Feedback or feedforward: which management method to use?

Feedback or feedforward. Do you know the difference between these concepts?

Feedback is focused on past actions, while feedforward targets what employees should do in the future.

And leadership has a pivotal role in implementing these strategies in the corporate world.

The leader is always close to team members, connecting management and workers on the front line.

Such a role allows companies to move forward toward their goals.

A good leader provides constant feedback, helping staff to position themselves better in their professional lives, and seeks feedback from their workers, listening to their needs and acting accordingly.

Furthermore: good leaders keep their eyes on the future, identifying the changes required to achieve satisfactory results.

Given the complexity of human beings, people management has to be a dynamic science, constantly adapting and searching for better ways of handling the ever-mutating reality of the workplace.

From this constant need for improvement arise the concepts of feedback and feedforward.

And there are good reasons to adopt feedforward, looking into the future.

We will touch on some points that help us understand feedforward and why you should adopt it in your management style.

Feedback or feedforward: which one best handles the market dynamics?

Before picking the best strategy, we will concentrate on understanding what feedback is.

Feedback is a known strategy in the people management environment.

It is a method of assessing someone’s performance or behavior in a company keeping in mind goals, organizational culture, or even specific guidelines previously provided to individual workers.

But often, feedback has been wrongly used by focusing solely on mistakes or being subjective and sporadic.

People need to know if their actions and attitude are taking them in the right direction and at the proper pace. Feedback allows employees to understand where they are in their professional trajectory and if they are stuck, going backward, or making progress.

However, the feedback strategy presents a fundamental issue: it centers on the past and is inconsistent with an increasingly dynamic market. That is where feedforward comes in.

Between feedback and feedforward, the latter handles nowadays market changes better.

What is feedforward?

Feedforward emerges as an evolution of traditional feedback. It has the future as a focus for interactions between leaders and collaborators and tries to anticipate demands and problems instead of solving them after they have already happened.

In a simple analogy, feedback is like a rearview mirror. We use it to look at the past. We seek insight into what has gotten the company to the current point and avoid mistakes.

Feedforward is the windshield through which we look ahead to what is coming, giving us a chance to choose the best path and ponder future decisions.

Feedback and feedforward: why use feedforward?

Feedback and feedforward are both excellent strategies. But feedforward has advantages over the former.

We can change the future. Not the past

High-performance athletes and successful CEOs share a trait: they are focused on the future. Basketball players do not get distracted by previous mistakes made in the game. They keep the vision of the ball going through the rim and the steps needed to get there.

Focusing on the future will channel efforts on what is coming instead of wasting energy on past actions that, by definition, can not be taken back.

Successful people react better to feedforward

Successful people always try to excel in their performance and constantly seek information to take them closer to their goals.

Teach how to do it right instead of not doing it wrong

Even positive feedback often includes reviewing errors. This aspect makes interactions between leaders and employees often seen as moments of tension for both parties.

An approach centered on helping people do the right thing before they have a chance to make it wrong prevents negativity in this mentoring process by acting preventively.

Using an impersonal approach

In theory, well-done feedback is a personal response focused strictly on technical and professional aspects of performance.

It turns out that, for most of us, work is a relevant aspect of life tainted with personal bias, a characteristic that can be even more true for high-level professionals.

Since it addresses something that hasn’t happened yet, feedforward is objective and impersonal. As a result, it becomes much easier to assimilate.

Therefore, feedback and feedforward address different moments: past and future.

How to implement feedforward?

Now that we understand the difference between feedback and feedforward, we will discuss the importance of adopting feedforward in your management strategy and how to apply the method within your team.

Identify traits that need improvement

The first step for successful feedforward is to identify individual characteristics of team members that can benefit the company and the individual’s professional growth.

Two types of competencies usually need improvement: technical or behavioral.

Technical traits are related to the actual execution of tasks (like a mechanic’s skills to fix a car). Behavioral traits touch on relationships and coexisting.

The idea is to improve what is already good instead of focusing on fixing flaws.

Of course, one should work on any competencies detected as falling below the minimum standard. However, the goal of feedforward is to achieve excellence in what someone is already capable of doing.

Ask for guidance

Once you have identified a trait you want to improve, the next step is to ask for advice on getting better at that aspect.

The advice can come from leadership or people who deal directly with an employee and may have a more realistic sense of how developed this competency is and how it can improve.

Feedforward requires attentive listening to both parties: listening to what they want to achieve and how to achieve it.

Feedforward is an excellent strategy that allows us to anticipate problems and develop non-aggressive internal communication.

As it happens with every tool, practice leads to perfection. Practice without moderation!

How many times a year do you get feedback?

Most of us do not use feedback much. Unfortunately, in many cases, it is a once-a-quarter event. Often, such low-frequency happens for lack of a simple, fast, and autonomous method of daily implementing feedback.

Owlisten emerged to revolutionize feedback, bringing freedom and autonomy to use in meetings, workshops, projects, and group discussions.

Owlisten’s beta version is coming to the market with a promise to democratize frequent feedback taking into account a collective view and helping managers and leaders to find which competencies need attention and development. Make feedback a habit to promote self-conscientiousness and contribute to constant improvement: click here to subscribe and ensure free access to the beta version.


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