or so.

Perhaps the trickiest part of an appraisal is going over any areas of work which have not been done so well.  Most people probably find it difficult to hear themselves criticised, however kindly, but it is also tough giving constructive criticism.

So here’s a great idea by Marshall Goldsmith.  In his paper from 2002, he suggests that we “try feedforward instead of feedback“.

His proposal is that we shift from performance feedback which focuses on past events, and move to an approach that focuses on future development.

Here is a summary of the main points:

1. We can change the future. We can’t change the past.
2. It can be more productive to help people be “right,” than prove they were  “wrong.”
3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people. Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals.
4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task. It does not require personal experience with the individual.  Feedback requires knowing about the person. Feedforward just requires having good ideas for achieving the task.
5. People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback.
6. Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative self-fulfilling prophecies.   Feedforward is based on the assumption that people can make positive changes in the future.
7. Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it.
8. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same “material” as feedback.
9. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say, “Here are four ideas for the future. Please accept these in the positive spirit that they are given. If you can only use two of the ideas, you are still two ahead. Just ignore what doesn’t make sense for you.”
10. Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers, and team members.

This concept appeals to me because it combines management and leadership.  As a manager, I supervise people’s work.  As a leader, I build a vision for the library and empower my colleagues to work together towards that goal.

It is amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares about who gets the credit.

– Robert Yates

Feedforward combines making improvements in procedures and everyday tasks with a more exciting ambition of improving the library service overall.  I hope this approach will help my team to consider their appraisals as opportunities for personal development and catalysts for their professional growth.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

– Thomas Edison
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