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Feedforward VS Feedback: What Are the Key Differences?

Comparing feedback vs. feedforward to maximize your potential for success and growth! Plus, see examples of feedback and feedforward.

By Alexandria Hewko  •   May 12, 2022  •   7 min read

Whether you’re new to your job or you’re the team veteran, continuous improvement is key for keeping our minds sharp and keeping us up to date with the current world. And with the personal development market expecting to reach a record USD 67 billion by 2030, it’s obvious that we’re itching to learn more about how to continuously be better. 

Within work, most people look to their managers and coworkers to provide feedback and a source for new areas of improvement. But what if feedback actually isn’t the best point of focus?

We’re here to introduce you to feedforward assessments. When practiced often and within a team, this approach is ideal for helping you meet your future goals for self-improvement. 

What is feedback and feedforward? 

Feedback is something with which most of us are familiar. It’s commentary from someone else on an action, event, or behavior that happened in the past, with the intention of guiding the person to improve in the future. The commentary is focused more on what actually happened in the past event. 

Feedforward, on the other hand, might be a new term to many. Rather than focusing the discussion on mistakes or areas of weaknesses in activities that have already happened, feedforward approaches provide commentary and information for improvement while the action, event, or behavior is ongoing. Feedforward also has a much more future-focused orientation, so recipients of feedforward advice feel empowered to leverage insights about themselves for better performance in the future

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How to conduct a feedforward assessment 

  1. Describe the goal. The recipient and provider of the feedforward advice should be on the same page for the goal of the feedforward-receiving individual. Understanding the goal helps both members to identify clear, actionable areas of improvement that lead towards the specific target.
  2. Ask for suggestions. Feedforward enables individuals to ask for insight in the moment, to help them make better decisions. Frequently stopping to think critically about decisions will increase the number of opportunities to ask for help and direction. 
  3. Listen carefully. The advice you receive from your feedforward partner can be very useful. In some cases, the advice also may not be well suited to your current goal or next action, but perhaps it will be beneficial down the line. Since feedforward has a future-oriented approach, it might be worth your while to take note of unused ideas for future use in your work. 
  4. Show gratitude. Displaying your thanks to team members has been proven to increase the likelihood that they want to help you again in the future. It’s a small (but incredibly important) step to take towards receiving advice that’s well meaning from someone who wants what’s best for you.
  5. Reverse roles. As you work with your team member or partner, you may want to take turns providing them some insights too. Developing together can provide you both with more time and opportunities for reflection and brainstorming on paths to success. 

Benefits of using feedforward

1 It’s future-forward orientation

Feedforward gives insight into how a situation can be improved in the future rather than focusing on positive or negative feedback from events that are already completed. With feedback approaches, some teams run the risk of nitpicking small errors and creating a heavy, negative environment in the long term. With feedforward, knowledge of past mistakes is only leveraged so specific steps can be planned out to help the individual reach their target goal in the future. This approach shifts the focus from looking at past errors to instead focusing on optimized and advanced skills. 

2 It’s not judgmental

Since the feedforward approach has the purpose of improving for the future, it’s focused on helping the recipient of the assessment strive for better, higher goals. Team members are encouraged to be open and honest with each other, which allows the person giving the assessment to be more empathetic to the challenges and opportunities of the recipient. At the same time, the recipient needs to be willing to admit areas of weakness to receive helpful advice for future development. 

3 It reinforces positive interpersonal relationships between employees

Feedforward is growth-oriented constructive criticism and requires the support of teammates to deliver the assessment. Implementing this type of approach more frequently means employees become more engaged and aware of what the rest of their team is working on. Other employees can begin to notice continued areas of strengths, weaknesses, and improvements in their coworkers. Building this awareness is a healthy step towards a highly connected, engaged, and empowered team. 

4 It can help you break through barriers and make progress at a faster pace

Consistently asking team members for feedforward is aligned with the characteristics of having a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset means regularly checking in on yourself and your goals and having a mission to make continuous improvement. Resilience, effort, and learning are three other elements that further empower you to leverage the benefits of a growth mindset. Recognizing your weaknesses and targeting them as specific areas of improvement will help you to accelerate your growth. 

5 It may help you discover leaders within your team

Leaders need to have fine-tuned critical thinking and reflection skills. If someone on your team is continuously reflecting, analyzing, and re-strategizing based on their findings, they may be well suited for leading a team of their own. A good leader will also seek improvement and growth in their team, so make note of those who make an active effort to provide positive feedforward assessments for fellow coworkers. 

6 It focuses on the development of a better future

By now, we know that feedforward can provide incredible benefits for meeting our future goals for self-improvement. 

Now, imagine that your full team practices feedforward assessments. Together, you could align your goals to a combined, higher goal for the improvement of your team or organization. In a community or school, smaller teams or groups of leaders can also work together to orient individual goals so they feed into a collective, larger goal that aids in the development of a better future. 

7 It can be practiced on a higher level

As most companies use objectives and key results (OKRs) to determine success in their operations, corporate leaders can also implement collective feedforward assessments to help meet these OKR targets. Both within teams and across departments, regularly practicing this type of assessment can help teams gain an awareness of how other teams are developing. Together, all departments can find ways to support each other for further optimization and organizational growth. 

Examples of feedback and feedforward

Feedback example

Patrick just pitched a sales presentation to a possible new client. Since this is one of Patrick’s first times presenting the sales pitch on his own, his manager also joined the call. Following the call, Patrick doesn’t hear back from his manager until his weekly one-on-one. In this meeting, his manager lets him know about a few areas for improvement, such as his confidence in conveying information and the accuracy of some of his presentation points. Patrick makes notes of this feedback and tries to practice for the hope of doing better in his next presentation (whenever that is). 

The feedforward alternative

Patrick is going to be taking the lead on a sales pitch presentation next week. Since it’s his first time taking the lead on a presentation like this, his manager has let him know that they will also attend the call for support. In preparation, Patrick does a dry run of the presentation with his manager and one other colleague who is highly experienced with client engagement practices. During this practice run, Patrick asks for insights on how to best catch the client’s attention and tips for managing anxiety mid-presentation, and he reconfirms the data presented in his slides. On the day of the pitch, Patrick is well armed with the right insights and knowledge to impress the client and close the deal sooner than anticipated!

Parting advice

When learning something new, it can be exceptionally easy to focus on all the fumbles of your first few attempts. It can be difficult not to think of how you could have done better on that, or done this more quickly, or any variety of improvement. 

Unfortunately, the past is irreversible. Fortunately, the future is totally within your control. 

Take the time to set your goals, get the right information, and prepare yourself to meet your goals by practicing feedforward assessments with your team. Together, you and your colleagues can support each other towards continued development and future-oriented success.

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