Feedback & feedforward: effective leadership tools

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I was recently in a client’s office and observed a supervisor asking one of his direct reports, “Can I give you some feedback?”

The supervisor had a smile on his face, his body language was open, and I thought his motives appeared sincere. The direct report initially seemed happy, but once the question was asked the body language of the direct report immediately changed. Their shoulders and head went down, and they instantly withdrew eye contact; it was as if they had shrunk in place. I could tell that the feedback being delivered was not good news, as the person’s body language neither recovered while the feedback was being given, nor after the supervisor had left.

So what generated this reaction to receiving feedback? The unfortunate truth is that for most of us, feedback has a negative connotation. In this situation, it appeared the boss told his direct report something they disliked about their performance, attitude, or behavior. Or did they? The body language would suggest the boss was looking forward to giving the feedback, but by the same token the direct report’s body language would suggest, it was not taken in the manner intended.

I want to share with you a feedback model that can assist in constructively moving things forward and introduce another model called feedforward. In either of these models, it is critical that the leader has a mindset of development; development of self-awareness and ideas for increased effectiveness.

The S.B.I. model is one that we teach executives at the Center for Creative Leadership. It is as follows:

S: Ground the SITUATION in a specific moment in time. (Ex. — In today’s morning staff meeting.)

B: Define the specific BEHAVIOR that you witnessed. (Ex. You pounded your fist on the table.)

I: What was the IMPACT to you? Describe how it made you feel. (Ex. It made me frustrated and uncomfortable.)

The point of the S.B.I. is to give the person insight into how their behavior(s) impacted you. It is not meant to blame or pass judgment. If done correctly, the person receiving feedback will be able to match up whether their impact (your feeling frustrated and uncomfortable) was their intent. If they want to discuss further, you can do so, or simply give the S.B.I. and leave. More than likely, they will process the feedback and then circle back around to clarify their intent and discuss how to move forward.

The other model is feedforward; it was developed by Marshall Goldsmith. Goldsmith believes the fundamental problem with feedback is that it focuses on the past as opposed to the countless opportunities that can arise in the future. Goldsmith, over a period of seven years, took over thirty thousand leaders through the following process, which supported the benefits of feedforward. The process is as follows:

Pick one behavior that you would like to change. This change if made will have a positive impact both personally and professionally.

Describe the behavior.

Ask for feedforward: specifically the person giving feedforward would give two suggestions for the future that might assist you in making the desired change to your described behavior.

The person receiving feedforward simply takes the information. They should not positively or negatively critique it.

The person receiving feedforward thanks the person for their suggestions. It is then up to them to analyze and decide what they will implement to achieve the desired behavior.

Feedforward can also be done in a team context; team members can give each other feedforward following the above outlined process. The value lies in a person receiving multiple suggestions on how to attain the desired behavior.

Leaders should always seek opportunity to give feedback in the manner that seeks to build and develop others. There is also ample opportunity to provide positive feedback or feedfoward to re-enforce behaviors that are having the impact that is intended. In either case, I challenge you to utilize these tools and make feedback/feedforward a positive connotation in your organization!

Paul Martinez is the President of Dynamic Solutions. Paul@ru-dynamicallydriven.com or (719)351-7356.