‘Feedback is a gift’. If only I could find the person who first coined that phrase…I would offer some feedback. Consider performance assessment – a process based on feedback – on ourselves, on each other and even sometimes on our bosses. Dutifully we supply, we collate, we pass on, we listen and we take on board. If it’s true that feedback is a gift – then like any other gift we can either take it and use it…or we can place it in a bottom drawer and forget about it. Of course we all consider feedback – we seek to understand, contextualise, rationalise and – if we are lucky or skilled – we even identify an idea for something different to do next time.
I think a great deal about feedback and its value – often in situations where I am a customer, and also where we are delivering a service to a customer. Should I offer feedback? How should I take the feedback? Who was it who first said feedback is a gift?
Several years ago I attended a symposium featuring a guest external speaker. He was great. Inspired even. Definitely inspiring. He spoke about lots of topics that day…but he also offered a simple view on feedback. ‘Feedback is fatally flawed since – by definition – it focuses on events that have already happened…and so feedback is limited and static.
We were offered an alternative. FeedForward. FeedForward was presented as a gift! FeedForward is when we provide suggestions to someone else for their future actions only.
Beautifully simple, but amazingly helpful.
On that particular day, we were in mixed teams. I recall I knew less than 10% of colleagues on my team. But yet I immediately realised one beauty of FeedForward – it doesn’t require any knowledge of the other person.
All I had to do was identify one behaviour I wanted to change – a behaviour I believed would lead to significant, positive difference. With that in mind, I approached a team member and asked for FeedForward – two suggestions that might help me achieve a positive change in my selected behaviour. My reply to any FeedForward received was limited to ‘thank you’ – by our agreed process that day. We then swapped roles and I was asked to offer FeedForward on my colleague’s chosen behaviour or situation.
Even now I can remember that session vividly. It was fantastic, enjoyable and very worthwhile – both as the presenter and recipient of advice. In contrast to feedback, FeedForward was – and is – expansive and dynamic.
I even had chance to interact with our guest speaker. He asked me (really) for FeedForward on how he could get his messages to more people. I gave him my two best ideas. He thanked me and moved on to the next person. I felt great that he had listened and accepted.
We all spend a great deal of time discussing – and seeking to understand – events or performance that have happened. It is in our nature and is reinforced in our education, in our training and in our roles.
It’s true we can and should learn from our past – but the future is ours to create. What happens next? What steps should we take – individually or collectively? To what do we aspire?
FeedForward will always help. New ideas, different priorities or even just an alternative view on our existing plan? FeedForward is as valuable to receive as it is exciting to offer. And – like so many really good ideas I have heard – so obvious once someone else explained it to me.
Our future is waiting to happen.