It could be tricky to give a constructive feedback. The progress people are looking for too often doesn’t happen, because the feedback wasn’t given in a proper way.

It turns out there’s an “alternative” way to give feedback that works much better, a way of switching its focus from the past to the future. It’s a concept called “feedforward” and it was originally developed by Marshall Goldsmith, an American leadership coach.

Joe Hirsch, author of “The feedback fix: dump the past, embrace the future, and lead the way to change” (2017), went deep into the practice of feedforward showing how and why it concretely works.

He assumed that when people give feedforward, they usually focus on their development in the future rather than rating and judging a person’s performance in the past. In his book J. Hirsch defines six specific characteristics of feedforward that make it so effective. He refers to these by the acronym REPAIR (regenerates, expands, particular, authentic, impact, refines).

1.      It REGENERATES talent.

The most effective kind of feedforward helps people see opportunities for growth. It shows ways they could take on new opportunities and roles. Furthermore, “when feedback gets people thinking about how to spread that talent to others, it has a multiplying effect.”

2.      It EXPANDS possibilities.

Effective feedback starts with what is and helps add to it, expanding what’s possible, rather than simply pointing out problems. In his book, Hirsch describes a concept used by Pixar studios called “plussing”. When Pixar’s creators get together to review a day’s work, participants can’t point out a problem without proposing an alternative, saying “What if?” to a problem.

3.      It is PARTICULAR.

“There’s a limit to how much people can absorb and operationalize in any given time” Hirsch says. “Feedforward is really about picking your battlegrounds strategically and selectively.” He advises to make feedback an ongoing process that is embedded in the day-to-day work, and to only focus on a few things at a time.

4.      It is AUTHENTIC.

No one likes particularly giving criticism and, since people remember most the thing they heard last, J. Hirsch recommends a more direct approach: describe what’s happening, explain why it’s a problem, then prompt the person for a solution. “It is clear, it is concise, it’s locating the problem, it’s looking for solutions together. People don’t want a praise sandwich. People want the truth.”

5.      It has IMPACT.

One of the reasons why people don’t make progress after receiving feedback is that they don’t necessarily know what to do with it. “If you want feedback to make an impact,” Hirsch notes, “you have to put it in terms that people can operationalize. When feedback is combined with coaching, the transfer skyrockets to 95 percent”.

6.      It REFINES group dynamics.

“Feedback is a team sport,” Hirsch says. “It is not just something that happens one to one. It happens in groups and across and within organizations. And when we dump that command and control nature of traditional feedback, we make room for something much more collaborative and shared.”

If the feedback you’re giving to your stakeholders isn’t having quite the effect you intend, try shifting to a feedforward approach. It could make a huge difference in how you and the whole organization grow and develop.

As Hirsch says, “stop seeing ourselves just as who we are, but who we are becoming”!


Enza Artino,
International Service Manager c/o Wyser; Coaching Competence Center Manager c/o Gi Group