Feedback is a gift but sometimes it comes with awful timing. It is always an “after-action” report so it is by definition “hindsight”. This is why it needs to be timely!
Critical feedback can obviously help us grow and even help groups of people perform at higher levels. The problem is that we often give (or receive) it “last and late” and so the people who can be most helped by it end up frustrated because of it.
The solution? The “receiver needs to feed-it-forward!”
“The problem is that we often give (or receive) it “last and late” and so the people who can be most helped by it end up frustrated because of it.”
This is a simple approach really, it says that instead of discounting what someone was (admittedly) late in telling me, I choose to bring that feedback into the present environments I am operating in. I choose to make it as relevant now as it was then, and refuse to discount it even though it may be late.
When I “feed-forward”, I ask myself; “what if I received this same feedback in my current situation? How could it help? What does it mean? What is true (or false) about it? What does it cost me if I fail to address it?”
A discipline of “feed-forward” requires me to critically reflect on the following;
- Is it me? Does the problem follow me because it is something I consistently cause?
- Is it them? Does the problem come up because of how I interact with certain people?
- Is it true? What part of it would be true regardless of who was involved?
- Is it urgent? How critical is it to address and in what timing? Do I care?
These four questions help an individual assess what might have been a significant “blind spot” in the past and likely still is. As leaders, we need to take responsibility for the feedback even though it may have all been; i) in the past, ii) with other people, and iii) negative or corrective.
What if it is their problem?
When people are frustrated with us there is always something we can personally do to relieve some of that frustration. It comes down to whether we want to expend that effort or not. Our willingness to address the need hinges on the questions we asked above.
“When people are frustrated with us there is always something we can personally do to relieve some of that frustration.”
As human beings we tend to discount things that we consider corrective or negative and so one of the challenges to feedback is that the receiver learns to accept what is given. We hear lots of talk about how people should give feedback, which is why we have to help people also learn to receive it.
How important is this really?
This final challenge is in establishing the relevance of the feedback. Sometimes we discount feedback as being irrelevant because it is too painful to face or we have no intention of making any changes. We say things like “they just need to deal with it” or “that is just who I am”, without considering the impact it is having on others or the work we are performing. Something has to make it an area we actually want to change.
“Sometimes we discount feedback as being irrelevant basically because it is too painful to face or we have no intention of making any changes.”
We need “context” in order to determine how important it is that this feedback be addressed, here and now. In feeding it forward we decide that it will no longer be a past problem that did not get solved. That sense of urgency must be established for the feedback to feed-forward. The people who are impacted need to matter to us so that we take it to heart and we act on it.
A change of heart
This is one of the areas in our lives where we need no excuse to resist what is true. We can complain about the circumstances, the message, the messenger, the day we just had, or even our childhoods, but none of those will make us fix what is broken.
If we can embrace the changes that enhance our lives, we will need to lean forward more and feed-forward the lessons we learn in life through others. That requires a change of heart. A new commitment to the truth we receive so that we do not resist changing our own lives and changing our lives on our own.
“Which way you lean has everything to do with what results you get and what speeds you attain!”
This journey, like all others, begins with a step. I am challenging you to consider how much you can learn from a concept like “feed-forward”.