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Feedforward Exercise for LeadersMarshall Goldsmith’s alternative to feedback which focuses on the past

By Karla Schlaepfer
Feedback, Feedfoward, New Work

It is more productive to help people learn to be “right” than prove they were “wrong”. Feedforward boosts intrinsic motivation and improves performance.

Providing feedback is an essential skill for leaders. It can be used to clarify goals, expectations and needs. Traditionally, feedback is given top-down from leaders to their employees. But leaders can benefit from feedback too! There is a movement to 360-degree feedback and peer feedback that invites people to exchange feedback at eye level – or horizontally. 🧿✨

There are some fundamental issues with feedback though. Regardless of which feedback model you use, it is always about something that happened in the past and is too often negatively framed. Yet, as most of us know, when it is given in a constructive spirit, it is an opportunity to change or grow. Still, there is an element of judgment that can’t be denied. Often it is hard to separate the feedback from the person and this makes people uncomfortable and defensive.

Executive coach and author Marshall Goldsmith developed a tool called “feedforward” to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with feedback. Feedforward can be used in various ways in the workplace. One way is to use it in performance reviews. Instead of focusing on past mistakes or weaknesses, feedforward interviews focus on strengths and future intentional behaviors. Encouraging a positive environment and positive emotional states increases motivation in employees and thus leads to increased positive actions and behaviors. A positive climate also leads to improved work relationships, communication and support, and overall effective and improved performance.👌🏻💯

In essence, feedforward shifts the focus of feedback from criticism of past performance to suggestions for future improvement. That may not sound like a big difference, but it feels completely different to the person on the receiving end. Feedback is vital to growth. But, if we can’t hear or internalize the feedback due to our emotional response, it is totally ineffective. To accelerate learning and improve performance, try minimizing the negative emotion inherent in feedback by focusing on the future rather than on the past.

Here is a version of the Goldsmith feedforward exercise that I’ve used with success in an executive leadership workshop.

👉🏻 Exercise

This is a carousel 🎠partner work involving pairs.

In one role, you are asked to provide the feedforward —that is, to give someone else suggestions for the future and help as much as you can.

In the other role, you are asked to accept feedforward—that is, to listen to the suggestions for the future and learn as much as you can.
The entire exercise typically lasts for 10-15 minutes in total with 4-5 changes of partners.

Specially in the exercise participants are asked to:

  • Pick one behavior that they would like to change.
  • Describe this behavior in one-on-one dialogues. Ex. “I‘d like to become a better communicator“ or “I’d like to be a more transparent leader”
  • After 2 minutes of description, ask for your feedforward. In this case, two suggestions for the future might help you achieve a positive change in your selected behavior. If participants have worked together in the past, they are not allowed to give ANY feedback about the past. They are only allowed to give ideas for the future.
  • Receive your partner’s feedforward suggestions without discussion. Thank the other person for their suggestions.
  • Change roles. Now ask your new partner what they would like to change. Same procedure.
  • Move to a new partner and repeat until the time is called.
  • Debrief and collect the most useful and best practices for transfer.

👉🏻Feedback can be a valuable way of increasing transparency and alignment. Feedforward is an alternative that can be practiced in addition to feedback. Feedforward, boosts New Work mindset, increases trust, can improve relationships, and foster potential in your team. 🚀💼


Here is a salient quote from Marshall Goldsmith

“Quality communication – between and among people at all levels and every department – is the glue that holds organizations together. By using feedforward and encouraging others to use it – leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring that the right message is conveyed and that those who receive it are receptive to its content. The result is a much more dynamic, much more open organization – one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past.”✨🙋🏻‍♀️

Get in touch

Reach out to discuss how to improve the feedback culture in your firm!

Karla Schlaepfer