Feedforward Rather Than FeedbackResearch by Marie-Hélène Budworth, assistant professor of Human Resource Management at York University, shows that managers giving feedback to staff changed their performance 1/3 of the time, had no effect another 1/3 of the time, and actually reduced performance 1/3 of the time. What if a medical treatment was only effective 30% of the time and actually did harm 30% of the time; would healthcare professionals keep using it? Not likely. Especially if much more effective treatments were available.

Even when managers work hard to focus 90% of the performance conversation on strengths and positives, most employees remember the focus on their weaknesses or “improvement areas.” As Kim Rigden explained in working with Marie-Hélène to use a feedforward approach at Toronto Paramedic Services, “the employee leaves the meeting and ALL they remember is the 10% educational feedback they got and report to others that they were just given a dressing down and told how much they suck at their job.”

Research by the Corporate Leadership Council found that when managers focus on the weaknesses of an employee their performance declines by 27%, whereas when they focus on the strengths of an employee performance improves by 36%.

Marie-Hélène presented this feedforward process at the recent Canadian Positive Psychology Association conference:

  1. Introduction – overview on how this is a different conversation about highlights and what the coachee is proud of. A key objective is aligning personal examples with organizational goals.
  2. Story – discuss examples of a highlight or something the coachee felt good about — happy, energized, in flow (even before the results of his or her actions become known).
  3. Peak – the peak of the story. What did the coachee think at the peak moment?
  4. Condition – Manager probes for conditions, feelings, thinking, success points, characteristics, strengths, etc. that allowed the story to happen.
  5. Feedforward – discuss the upcoming period and what the coachee is doing to draw from his or her strengths/successes. To what degree do the coachee’s plans take him or her closer to or further away from the conditions just described?

This is a much more positive and effective process. One study showed that when this approach was used by managers, employees were observed to perform significantly better on the job four months later compared to employees who went through their organization’s traditional performance appraisal process.

As reported in New Survey Showing a Strengths Revolution in our Workplaces on Michael McQuaid’s research, “78% of employees who report having a meaningful discussion with their manager about their strengths feel their work is making a difference and is appreciated. These employees are most likely (61%) to be leaping out of bed in the morning to get to work.”

Further Reading: