1: Gathering, acting on, and following up on feedback is central to our strategy of becoming a better leader, Marshall Goldsmith tells us in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

In an ideal world, we would hire an executive coach like Marshall to conduct a 360 review to collect feedback from our peers, our boss, our direct reports, and even our family.

There is, however, an easier, more straightforward, and powerful alternative. Marshall calls this technique “feedforward.”

The best part? We can do it ourselves.  

2: Here’s how it works. 

Step A. We select one behavior we want to change that would make a significant, positive difference in our life. An example would be: “I want to be a better listener.” 

Step B. Set up a one-on-one meeting with someone we know. It could be a colleague, peer, boss, spouse, child, or friend. It could even be a stranger. Because the person we choose does not need to be an expert on us. Or on the topic. Someone doesn’t need to be an “expert” on listening to know what good listening is.  

Step C: Ask the person “for two suggestions for the future that might help us achieve a positive change in our selected behavior—in this case, becoming a better listener,” Marshall suggests.  

With feedforward, everything is about the future. Not the past.  

So, if we are asking someone with whom we’ve worked, “the only ground rule is that there can be no mention of the past,” Marshall recommends. Feedback is about what we did in the past. Feedforward is about “ideas that we can put into practice in the future. If feedback is past tense, then feedforward is future perfect.”

We say: “Would you suggest two ideas that I can implement in the future that will help me become a better listener?”

They respond: “First, focus all your attention on the other person. Get in a physical position, the ‘listening position,’ such as sitting on the edge of your seat or leaning forward toward the individual. Second, don’t interrupt, no matter how much you disagree with what you’re hearing.”

That’s feedforward.

Step D: Listen carefully to their suggestions. Take notes.  

Step E: If we like their ideas, commit to putting them into action.

The other ground rule? We “are not allowed to judge, rate, or critique the suggestions in any way,” Marshall writes. We “can’t even say something positive, such as, ‘That’s a good idea.’ The only response you’re permitted is, Thank you.”

That’s it. There is no step F. We ask for two ideas. We listen. We say thank you. 

Then, we repeat the process with someone else. “In seeking feedforward ideas, we’re not limited to one person,” Marshall notes. We “can do feedforward with as many people as we like. As long as people are providing us with good ideas that we can use or discard, feedforward is a process that never needs to stop.”

3: Why does feedforward work so well?

“Feedforward eliminates many of the obstacles that traditional feedback has created,” Marshall writes. “It works because, while we don’t particularly like hearing criticism (i.e., negative feedback), successful people love getting ideas for the future. If changing a certain type of behavior is important to us, we will gobble up any ideas that are aimed at changing that behavior. And we will be grateful to anyone who steps forward with an idea, not resentful.”

It works because we don’t take feedforward as personally as feedback.

“More than anything, feedforward creates the two-way traffic I love to see in the workplace, the spirit of two colleagues helping each other rather than a superior being providing a critique,” Marshall observes. “It’s the feeling that when we help another person, we help ourselves.”

 More tomorrow!


Reflection: How might I utilize Marshall’s concept of feedforward to become a better leader?

Action: Engage two people I know in a feedforward conversation this week.

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