Blog Feed-forward; Not Feed-back! Are You a Rear-view Mirror or a GPS? June 30, 2014

One of Marshall Goldsmith’s most valuable pearls of wisdom is that of providing leaders with ‘feedforward’ instead of feedback.

Author and management expert, Ken Blanchard, once popularised the phrase:

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Feedback has been considered an essential skill for leaders and part of everyone’s vocabulary for a very long time. Feedforward, however, is a far more useful developmental device than feedback. In essence, it involves offering suggestions (e.g. behavioural changes) to another party for them to consider incorporating in their future behaviour.

Think about driving a car. How much time do you spend looking at the rear-view mirrors compared to looking forward? How difficult do you think it would be driving relying mostly on gathering directional information from your mirrors? What would you say is the ratio of time you spend looking forward, or through your rear-view mirrors? It’s simple, isn’t it?

Well, the same applies when providing feedback to others – especially leaders. Providing feedback relates to the past – what they did or didn’t do. Not to mention that rear-view mirrors have blind spots!

In contrast, providing feedforward to someone is about clarifying expectations with the intention to genuinely help them. It’s more like a using GPS – it clearly paves the way ahead.

More often than not, senior leaders tend to take feedback as a criticism. As one CEO said to me once:

Believe me, I get a lot of flak!

Yet, leaders are far more receptive to receiving feedforward, especially if their permission is sought first and the intention for doing so is clearly stated up front.

One of the most important factors that builds trust between leaders and their stakeholders is the fulfilment of expectations stakeholders have from their leaders. By providing feedforward, stakeholders can significantly help leaders by offering them valuable information on how to move powerfully together into the future.

Next time you’re thinking about providing feedback to someone, consider the following question: How am I going to be most helpful to them, and our team… by acting as a rear-view mirror, or as their GPS?