An Effective Alternative to Giving Feedback

By Myriam Callegarin • May 27th, 2013

Giving feedback is considered an essential tool for improving employee performance and productivity, in the assumption that if people know how they are doing and what they need to change, they will get better. Many organizations spend a lot of money to train their leaders to provide effective feedback.

The challenge

Giving feedback puts the leader in the challenging and uncomfortable position of judging the employee’s work. Even though feedback is work-related, in most cases it is taken personally, no matter how it is delivered. Therefore, the leader has to communicate what she finds important, ensuring that it does not demotivate the employee, and thus worsen performance.

When working with people from other cultures the challenge becomes even bigger, because what executives learnt about effective feedback in their home country can lead to a disaster when applied to people who are used to a completely different communication style. For example, a German executive who had been sent to Indonesia to improve efficiency at the company’s manufacturing plant in Jakarta actually produced the opposite results, putting the plant at risk. When he learnt how to adapt his style and started using a different approach, local employees started improving performance and productivity.

An alternative to feedback

Feed-back is focused on the past. Based on the assumption that we cannot change the past, but only the future, we can use the approach that top athletes use: instead of focusing on past mistakes, we can focus our attention on the desired outcome we want to create in our future. With this in mind, an effective alternative to giving feed-back is giving feed-forward.

I learnt about ‘Feedforward’ from an awesome teacher, Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s top leadership thinkers and Executive Coaches. I love this approach, and my clients and workshop participants love it too because they find it fun, empowering, and highly effective.

How Feedforward works

As opposed to Feedback, Feedforward is focused on giving suggestions for the future. These suggestions can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way. In this way, you can ‘cover the same points’ without feeling uncomfortable or making your employee feel bad.

For example, instead of telling your co-worker that she did an awful presentation (which only reinforces her humiliation and a sense of failure), you can give her concrete suggestions on how to do a great presentation next time. Marshall Goldsmith suggests saying something like:

Here are four ideas for the future. Please accept these in the positive spirit they are given. If you can only use two of the ideas, you are still two ahead. Just ignore what doesn’t make sense for you.

Can you see the difference in such an approach, compared to classical feedback? What becomes possible?

Providing feedback (or feedforward) are powerful influencing tools. Now think of your own leadership role: What would be the benefits of using this approach in your own work?

I’d love to read your comments!

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Dear Myriam,

Thanks a lot for this great tip. Even though, I haven’t heard of it before, I really like the concept of “feedforward”.

Instinctively, I have been using it as I realised for myself that it is way easier for the feedback giver to share positive tips and suggestions than to focus on mistakes. And for the other person it is more pleasant, too, of course!

And as the law of attraction always gives us more from what we focus on, it is wise to concentrate on positive outcome rather than on bad issues.

Thanks again – mille grazie.


Dear Gaby,
Thank you for your comment. You bring up a very good point: what we focus on tends to expand. This is something we shouldn’t ignore when interacting with others.
Greetings from Italy,


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