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Feedforward vs. Feedback: A New Approach to Performance Management

September 15, 2023

We can’t take back mistakes we’ve made in the past, and it’s seldom helpful to dwell on or be reminded of them — even with the best of intentions. Let’s explore why it’s often more productive to look forward.
Blog Post

Feedback is one of the best ways to help your team become more efficient and improve your business processes — but it can be something of a poisoned chalice. Receiving feedback can make colleagues feel judged, shamed, or put in the spotlight.

But, certainly, we all need to hear how we can improve. How can we deliver thoughts and constructive criticism without the negative connotations?

Let us introduce you to “feedforward,” a more future-looking alternative to the traditional “feedback.”

Instead of focusing on something that’s gone wrong or needs correcting, “feedforward” focuses on improving the outcome of future projects. Used in tandem with efficient performance management software, feedforward is an excellent supplement to traditional feedback methods.

So, what’s the best way to carry it out? And how do you structure a feedforward conversation?

Let’s dig in.

Key Takeaways

  • Feedback and feedforward and two different ways to frame constructive criticism. Organizations can use both when having discussions about employee performance. 
  • Feedback is focused on the past and identifying what went wrong. Conversely, feedforward focuses on how you can do things differently in the future. 
  • R.E.P.A.I.R. is a common framework for feedforward conversations: Regenerating talent, Expanding possibilities, Particular, Authentic, Impact, Refining team Dynamic. 

What Is Feedforward?

Simply put, feedforward is a way of suggesting improvements to work processes or skills by focusing on how a task could be done differently next time. This helps you build a plan of action that may feed into a wider strategy to streamline business processes.

Feedforward vs. Feedback: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between feedback and feedforward is the framing.

You’ve probably received feedback before — after a new project, a presentation, or on ways to improve an existing method. It can feel like criticism, focusing on what went wrong with something in the past. As there isn’t anything you can do to resolve the issue in the present, it can feel negative and deflate your confidence.

However, feedforward focuses on the future. It may include how the task could be done differently next time and specify metrics to measure success. It’s a way of making the feedback actionable now and creating professional growth opportunities.

You’ve probably received feedforward without knowing this distinction. Many people already use this technique when making comments on colleagues’ work.

Let’s explore the benefits of feedforward and why it can be a better motivator than feedback.


Learn More: Coaching vs. Managing: What are the Differences? And How to Embrace Both


The Benefits of Feedforward Communication

While feedforward may seem like a mere reframing of feedback, this simple shift can helps managers and their teams be more intentional in their communication.

At its crux, feedforward is a coaching technique. It puts the individual’s future development front and center, instead of focusing on past mistakes. Employees want employers to invest in their professional development, and feedforward is designed to facilitate that type of growth.

But why and how does your organization stand to benefit from feedforward communication?

It’s Non-Judgmental

No one likes to feel judged or put down at work. But that's exactly what happens when you’re on the receiving end of poor and lazy feedback.. It can easily feel like an attack or a comment on certain personality traits.

Feedforward focuses on transforming mistakes or areas of weakness from one task into a learning opportunity for the next. You’ll likely get more engagement from your employees when you take this more positive approach.

It’s Future-Oriented

It’s useful to examine past projects for areas of improvement. Feedforward goes one step further and gets ahead of potential issues before they happen..

Instead of “What went wrong?” it’s “What can we do better next time?”

You can only do so much by reflecting on the past. Since there isn’t anything that can be done about past mistakes, it’s far more constructive to consider how your team can work differently in the future.

It Provides Growth for All Parties

Workers crave development opportunities. Feedforward presents this opportunity. The person on the receiving end gains a better understanding of their task and can focus on ways to improve their work, which really centers on their potential for growth.

The person giving feedforward also learns to comment on work objectively and focus on positive, growth-oriented comments.

Learn More!

Listen to “PCTY Talks” host Shari Simpson and author Jason Lauritsen break down the differences between feedback and feedforward and how your organization stands to benefit from integrating a feedforward approach.

How to Structure a Feedforward Conversation

How you deliver feedforward will depend on the task and the structure of your team. It should be personal and aimed at professional development.

However, you may still find it useful to use a framework if you or your team are new to the feedforward format.

Fans of feedforward often use the R.E.P.A.I.R. method for performance management. It encourages open communication and understanding between team members. It stands for:

  • R – regenerating talent
  • E – expanding possibilities
  • P – particular
  • A – authentic
  • I – impactful
  • R – refining team dynamic

Let’s break down each of these sections.

Regenerating Talent

It can help to think of feedforward as a form of knowledge transfer. The goal is to take the knowledge and experiences of supervisors and deliver them to their team in the form of suggestions for the future.

Feedforward helps foster career progression and improves confidence and knowledge in your field.

Expanding Possibilities

A major feature of feedforward is its ability to expand on ideas and introduce new processes into the business.

For example, instead of using a silencing statement like: “No, that wouldn’t work,” you'd use an amplifying statement: “That’s a great idea. Let’s discuss a few tweaks to work with our resources and see if we can implement that.”

Do you see how the second statement still acknowledges that there may be some practical challenges but also encourages and expands on the idea?

Particular

One of the major concerns with basic feedback is that it can easily descend into vague criticism. With a focus on positivity and future improvement, a feedforward framework helps to craft a specific response — letting your colleague know exactly how they can improve next time and what they can ask for support with.

Authentic

Feedforward is authentic communication. It reframes criticism into suggestions for improvement without the need for inauthentic praise — although it’s great to include praise if the project has earned it.

Because honesty and communication are built into the structure of feedforward, you can safely use this framework without devolving into platitudes or dishonesty.

Impact

Feedforward creates a positive, lasting impact on the recipient and the provider. It creates space for the recipient to understand areas of strength and weakness, focusing on growing in their profession.

At the same time, the impact on the provider shouldn't be overlooked. Feedforward encourages supervisors to examine their own methods of commenting on work and may help to identify areas of bias or ways of improving your management style.

Refining Team Dynamic

Feedback is one of the many markers of team dynamics and hierarchy. Typically, it’s supervisors with more industry and company experience who are providing feedback to junior employees.

Feedforward can use this dynamic too, but it also creates space for other team members to engage and make comments on past projects.

Feedforward vs. Feedback Example

We’ve covered the what, the why, and the how. Now, let’s see feedforward in action!

Consider the same scenario and two outcomes, one in which feedback is provided and the other in which feedforward communication is used. Notice the difference in tone and the shift towards the task itself and the future when feedforward is introduced.

Scenario: Sarah has just finished presenting a marketing plan for the company’s new product to senior leadership, the marketing team, and her direct supervisor. After the session, her supervisor offers her the following comments:

Example of Feedback

“You didn’t seem very engaged during parts of that presentation. You spent a lot of time reading from slides and avoiding eye contact with the Marketing Director. I also felt that you could have included more statistics from past campaigns to highlight why we’re using paid campaigns.”

Example of Feedforward

“There were some really strong parts of that presentation! In the future, can we brainstorm with the team and collate some data that justifies the budget we’re proposing? It might also be helpful if you reduced the amount of content on each slide to improve engagement. Let me know if you need any support preparing future projects.”

Spot the Difference

Do you see the difference in the two responses above? In the first, Sarah’s supervisor makes comments about her personally, including body language and their own potentially biased reading of Sarah’s thoughts.

In the second response, her supervisor offers coaching, makes general, task-based suggestions, and begins by pointing out the positive elements of her work.

This isn’t to say that feedback should be abandoned. Rather, start with feedback, and then go further. Avoid simply picking out a fault. Examine the fault. Identify priorities for improvement and suggestions for the future that move the task on and improve its efficiency.

Embrace Feedforward Leadership for More Effective Talent Development

Don't get stuck in the past — move forward with feedforward!

Feedforward conversations should be one pillar of your performance management Embrace this technique to create meaningful coaching opportunities and foster a culture of professional growth.

To make feedforward even easier, consider implementing an effective digital system. We designed Paylocity’s performance management software to foster productive conversations about employee performance.

With features like easy goal tracking, self-reflection journals (with text and video capabilities), and career planning templates, it’s easy to incorporate feedforward tactics into your employee development strategy.

Request a demo to learn more about Paylocity’s employee performance management offerings.

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