Recently, during a coaching session with an executive (whom we’ll call Jodie), I listened as she described conversations with her staff. The feedback that her staff gave her went something like this:
“You’re hard to communicate with.”
“I don’t feel empowered when you speak to me.”
“You sound impatient when you speak to me.”
“You make me feel stupid.”
Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Do you often feel helpless when it comes to communicating with your staff? What are you to do with this type of feedback?
Jodie, of course, was determined to “fix” herself so that she could be the best boss in the world. Her only problem was that she didn’t know what to fix. She gathered information and “coaching” from people close to her. She read self-help books. She was even thinking about taking a course to help her conduct the “right” kind of meeting with her staff. She reasoned that her flurry of activity would produce results that would change the way her staff perceived her.
During our coaching session, I asked her one simple question: “Where are your actions coming from? Are they coming from the results you’re committed to accomplishing, or are they coming from ‘What’s wrong with me?’”
The cloud began to lift as we discussed the feedback that she was given and turning it into feedforward.
Feedforward is the coaching term we use instead of feedback. Feedforward describes giving information to forward someone to the next level. It describes what coaches are doing: a coach enables someone to move forward. Feedback could merely be opinion, judgment, or evaluation without any intention of enabling the person to move ahead. Feedforward is intended to help design a way forward.
When Jodie looked into the future and saw the desired outcomes of having an outrageous year in the business and having the staff aligned on the results of the company, she began to see things differently. She put aside the “What’s wrong with me” conversation and focused on designing a way forward. With a little planning, Jodie decided to have a meeting with her staff where everyone was free to communicate in a way that moved the action forward.
The following Monday, I received another call from Jodie. There was one difference with the conversation—Jodie was enthusiastically describing the feedforward from her team! Her staff’s conversation switched to how they could do things differently to achieve the business outcomes that they would design.
Feedback: giving opinion, judgment, assessment or evaluation (and not necessarily delivering these with the intention of enabling the person receiving the feedback to move ahead or improve performance)
Feedforward: providing observations and assessments coupled with a conversation for possible actions for improving future performance and/or to move ahead in achieving the person’s objectives.