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Leadership Lessons #8: FeedForward

Arvid Buit | 9 June 2020

I have had some requests from listeners about giving very specific tools to use. So today we are going to talk about the number 1 tool: feedforward.
Feedback is the dumbest thing on earth

So image yourself being a leader. You are in the office and someone enters after knocking at the door. “Sorry to interrupt, but I would like to give you some feedback after the meeting from today.” You might be a bit surprised, but social constructs dictate you listen with an empathic face. And so you do.   “I think you could do more to show people you recognise their feelings and ideas. And also be more calm and introvert.” The person in front of you, is giving you a little lecture on how you should be. And this my dear listeners, is why feedback is the dumbest thing on earth. The first thing you should completely eliminate from your organisation, communication and life. No worries, I will explain further why, and also give you a working alternative 🙂   Feedback is only telling something about the person giving it. It is never based upon anything objective linked to the receiver of the feedback. Sometimes in a training environment, people are asked to collect feedback. They might ask: “could you give me some feedback?’ Even then, it will not say anything objectively about the person receiving it.   Feedback is a social idea that just does not work. It is invented by introvert people with a strong need for expressing their feelings and ideas about others. And the fact they are willing to change something about their lives is admirable, but nevertheless useless.   Please remember, feedback is a word originating from the world of entertainment and specifically sound-engineering. If a microphone is too close to a speaker, a high beeping sound will arise. Getting stronger, the closer the microphone is to the speaker. It is not very pleasant.  We call this a feedback loop. A sound is repeated until it is repeated on a volume that is unbearable.   The same as within organisations. People repeat their own statement, idea and mental health issues by repeating feedback containing this message to others. But it is all projection.   To sum it up: lose feedback. Seriously. After reading this article, eliminate it from your life. But Arvid, I hear you think: “you and your strong opinions, why would feed forward be so much better?”   Well, first of all, it is about the receiver. It is about a person that is actually willing to change. The process of FeedForward is simply explained in steps:  
  1. DECIDE on your goal
  2. ASK for suggestions
  3. LISTEN to them and write them down
  4. THANK people
  5. ACT upon them
  6. MEASURE if people see the difference.
  That is easy right? Well I have not invented this, it is a process designed by Marshall Goldsmith, one of the most acknowledged experts in the world. What I did, is implement this process in my daily work and I also did a lot of research on why it works. But first: let’s walk down the steps in a lower pace.  

Step 1: Decide on your goal

Step 1 is about your goal. If you do not articulate your goals, people will actually give feedback, stating their goals in life. So take control, and keep in charge. That is the best predictor of your system accepting the suggestions and turning them into actual behavioural change.   So for this example let’s say your goal is to create a bigger support base for your ideas. Because you have seen that your strong drive is not necessarily shared by others and this lowers the effectiveness and actual follow up by people within the company. So you want others to accept and share your ideas.   Now state the goal: ‘I want to change my behaviour in a way that I can motivate people within our company to embrace and accept my ideas’. Well that is a clear goal. And a good one too.  

Step 2: Ask for suggestions

Step 2 is to ask people for suggestions. Do not forget to state your goal every time you ask for suggestions. So: “My goal is to change my behaviour in a way that I motivate people within our company to embrace and accept my ideas. Could you give me some suggestions on how I could realise this?”   Now people will always give feedforward. It is never useless, it is always effective and most of it is seriously true. However, there is a statistical chance that people have a personal agenda and try to steer you away from your goal.   I have learned an important life lesson that states: ‘If 3 people call you a horse, you better saddle up’. Use this statement by asking enough different people for suggestions. Only by creating a steady group of people that are invested in your change for the long run, it will be effective.  

Step 3: Listen to them and write them out

Step 3 is both extremely important and, funny enough, one of the hardest to put in practice. Listen to people and do not respond. Just write the suggestions down. Do not say you already tried this. Do not say it is a good idea. Do not say anything. Just accept and write down. Because judgement is the most in-effective leadership behaviour if you are truly invested in changing yourself.  

Step 4: Thank people

Step 4 is even harder. Thank people. A small gesture, but critical in this process. With it and above all: without any other response, you thank them. Not for the content of the suggestion, but for the fact they are willing to support and help you by giving it.  

Step 5: Act upon it

Step 5 is all about change. Act upon the suggestions. Even if you are not sure if they work. You show people you try. That you value their ideas and are willing to step down from your high horse.  

Step 6: Measure if people see the difference

Never forget step 6: Measure succes. It is very easy if you create a regular feedforward appointment with people. Best thing is to ask about ten stakeholders and speak with them every month for five minutes. In every new meeting ask them if they have seen any change in the past month. With this you measure your change.   Summing up the effect of this FeedForward process, besides your personal behavioural change, you create a reciprocal bond with your stakeholders. Simply invite them to do the same with their stakeholders and personal goals, and you have the most powerful tool to create cultural change.  

Leadership Lessons

For now let’s see what the main lessons are about FeedForward:  
  • Delete every form of feedback from your organisation, communication and life
  • FeedForward is a practical process to support your goals and keep you in charge
  • The process is linked to stakeholders invested in your change and builds a relation upon reciprocity
  • Learning the 6 steps is easy, but powerful. Acting upon them will take you some time. But it is the greatest present to give yourself if you truly want te become a leader
  • Asking stakeholders to use the process themselves as well, is the best and most powerful way to work towards cultural change within a larger collective.
  If you would like to know more about FeedForward, feel free to send me an e-mail or add me as a connection on LinkedIn and ask your questions.   The next subject we will discuss in the series is: Strategy.