Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Marshall Goldsmith, in his excellent new book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, introduces the idea of coaching using feedforward as opposed to providing feedback. Negative feedback often becomes an exercise in “let me prove you were wrong.” This tends to produce defensiveness on the part of the receiver and discomfort on the part of the sender. Feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. As Goldsmith observes, we can change the future while we're powerless to change the past.
Athletes are often trained using feedforward techniques. For example, basketball players are taught to see the ball going in the hoop and to imagine the perfect shot. By giving people ideas about how they can be even more successful, we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.

Anyone can apply this concept to their own situation at work in the following manner:

• Pick one behavior that you'd like to change. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive difference in your life.

• Describe this behavior to selected direct reports and peers. This is done in one-on-one dialogs. It can be done quite simply, such as, “I want to be a better listener.”

• Ask for feedforward — for two suggestions for the future that they believe might help you achieve a positive change in your selected behavior. Participants aren't allowed to give ANY feedback about the past. They're only allowed to give ideas for the future.

• Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Don't comment on the suggestions in any way. Don't critique them or even make positive judgmental statements such as, “That’s a good idea.”

• Thank the other person for their suggestions.

• Keep repeating the process at regular intervals (weekly, monthly) until the people involved agree that the behavior has been changed.

The intent of this post is not to imply that you should never give direct feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned. The intent is to show how feedforward can often be preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions.

No comments: