Why is Feed(forward) likely to have better results than feedback.

Last week I recounted an experience many years ago which caused me to question the effectiveness of feedback. The chain of events led to a humorous lunchtime story in the office canteen but nonetheless a serious point lay underneath the laughter.

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My frustration deepened even further a few years later when I worked with a PA with whom I have a good relationship and whose husband I considered to be a friend. The lady concerned was: hard-working; loyal; committed and had many other qualities that made her annual appraisal easy. Or so it seemed.

Our friendly and companionable chat lasted for an hour. It was positive good-natured and friendly. Fifty-five minutes was spent on well-deserved and warm praise. Five minutes were spent talking about areas of her performance that could be improved. To be fair they were minor and the discussion was constructive and again friendly. Or so I thought.

Some time later I was surprised when her husband told me that my feedback was hurtful and disappointing. To my mind it should have been a cause for celebration. Probably I delivered it badly, maybe I was clumsy. More likely, like so many people, I was finding feedback to be ineffective at best and destructive at worst.

Feedforward though takes away many of the difficulties of feedback and is likely to have a positive and motivating impact. But why?

We are social animals who like to be liked. The chances are that we don’t like criticism and after all that’s what negative feedback is. We become defensive and unreceptive with a closing mind. Successful and hard working colleagues however love to get ideas for the future and how they can be even more effective. Furthermore they are likely to be grateful not resentful to managers who have ideas for their improvement.

A judgement about a past we cannot change or a discussion of mistakes and shortfalls can only serve to prove us wrong. Never comfortable. Think how you feel when a spouse or partner reminds you of the bricks you have dropped in your relationship. Feedforward on the other hand helps us all to be ‘right’. It wont be seen as an insult or put down. We are unlikely to be offended by a suggestion aimed at helping us get better at what we do.

The principle runs the risk of being simple to understand but difficult to achieve. It does with practice though encourage engagement and creates the two way traffic in dialogue that most of us wish to see in the workplace.


Who am I? A chap living in Nottingham, United Kingdom who perhaps has a much higher level of enthusiasm than ability leading to an interest in many things but mastery of none. A father of three no longer dependent children, or so they tell me, and husband to a one-time nurse who now works with me (or rather I work for). I attempt to take photographs and occasionally fluke half decent shots though thank goodness I no longer have to buy film. I endeavour to practice karate but with advancing years spend more time instructing them participating but actively participate in the more gentle tai chi. Professionally I have spent the last twenty years in recruitment – not always the most highly regarded ‘industry’. For my part I take great pleasure in helping companies to find the right people and a lot of satisfaction out of seeing them thrive and succeed. More recently I have spent a lot of time helping people who have, or fear they may, lose their jobs. For many putting a CV together is so difficult and then finding opportuniteis can be a major challenge. Interviews can be a different problem altogether but with a little help most people can perform a lot better than they otherwise would.

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