Feedforward: Your questions answered

Feedforward: Your questions answered

– by Ann Flaherty

Performance management is a hot topic for many organisations and at the heart of all current approaches to managing performance is feedback. As we mentioned in our previous posting, the problem with continuing to use this approach is that feedback (in the way that it has traditionally, often ineffectively, been given) has been shown to actually contribute to reduced performance in nearly 40% of cases.

Earlier this year, we introduced you to feedforward, a relatively new approach to managing performance that has been yielding some positive results in organisations where it has been road tested. Feedforward sets out to surface the unique conditions required for each individual to perform at their peak. Like us, many of you were interested in the possibilities of this approach but would like to know a bit more before being completely convinced. So, this month we will answer the key questions you asked about what is behind the feedforward model and guidelines as to how to apply it in real organisations.


What is it based on?
Although this is a relatively new concept, feedforward is based on the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) methodology which has a 30 year track record successfully delivering organisational development and strategic change. It has been used in a variety of industries, government departments and non-profit environments. The AI approach differs from traditional problem solving in that it does not focus on what is wrong but provides a structure for those involved to work collaboratively to agree what is working well, imagine what could be and to decide how to achieve that goal. It invites people to engage in building the kinds of organisations and communities that they aspire to. It is designed to help everyone to see the need for change, explore new possibilities and to contribute to solutions.


Will it work in my organisation / industry?
Not surprisingly, a number of you were concerned how this approach might be accepted in your organisation. To date, feedforward has been used successfully in a range of sectors and to achieve a variety of outcomes – not just performance management. However, in managing performance, there are a number of examples from businesses as diverse as banking, technology and manufacturing. Interestingly, it has been particularly embraced by the medical profession, where it has been used both in skills development and in managing patient relationships and clinical diagnosis. A number of those who have used the methodology acknowledge finding this change in mindset difficult at first, but are clear that with training, practice and patience feedforward contributes to more sustainable relationship improvement and excellent performance.


How should it be structured?
We also had some requests from you looking for guidelines for carrying out the interview and for tools to help with this conversation or planning process. Kluger and Nir in their seminal paper outline very specific instructions for the 3 step process to carrying out a feedforward interview:

feedforward protocol

1. The Success Story: Engage the interviewee, asking them to reflect on their work to date and to recall a particularly successful time at work. Allow the story to fully unfold and help the interviewee to identify the “peak” moment of this incident, why it is so memorable. Establish how this made them feel and facilitate them to name those emotional and physiological feelings.

2. Discovering the Personal Success Code: Encourage the interviewee to describe in detail all the conditions that contributed to the success, from their own skills and personal qualities to all organisational and other people support. Elicit as many diverse conditions as possible.

3. The Feedforward Question: Having identified all the conditions that contribute to the personal code, facilitate the interviewee to reflect on their current actions, priorities and near future plans and to consider to what extent it is possible to re-create and to incorporate all of these conditions.”


While this may look relatively straightforward, even those who are practiced and strong proponents admit that this isn’t easy. Human beings have a negativity bias and are conditioned to seek what is wrong and to fix it, rather than looking for what is working well and to build on strengths. While these ambassadors of feedforward acknowledge that it took a bit of getting used to, they are unanimous in highlighting the sustainability of the outcomes. It should be noted that in all the field studies carried out to date, the interviewers were trained and well prepared to carry out these interviews. We are keen to investigate how this would unfold if the interviewees were also trained and made familiar with the feedforward methodology in advance of being interviewed.


What next?
If you are keen to try this out, we are happy to support you in preparing both interviewers and interviewees and to track the impact of this approach – just give us a call or drop us an email.


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