Feedback vs Feedforward – Understanding the Dynamics of Control

We can learn something from almost all the work we do, the projects, the tasks, and even our experiences. Our project leaders, coaches, and managers are trained to provide us feedback, mainly to improve our skills and success. Feedback helps us improve our work, understand our scope for improvement, correct our responses and encourage our learning potential.

Receiving feedback helps us learn and improve. Another reason why input from others is essential is that it allows us to look at our work from outside of our perspective. If we don’t take their ideas, suggestions, and viewpoints, we lose the chance of becoming more efficient in our tasks or projects. However, not everyone is open to receiving criticism. Moreover, when people get defensive, they cannot value the feedback provided.

Call it constructive criticism or feedback – it has been a beneficial tool in positively influencing performance. However, it is essential to question whether this robust tool is the most effective way to influence performance?

Is there an effective way to do it?

Since feedback can be both positive and negative, its eager acceptance depends on the situation, the giver and the receiver, and the perceived benefits. The tool to enhance feedback and focus on the future rather than centering on the past is feedforward.

Feedback vs Feedforward

What is Feedforward?

Feedforward, a concept put forth by coach Marshall Goldsmith, focuses on developing communication solutions aimed at the future. This training and communication technology has been in use since the early 1990s. However, it has only recently gained much-needed traction. Feedforward definition revolves around creating a positive environment with a futuristic outlook in mind.

If used well, the feedforward technique can create a healthy work environment for employees. It allows them to go past the negative feedback of the past and focus solely on improving their future. While the difference in definition might seem trivial, feedforward communication can make a monumental difference to the receiver.

Feedforward is a form of control that focuses on setting standards before starting the process. Moreover, it considers the people, materials, and other organizational resources.

Feedforward controls, or preventive controls, help in identifying the process, the problems and prevent any non-conformities in the standards even before the process starts.

One of the feedforward examples is helping organizations in their HR and selection process. An HR and Admin automation system will help identify potential candidates with the right skills by putting in place strict standards. This system allows you to collate candidate information in a centralized database, conduct assessment tests, background verifications, negotiate salary, and provide customized letters of employment.

Streamlining workflows and processes can help in enhancing employee engagement and boosting business success. One of the most common ways of going ahead with feedforward implementation is automating workflows.

When you customize dashboards by creating several feedforward features and approval systems, you invariably build-in quality, eliminate errors, and increase productivity. Moreover, every stakeholder to success – worker, manager, HR, and technical teams, is involved in the process.

The Fundamental Flaws of Feedback

The very nature of feedback is focusing on past events and performance. Since you can’t change past events, the takeaways from such feedback are very limited. Some of the reasons why we believe feedback brings inadequate and inefficient results are because,

It lays the focus on ratings and not on performance

In general, feedback is given based on past performances. And this rating focuses on what’s over rather than on what can be done in the future. It looks past the fundamental goal of feedback – providing impetus for improvement.

It inhibits creativity and control

We tend to bring out our defensive stance and shut ourselves down for improvement when we get negative feedback. We lose sight of our creativity, rationality, and control when this happens.

It encourages a limited view of our capabilities

When we are judged based on our past mistakes or errors, we develop a sense of helplessness because we cannot change the events. We tend to start pondering over our limitations rather than our capabilities.

Attributes of Feedforward Communication

Feedforward communication techniques are effective only when they have the following attributes.

Restores Self-worth and Talent

The main idea behind feedforward is to allow people to look at their performances positively and seek opportunities to establish their expertise. A few positive lines about our work, no doubt, has a trickle-down effect, but at a very minimal level. It simply reinforces known concepts about us rather than showing our capabilities in a new light. Feedforward lets us improve our performance by building on our self-worth and talent.

Enhances Growth Possibilities

Rather than simply showing the problems, it is crucial to allow the employees to brainstorm solutions. You could build on the answers provided by others rather than turning them down completely. Making small changes might provide a better solution and possibilities for learning.

Eliminates Errors in Process

When there is a standard set-in place even before the process starts, it eliminates several errors during the execution. Moreover, all the employees clearly understand the standard operating procedures. For example, you can make sure the rules, discounts, bid thresholds, and more standards are built into the system with a Procurement automation solution. Additionally, it is also possible to allow all team members to contribute their ideas to the process.

Provides Specific Strategies

When feedback is given to team members, it is usually done in large chunks – a lot of metrics are provided, several KPIs are measured at once. On the other hand, feedforward insists on picking specific strategies for the future. It is essential to focus on one thing and make it ongoing.

Aids in Locating the Problems

When negative feedback is given, it is offered sugar-coated, making it difficult for the receiver to discern the information. Moreover, when the negative feedback is shared with positive words-of-praise reinforcement, it takes away the value of constructive criticism.

Feedforward doesn’t stop at providing future-oriented feedback. It also encourages team members to look for optimum solutions together.

Redefines Group Dynamics

Feedforward changes the group dynamics and makes everyone in the system responsible for the success and accountable for their actions. Feedforward distributes it across the teams instead of putting the power of decisions in a single place.

For example, when you install a Finance workflow automation system, you can get all your client invoices streamlined by allowing several team members to generate client invoices throughout the month without delay and get them approved by all stakeholders on time. A parallel approval form comes in handy when multiple stakeholders get involved, such as, in approving invoices, leave requests, procurements, and more.

Focusses on Coaching and not Criticizing

Coaching aims to improve the person’s performance for the future and let them know where they went wrong and how they could have performed. Coaches tend to closely study their subject rather than just shooting off generic improvement tips. For managers, it is vital to use the mistakes and errors of the team members as a tool of learning using positive influencers. Delivers Instant Impact Sometimes feedback is so vague and talks about events in the distant past that it fails to cause any tangible impact on the receiver. If the input must be appreciated and acted upon, you should provide it practically and realistically.

Reinforces Positives

When the employee feels only his negatives and shortcomings are up for discussion, they might be more reluctant to open to the feedback. On the contrary, feedforward talks about their positives, strengths, and skills, and so employees are likely to repeat positive behavior in the future.

Develops ‘next time’ ideas

Feedback criticizes the past, while feedforward is the path to a better future. Instead of providing statements like, ‘You spoke for way too long during the presentation. We lost track of what you were saying’ try ‘Next time, make sure you provide concise points and a couple of examples.’ The second statement is more likely to find takers and get instantly implemented.

Feedforward vs. Feedback– The Way Forward

Feedback Feedforward
It is provided in isolation It is provided as a tool for change
Offers information in large chunks at once It is targeted towards a specific strategy
Doesn’t give ideas for future betterment and improvement Provides and encourages future-oriented ideas
Always delivered in a vertical hierarchy model The group dynamics are more refined and streamlined
The information reinforces what the receiver already knows Identifies positives of the employees
Talks about the problems that have happened in the past Focuses on solutions and opportunities for growth
It is subject to the prejudices and opinions of the giver The communication is not subject to the prejudices of the giver
The receiver can feel that they are being judged Focuses on providing critical information in a non-judgmental manner
It could lead to reinforcement of negatives and mistakes It is aimed at solutions for future improvement
It could be a time-consuming process The entire process is efficient and faster as the information is not provided in isolation

How to Conduct Feedforward Communication Assessment?

Feedforward is a sort of a loop in which all the participants can receive and give feedback. It shifts the focus to performance and preventive maintenance rather than becoming a critique who is just too late to join the game. Remember these steps when performing a feedforward technique,

Describe your Goal in Definite terms

Describe your goals – in clear and precise terms. The goals should preferably be short-term, but it’s not necessary. The plans could be anything from, ‘I have to work for two hours extra every week,’ or ‘I have to make my presentations more informative and interactive.’ Either way, you should draw a roadmap to improvement before undertaking the tasks.

Seek Ideas and Suggestions for improvement

Once you have laid down the goals, your partner will provide suggestions and ideas for improvement. The focus of the entire process should be future-oriented. It wouldn’t be judgmental or make mention of the past performances. For instance, one idea to make the presentations more informative and interactive could be limiting the number of pages and asking open-ended questions during the presentation.

Pay Keen Attention to the Suggestions

It is time to focus all your attention on the suggestions provided by your partner. Encourage openness and clarity by giving positive feedback to the ideas. Takedown notes, ask questions, seek clarifications without bias.

Remember to thank the participants

Contemplate the suggestions and thank the participants for their time and effort. It is undoubtedly the right time to only show gratitude without being judgmental.

Interchange Roles

Once your partner lays down their points on the table, you should take on the mantle of the giver. Repeat the entire process by putting forth your feedforward solutions across the table.

While these were the steps you can take to implement the feedforward strategy, we believe it takes more than just this.

The reason is feedforward is not the latest fad to join the elite club of innovative measuring techniques that will fade out of public consciousness soon. Implementing feedforward – at both personal and professional levels- is as much about transforming the mindsets and bringing about a cultural change as it is about altering the feedback process. However, since it is a change that can impact most people positively, it is welcomed by all layers of management.

Before implementing this strategy in your organization, we believe you must focus on training and retraining your managers about its features and expectations. Read on to know how you should start the process and where you should be most careful.

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Performance appraisal is different from Feedback and Feedforward

Every organization uses performance appraisal systems – from 360-degree feedback to performance reviews. These reviews come into play only after the task has been completed.

You might be wondering whether to ignore someone’s bad performance because we aren’t concerned about their past? No. Evaluate the performance but focus solely on encouraging learning and supporting growth.

The first step in the feedforward process is setting clear and specific expectations from the employee. Once it is put in place; it becomes easier to know whether someone meets the standards or falls short of them. Then, it also acts as a foundation for the right questions, tools, resources needed to accelerate the growth of the employees.

Convert managers into Coaches

Coaching aims to improve the person’s performance for the future and let them know where they went wrong and how they can improve. Coaches tend to closely study their subject rather than just shooting off generic improvement tips. For managers, it is vital to use the mistakes and errors of the team members as a tool of learning using positive influencers.

Include Feedforward questions in the Feedback forms

Once your managers are trained and have set the ball rolling, the next step would be to ensure all the questions in the feedback forms are future-oriented. Instead of hanging on to the past, we believe questions that look for ideas, seek creative solutions, and improve learning should be the step forward.

Reason Why you should make the Switch from Feedback to Feedforward

Unlike feedback communication systems, there are many advantages to the feedforward technique in personal and professional settings. Let us look at a few reasons why you should switch from feedback to the feedforward technique.

  • It focuses on improving your products, communication, and service without centering on the past barriers to performance.
  • It puts into place particular standards – staying clear of unfocused ideas and strategies.
  • It gives your employees several avenues for improvement and advancements.
  • It focuses on what could be done differently than what was done.
  • It seeks ideas and suggestions that help future growth.
  • Feedforward lays importance on improvement while feedback focuses on criticism.
  • In a Feedforward communication, the managers and coaches provide guidance and recommendations that accelerate performance.
  • It allows your team members to individually put forth ideas, get creative, and lead their learning from the front.
  • It positively impacts interpersonal relationships between employees and management.

Are you going to go forward with Feedforward communication?


Then, you have made the right choice for your employees, customers, and organization. Although implementing the feedforward is an easy decision, several chunks must fall in place when implementing an across-the-line strategy such as feedforward. To help organizations implement this strategy accurately and effortlessly, solution providers such as CFlow help develop a streamlined approval process, parallel approvals for the specific need of several stakeholders, and more.

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