Many of us will have heard the phrase “feedback is a gift”. When given correctly, feedback can help us identify blind spots, or give us the positive validation we need to stay motivated. In our personal lives, feedback from our loved ones can tell us when we’ve done something our partners appreciate, or when we’ve crossed their boundaries.

When feedback between people is agile and continuous, it can lead to transformative development for both parties. Unfortunately, feedback is often infrequent and reserved for formal reviews.

Despite the value that feedback can have in the workplace, rarely is it given or received in a way that actually helps or motivates the employee to improve. In fact, Gallup reports that only 26% of employees feel the feedback they receive is actually helpful.

Marshall Goldsmith observed this lost opportunity to help people develop and grow in his own coaching practice. Hoping to find a more effective tool, he flipped the traditional feedback model on its head, as he popularised a new way of giving feedback, which he calls feedforward. In his coaching practice, Goldsmith recognized the power that manifesting positive future outcomes could have on his clients’ performance. At the crux of his model, he encourages people to ask themselves a simple question; “How can I get better?”

Using this feedforward method in your organisation can help individuals find multiple paths towards their own self-development. It offers them options rooted in positive encouragement, rather than criticism and judgement.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • The benefits of using the feedforward model
  • How managers can apply feedforward during the performance review process with their employees
  • How can employees on the receiving end of the performance review receive feedback effectively

Traditional feedback: Why it often falls short

According to the LinkedIn Talent Blog, 75% of people believe that receiving feedback can help their careers, yet less than 30% of them receive feedback on their work/at work.

Often, when feedback is given, it can be misunderstood and cause people to get defensive, even when the intent is to help them grow and develop. This happens because:

  • Feedback is delayed: Unless feedback is given immediately after an event, people can have a difficult time applying it. Waiting for a formal review process does not create the feedback loop people need to make timely or immediate changes.
  • Direct managers may not always be in the best position to give feedback: In many cases, the feedback given by a manager may be biased (both positively or negatively). In addition, some managers may not be trained in how to give feedback that is constructive or helpful.
  • Receiving feedback can be difficult: The human brain is biased towards negativity. So, when a person’s shortcomings become the focal point of a conversation, they may struggle to move past those negative points. This in turn can get in the way of them learning something new or doing things differently.

Another aspect that makes receiving feedback difficult is that people are only able to process a certain amount of information at once. If they are spending an hour in a formal feedback session, it’s likely that they will only retain a fraction of what is being discussed.

This is why feedforward offers a new perspective and path forward for people looking to better support their colleagues, peers and teams.

Feedforward conversations: What they are, and why they work

Feedforward is a process people can engage in where the “dialogue focusses on strengths, successes, and values”. This approach can effectively facilitate behaviour change.

Research suggests that by working with a person on their positive experiences and achievements, they can better identify what they need to do in the future to replicate past success.

In traditional feedback models where people focus on recounting the past, people can get stuck harping on their mistakes and get discouraged. By focusing on both an individual’s strengths as well as their development areas, and prioritising future action, people can see a path forward and feel better able to make positive changes.

So, what does a feedforward conversation look like? Here’s our simple 3-step framework to follow when delivering feedforward to individuals:

Step 1: Identify an area for learning that will help the person achieve their future goals (don’t focus on past performance).

Step 2: Have a dialogue around what would help them with their development and achievement of this goal. Include discussing what they have learnt from their past experiences. What went well and what could have gone better.

Step 3: Encourage them to seek/ask for further suggestions from other people (colleagues, mentors, senior leaders within the organisation).

Traditional feedback models focus on describing what has happened in the past. People can feel helpless when hearing feedback knowing there is nothing they can do to change the past. It can make them dwell on this negative feedback.

Feedforward focuses on learning from past experiences to create a game plan for the future which can empower and inspire employees to take action. This method of dialogue works well because it is future focussed, and action orientated. It encourages continuous learning and helps people expand what they believe to be possible. The output of a feedforward dialogue should be include identifying tangible solutions and developing clear development action items that will help the individual learn and grow.

Feedforward during a performance review: Guidance for managers

Let’s review how you can drive this kind of conversation during the performance review process:

Step 1: Identify an area for learning that will help your employee achieve their future goals.


“Gordon, I want to have a conversation with you about your future goals as they relate to performance. Let’s talk about how we can increase your sales targets for next year.”

“Michelle, your customer service has been improving so much this year. I’d love to have a conversation with you about how we can best deal with disgruntled customers going forward.”

“Stacy, let’s talk about how we can double the amount of traffic to our site for next year.”

Once you’ve established a goal together, you can move to the next step. Make sure you’re both aligned on what the goal is and ask questions to confirm that you’re in agreement on actions and next steps.

You can even ask: “Do you agree this is the right goal for us to be speaking about?”

Step 2: Have a dialogue around what would help your employee with their development and achievement of this goal. In this next step, you can provide suggestions, and ask probing questions that can help guide your employee towards different solutions.


“What helped you be personally effective when you delivered that project to our clients?”

“Can you reflect upon your biggest sales win from the year? How did achieving those numbers make you feel?”

“What can you do this coming year to create systems and processes to set you up for success?”

“Can you share a story with me of a time when you made an angry customer really happy? How did you do it?”

“Would you consider adding social selling into your toolkit?”

“How about attending a training session on assertive communications?”

“What about taking the lead on the next marketing campaign?”

“What could be done better next time?”

In this step, we want to elicit ideas or stories that will help the employee discover different options and suggestions.

Step 3: Encourage employees to find further suggestions from other experts, their colleagues, mentors, or other senior leaders within the organisation.


“Is there someone within the organisation that inspires you? They may be able to give you more suggestions.”

“Perhaps you can organise a 1-on-1 with your mentor and seek out further suggestions from them.”

“Who else in the organisation could have good advice for you?”

With all these suggestions, your employee should feel like they have tangible objectives, priorities, and a sense of direction on how to move forward.

Sometimes traditional and more constructive feedback may be required. For example, if your employee is continuously demonstrating negative behaviour that impacts their colleagues, their work, or even puts them at risk for termination, having that critical message delivered to them directly will be required. Feedback and feedforward can be used in conjunction.

Feedforward during a performance review: Guidance for employees

Employees looking to make the most of the feedforward process during the performance review can follow a similar framework.

To begin, employees should spend time reflecting on their performance, their big wins, and areas they would like to develop in the next review cycle. Based on this reflection, managers and employees can have a collaborative discussion focussed on goal setting.

Once that goal is established, employees can share their own ideas on how this goal can be achieved. They can solicit advice and suggestions from their managers, and other mentors or colleagues within the organisation.

Based on these suggestions, employees can first take some time to reflect, and then create an action plan with specific and measurable milestones.

It’s important for employees to stay open and demonstrate maturity should they not necessarily agree with their manager’s perspective. This means staying calm, accepting their opinion, and assuming good intentions. It may also require them to follow up with their managers to re-clarify goals and expectations when necessary.

Building trust with people

Whether you’re delivering feedback or feedforward, having conversations with people about their performance can be a challenge for both of you. An individual will be more likely to incorporate your feedback/feedforward if they trust you. To help build trust:

  • Reiterate your intent: Remind the person that you’re not trying to hurt them. Rather, you’re trying to help them by making sure they have the information they need.
  • Focus on the goal of feedforward: It’s hard for us to hear less than positive things about ourselves. As a manager, you can help frame information about their performance as an opportunity to improve, rather than seeing it as an event in the past which they can no longer control.
  • Give people time to reflect: Once you’ve given a person constructive feedback or feedforward, give them some time to reflect and incorporate what they’ve just heard. You can circle back in a few weeks to review how they’ve progressed towards their action items and monitor for change in behaviour.

When we encourage individuals to adopt a growth mindset, and support them in our approach to conversations, they can much more easily take the lessons from a feedforward discussion to keep learning and driving towards mastery.

Performance reviews are a great place to practice feedforward conversations. But, they don’t need to stop there. Try feedforward as a regular part of your dialogue, and watch people reach their full potential!