Feedback As FeedFORWARD

May 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

Imagine a day where you received absolutely NO FEEDBACK.  Not really possible.  Your brain is constantly receiving feedback – feedback from your stomach (time for breakfast), feedback from your feet (this bathroom floor is cold!), feedback from your spouse (don’t forget to pick up Kristen after school today).


Your brain is a lover of feedback.  Without a feedback system you and your body couldn’t even complete the simplest task.  But even though we are wired to receive feedback, most leaders I meet struggle with the best way to give feedback.

My second blog series summarizes best practices in giving feedback.  As with the last series I’ll summarize the best tips and tools I’ve found on giving feedback.  Your job:  to practice and make these tools your own.

The Purpose of Giving Feedback

Answer the following question:  Why should you as a manager give feedback?

While you’re thinking about that… let me tell you a story of the worst feedback I ever got:

One company I worked directly for had an annual process of assessing leadership on 23 competencies.  When my boss got to the part of giving me feedback on the leadership competency I needed to improve, the conversation went something like this:

  • Mr. Bill (yes that was my nickname for my boss – Oh NO… Mr Bill!):  Carol, I rated you as needs improvement in ‘Risk Taking’.
  • Carol thinks to herself:  I run the employee opinion survey, what possible risk taking should I be doing?
  • Carol says out loud:  Can you give me an example of a time where I should have taken a risk and I didn’t and it impacted the outcome of a project?
  • Mr. Bill:  Um… er… well… (pause…pause…pause…) no, not really.
  • Carol then asks:  In order to learn to be a better risk taker, can you tell me who is a role model within HR on the risk taking dimension, so I could meet with them, be mentored by them and learn what it takes to be a role model in HR risk taking.
  • Mr Bill:  Um… er… well… (pause…pause…pause…) can’t really think of anyone.
  • Me again:  Ok, Mr. Bill – cut the crap.  If this has no bearing on my performance, nor is anyone good at it in HR, why are we having this conversation?
  • Mr. Bill:  I had to rate you low on at least one dimension – and this one no one really cares about in HR!

Why was this such awful feedback?   Bottom line it served no purpose.  When we give people feedback – there are at least three reasons:

  1. They are doing something wrong and you wish them to change (See week 2)
  2. They are doing something very right and you wish to reinforce the behavior –  (See week 3)
  3. Or it’s time to review / critique a project for lessons learned (See week 4)

Back to the question I asked:  Why should you as a manager give feedback?

The purpose of feedback is to:

  • Help people reflect on what just happened – what went well, what didn’t go so well.
  • And then consider what they will do next so that they can continue to grow and learn.

I call this Feed-FORWARD to next time.


The word Feed-back makes us focus too much on the past.  Yes, we want to assess the past for vital information but the main purpose of feedback is to look FORWARD.  What can we do next time so we continue to Learn, Improve and Grow!  This is Feed-FORWARD to next time.  (My thanks to Marshall Goldsmith for introducing me to the feed-FORWARD term. See his article here.)

Practicing this FORWARD approach to feedback is the same as I asked you to do in the first blog of this series in terms of establishing your best practices.  You are Feed-FORWARD-ing yourself into becoming a great manager:

  1. LEARN about the skill you want to acquire
  2. Based on what you learned, create a practice PLAN.  Consciously chose how and when and with whom you will try out the new skill.
  3. Then actually DO it.  Practice away.
  4. After you’ve tried out your new approach, REFLECT.  Ask yourself:
  • “What went well – such that I will repeat that technique next time”
  • “What didn’t go so well – such that I might need to learn a little more about the skill, or adjust my approach”

Put these two things together – and not only have you LEARNed something, but you also have your next practice PLAN

Your Assignment This Week

Identify 3 people who need feedback from you.  One should need constructive feedback, one should need appreciative / recognition feedback, and one needs a project critique discussion.  For each of the three, answer the following question.

  • What type of feedback do they need?  (you’ve already done that)
  • How would they benefit from this feedback?  (How could it help them improve their performance / contribution?)
  • What aspect of the feedback will be the most difficult to communicate?

Next week will tackle the hardest of these conversations – the constructive feedback conversation.

What’s the best or worst feedback experience you’ve had?