Scientists are still debating whether and to what extent language affects our perceptions. However, it’s not far-fetched to think that the vocabulary we use every day can influence how we see our world. 

For example, experiments have shown that Russian speakers are better than their English counterparts when it comes to identifying and distinguishing lighter and darker shades of blue. This is because in the Russian language there is no general “blue”, only the specific terms for the different tones. 

Do these experiments imply that we can rewire our brain by changing our terminology? I believe the answer is “Yes”.  

This is why I believe it’s possible to create a more forward-looking mindset simply by switching our vocabulary and process from “feedback” to “feedforward”. 

The Inherent Problems with Feedback

According to Gallup1, only 26% of surveyed employees strongly agree that receiving feedback helps improve their performance. How can one of the most ubiquitous tools in every business executive’s toolbox be so ineffective?

Feedback tends to induce inaction, rather than action, because of its backwards-looking nature. The only reason we give feedback to someone is that we expect them to act on it, to change for the better. Giving feedback just for the sake of giving feedback is meaningless.

Feedback often fails to lead to actions because it shuts down our mental dashboards. When we receive feedback about something in the past that we cannot change, we develop a sense of learned helplessness. This mindset convinces our subconscious that we have no control over our futures. This is especially true for negative feedback.  The feedback cycle makes us cling to the picture of who we were instead of focusing on who we are becoming. 

Most employees dislike receiving negative feedback, even if we acknowledge the good intention behind it. Moreover, most managers aren’t thrilled to have to deliver negative feedback either. Positive feedback isn’t much better. In most cases, it only affirms what we already know about ourselves and our abilities, effectively stifling our development.

In addition, feedback focuses on ratings, not on development. Instead of concentrating on what can be done now, most of our time and energy is spent looking back and rating performances that have already occurred. 

If feedback barely works and it’s not a fun thing to do, then why do we keep doing it? 

As CEO of TRG International, this insight has led me to adopt the concept of feedforward as an alternative to feedback since the beginning of last year. 

First introduced by business educator and coach Marshall Goldsmith, feedforward is becoming increasingly popular in today’s workplaces. Applied properly, feedforward can lead to tremendous improvement in both individual-level and organisational-level performance. Even better, it’s very simple to implement. 

How to start feedforward in your company 

1. Always start with a goal in mind

Because feedforward looks into the future, it is result-oriented by nature. Thus, if you are the feedforward receiver, you need to be aware of what you want to achieve.

Start by describing your goals clearly and straight to the point. One simple phrase we at TRG often use is “I want to get better at…” 

For example, “I want to get better at staying focused.”

2. Offer ideas, not judgments

If you are the feedforward giver, you can use the following structures: “One idea is to…” or “Another idea is to…” That way, you ensure what you offer is neutral advice for future actions, not personal judgements on past events. 

For the example mentioned above, the feedforward giver can reply with: “One idea to help you get better at staying focused is to turn off all social media notifications whilst working. Another idea is to add some white noise into your workspace.” 

3. Say “Thank you”

The ideas given are gifts, and the only response is a simple “Thank you.” Adding anything else will only defeat the ideas’ objective and non-judgmental nature. 

Even a “Thank you, that’s a great idea” still conveys a sense of judgment, albeit a positive one, and hence should be avoided. 

Why Does Feedforward Work? 

For organisations looking to instil a growth mindset and a culture of continuous improvement in their employees, feedforward is considerably more powerful than feedback in many ways. 

Because feedback is personal, we tend to keep it to ourselves. This effectively makes giving and receiving feedback a closed system, generating very little benefit to people outside that system. 

Feedforward, on the other hand, is unbiased, unprejudiced, and can be treated as a gift, which then can be given to someone else. So, by offering feedforward, you are spurring momentum for improvement and growth that affects not only the person who receives your feedforward but also others down the line. 

Compared to feedback, feedforward is laser-focused. For example, instead of waiting for a task to be finished to point out a series of things an employee can improve, you can give them specific feedforward while they work. My advice is to give one improvement at a time, so the employee can process and act on it right away. 

And finally, feedforward is authentic and to the point because of its non-judgmental nature. You don’t need to come up with surface-level praises to complete that terrible feedback sandwich that so many people mistakenly think is a good method.

When you first introduce feedforward into your organisation, it can be carried out in regular, highly-structured sessions where your employees can practice feedforwarding in a controlled environment. In such sessions, the employees can take turns to be both feedback givers and receivers. Once people are familiar with the process, feedforward thrives when it is used casually in day-to-day communication. You can even practice it with just about anyone inside or outside of the workplace. 

The best part about feedforward is how straightforward and relatively simple it is to implement and keep track of this practice. 

In regards to my experiences with the process at TRG, I could tell that feedforward had found its footing in the organisation when it became our instinct to use the word “feedforward” in place of “feedback” in our daily conversations. 

The only remaining question is: What’s holding you back from bringing your company into the future?

TRG is offering monthly free webinars on how to practice feedforward. Please feel free to contact me at to reserve your seat.

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Tim Burrill
Membership Manager & Executive Assistant
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