Feedback is one of the core skills taught to anyone who goes through leadership training — along with goal setting, coaching, delegating, conflict management and team development. I have trained hundreds of managers in a very specific formula for giving effective feedback. The problem with feedback is that we don’t like to give it and for many people, receiving it is not something they look forward to. It feels judgmental, critical, evaluative. That’s not to say that knowing how to improve isn’t essential– it is. It’s that feedback tends to put too much emphasis on what you’ve done in the past that needs to improve rather than on how to improve.
Last week, I was reminded of the power of Marshall Goldsmith’s feedforward process. I was with a group and we engaged in a feedforward activity that went something like this. You approach someone you don’t know in the group and describe a behavior you are trying to change or something you need to do better. You then remain quiet while your partner provides you with suggestions on improvement. Your job is to listen. After the other person finishes with his or her suggestions, you don’t evaluate, you don’t critique, you don’t assess. You simply say, “Thank you”. We were able to approach three different people with the same issue and receive three perspectives on improving and making change.
The results: I walked away with several terrific ideas about how to make the behavioral change I was interested in making. When we debriefed this activity as a group, we all had the same response to it. It was very valuable and it felt good. It felt productive. We didn’t have the feeling of being beat down. We weren’t tense going into the conversation. Why? Because we were focused on building the future rather than focusing a lot of time on the past.
Everyone needs feedback from time to time because we’re not always aware of what we are doing that needs to change or improve. But once we know, the conversation should focus on feedforward — what ideas can we generate to create the future rather than spending time focused on the past. An even better idea, rather than starting the conversation by providing your feedback, ask the other individual what he thought went well and what needed to improve in a situation. You’ll probably be quite surprised by how aware he is and then you can both focus on what’s really important — moving forward.