In our performance management masterclass guides, we’ve emphasised the importance of frequent feedback in order to improve employee performance. So what is ‘feedforward’ and should it form part of performance review discussions?
The Feedforward Interview (FFI)
The Feedforward Interview was developed by Avraham N. Kluger and Dina Nir as an alternative to ‘traditional’ appraisal discussions which are increasingly being criticised for not actually contributing to improved performance. Whereas traditional performance appraisals tend to focus on past performance and what needs to be improved, feedforward discussions focus on the positive aspects of employees’ experiences at work and how these can be replicated in the future. It does this by eliciting success stories from employees, discovering what made those situations successful and discussing how the conditions that led to that success can be built into forthcoming objectives, plans and priorities.
Feedforward in practice
Feedforward is based on the appreciative inquiry theory which suggests that performance can be dramatically improved by encouraging people to discuss, learn from, and build on what’s working, rather than trying to fix what’s not.
Here are the principal questions that make up a feedforward interview discussion:
- I am sure that during your work here you have had both negative experiences and positive experiences. Today, I would like to focus only on your positive experiences.
- Could you please tell me a story that happened at your work, during which you felt full of life (happy, energized), even before the results of your actions became known?
- Would you be happy to experience a similar story (process) again? [IF YES, reflect the story & proceed; IF NOT, ask for another story.]
- What was the peak moment of this story? What did you think at the peak moment?
- How did you feel at that moment (including your physiological reaction)?
- What were the conditions in you, such as things you did, your capabilities and your strengths, that made this story possible?
- What were the conditions in others (what did they do?) and in the organisation that allowed this story to happen?
- Think of your current actions, priorities and plans for the near future (e.g. next quarter) and consider to what extent they incorporate all of these conditions.
These questions centre around the premise that employees, when probed, can pinpoint their achievements that embodied good performance and come up with ways to create conditions that will enable similar or even greater achievements in the future.
Does feedforward actually work in employee performance reviews?
The first full study of the effectiveness of feedforward in performance reviews was carried out by Budworth, Latham and Mandroop in 2014 in a sales and customer service department of a business equipment firm in Canada. It involved 25 managers and 145 employees, half of whom received a normal appraisal from their managers and the other half of whom had a feedforward discussion instead. Four months later, those employees who had a feedforward interview with their manager were found to be performing significantly better on the job than those who received the company’s traditional performance appraisal.
What is particularly interesting about this study is that the managers who gave the feedforward performance reviews only received 2.5 hours training in the technique. So it’s something that can be learned fairly quickly.
My thoughts on using feedforward
There’s a lot to like about the feedforward approach, and the feedforward questions listed above (or variations of them) could certainly be of use to managers in their performance and development conversations. But I don’t personally think a formal feedforward approach is necessary to improve the quality of performance review discussions. Feedforward has two key elements that I, along with other performance management commentators, have been advocating as being important for effective performance reviews. These are:
- Focusing on strengths and achievements when reviewing performance and thinking about how these strengths can be leveraged when planning forthcoming objectives and personal development activities.
- Focusing on future plans, priorities and actions, rather than just spending too much time reviewing the past which cannot be changed.
If you train your managers in how to incorporate these two elements into regular performance and development one-to-ones and performance reviews, then you will have a solid foundation for achieving sustained improvements in performance. For more advice on how to do this, get our free eBook on How To Succeed with Performance Management.