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Employee feedback - with FeedForward to increased employee motivation

29/06/2022 2022/06

The first half of the year is barely over, and in many companies the scheduled meetings with the manager are coming up. Without a doubt, regular feedback on one's own development is an important point in personality and performance development at the workplace. 

So the question is rather, should a quarterly, semi-annual or annual performance review focus on what happened in the past? How helpful were mentally documented missteps, which are often pulled out in conversations, really? How much do we actually take away from the account or memories of the past when we hear them rubbed in someone else's face? Aren't we more likely to lapse into some sort of justification or gloom because we made a mistake?

Communication in the new work environment

In a dynamic working world that is subject to constant change and transformation, traditional annual feedback discussion formats can no longer keep up. Instead, it is recommended to work on an appreciative communication culture. This allows feedback to be given in the moments when an issue has been noticed, rather than viewing it as a coupon book that we cash in all at once in official conversations. 

If we think one step further in terms of generational differences, Generation Z ( those born in 1995 or later), for example, quite openly want regular feedback without a large-scale process behind it. They want to know where they stand, and they want it promptly, unbureaucratically and directly. In addition, the traditional approach is far too often a one-way street. The process involves the manager giving feedback to the employee. Of course, with the 360° feedback approach at the latest, word has now spread that the future of leadership also consists of getting feedback from colleagues.

What resonates despite this expansion - and at this point we would like to respond to the question posed at the beginning - what focus do companies and managers actually want to set in the regular meetings that take place? 

“Focus on a future we can change or on the past we can’t” - Marshall Goldsmith

What is the use of looking into the past in a conversation that shapes further cooperation with an employee instead of shaping the future together. With FeedForward, Marshall Goldsmith has brought precisely this appeal to leadership development. Because the past, which is already behind us, is a limited and static view compared to the infinitely diverse alternatives for action in the future. 

How can we handle this in practice?

How can this view of the future be established in conversations? The first step can most likely be taken by everyone themselves. How about approaching a person in the college directly with a set goal or a personal desire for your own improvement, e.g., a change in behavior? 

For your own development

Let's say you want to get better at expressing appreciation or conveying positive recognition to someone, or simply become a better listener. First, describe the problem and your desire to your counterpart. This can take place among colleagues or it can take place among managers. In the advanced scenario, it is so ingrained in the culture and leadership that managers even seek a FeedForward directly from colleagues. 

In the process itself, the main thing for you is to listen to the other person, to write down the ideas so that they can be reflected on individually later on. In the discussion situation itself, it is not about justifying yourself, evaluating the suggestions or even criticizing them. At the same time, no 10-point lists are to be drawn up by the idea giver. It is about 2-3 suggestions for future changes. During the first trial you can introduce your employees to the method and explain it step by step. The entertaining sequence is concluded with a thank you. Goldsmith additionally points out that the FeedForward recipient the best case even refrains from commenting on individual ideas with "That's a good idea." The focus is entirely on active listening as well as taking notes, even if this may only happen mentally.

Exercise in the team or in the company

Especially when flexible working hours and locations mean that we are less often in the office at the same time as our colleagues, we may reflect on how we can perhaps use the time we spend together in one place differently. A round of 10 to 15 minutes FeedForward in the team or at the next personal meeting is a great interactive and bonding exercise for this at the beginning or as a conclusion.

At the core, it's again about setting a goal for yourself, e.g. structure your day better or switch off better in your home office. Each person takes their own goal with them into the subsequent discussions, adhering to the following principles:

  1. "Let go of the past" - The focus is on ideas for future implementation or change.
  2. Listen to suggestions without judging - This is the invitation to take note of what the other person has said, to record it, to say thank you and not to judge or criticize.

There are two overarching goals for participants in this exercise.

  1. Learn as much as you can in the listening role.
  2. Help as much as you can. However, also make sure to keep ideas concise. The longer we think, the worse our suggestions become. Limit yourself to 2-3 really good, actionable ideas.

Then switch roles in the constellation of two. Then move on to another colleague.

Once established in individual rounds in the company or teams, you will notice that personal concerns are dealt with much more openly and that the experience and ideas of colleagues are drawn upon. In addition, it is a great building block for psychological security in your company and supports the feeling of togetherness, i.e. also the social cement that many companies have lost in times of distance.

FeedForward in employee feedback talks

The future perspective is the fundamental difference compared to feedback. The focus is thus on solutions rather than problem-centeredness. In an appraisal interview, no matter how standardized, the core is precisely about these issues. Managers are either seeking appreciation of existing behavior and performance, or are seeking change in some form. 

However, methods such as sandwich feedback, which are often still found in communication training courses, are about packing a criticism between two praising aspects. Those who are already very critical of themselves take the criticism much more to heart than the words of praise. In most cases, this leads to further demotivation. At the same time, the colleagues who are already convinced of themselves and their performance also only hear the praising words. In the end, this does not achieve what the conversation was supposed to achieve. 

FeedForward, on the other hand, is about collaborative solution generation, which both promotes proactivity and adopts a development-oriented perspective. Looking at the two possible outcomes in the sandwich example, both recipients use FeedForward to specifically address what change should look like. In both cases, you are reinforcing the employee's self-image. It also makes your expectations very transparent and measurable for the future.

In a concrete appraisal interview, you can tell your employee in preparation that each of you brings something that he or she has set as a goal for the future and something that he or she would like to see from the other in the cooperation. As a leader, you can thus also get a FeedForward and meet your team member at eye level, as you bring a topic from yourself and open up the space for ideas to the employee. Furthermore, you look together into the future and work, for example, directly on improving the interaction. 

A concrete example 

In the employee meeting itself, the FeedForward recipient defines their problem or describes the behavior they would like to change. Let's say the colleague is rather introverted and simply doesn't get a word in edgewise meetings or needs more time to formulate a suggestion. For example, their goal would be to "get more involved in team meetings." 

The FeedForward giver submits 3-4 proposed solutions to the change request with the understanding that they are directed toward the future and do not relate to past situations or behaviors. Without the often critical examination of the past, space is created for the receiver to accept the suggestions openly and not to raise an "offended" or justifying protective wall. After talking through the desire for change in the collaboration, the role change follows. 

With strict reference to Goldsmith's approach, there is even no direct reaction from the recipient, so the ideas stand uncommented on their own merits. The decision for a strategy can be made afterwards. In a mature variant, when there is a desire to improve collaboration, both can also present their respective solutions and a strategy can be chosen together. The model can be extended individually if the basic idea and principles remain the same.

This variant can be used in a structured framework as well as in instant feedback. In the second variant, it is an active call-in, similar to what has already been described above.

Conclusion: So from now on, no more criticism or what?

Of course not because feedback continues to be an effective tool. If it is done in a timely, appreciative, situational manner, and with attention to the fact that the recipient:in knows that it is just feedback, in many cases it will even be received appreciatively.

At the same time, we would like to point out the limits and make a plea for future orientation in employee reviews at eye level.

In summary, we want to state that not every experience from the past provides added value for the future, as projects often differ greatly due to different framework conditions and the fast pace of change. 

Secondly, in most employee interviews we would like to convey a desire to work together, a shared professional future and appreciation. We counteract this desire with glimpses into the past that trigger frustration or demotivation, as these simply cannot be changed.

Finally, memories are subjectively shaped by one's own glasses. What I perceive to be a success in a project does not necessarily match your perception at all. So I might criticize something you don't think is relevant and vice versa. This does not bring us to a common denominator, let alone a common pursuit of a goal. 

For these reasons, we are also increasingly establishing the FeedForward principle at ARTS. Instead of digging in the past, we use the development potential that arises and in which we can support each other. We strengthen our sense of community, team cohesion and also show ourselves that we value the colleague for their ideas and suggestions or that the manager wants to work together on the future.

If you would like to test the method, we hereby invite you to contact us and "FeedForwarden" us what we may cover or do better in the next articles. We would also be happy to assist you in establishing it in your company. Either way, we look forward to hearing from you.

About the Author
Nadia Döhler | Organisational & HR Consulting
Nadia Döhler
HR Consultant (HR Development)

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