Career Development Feedback? Or Feed-Forward?

Career Development Feedback? Or Feed-Forward?

Feedback is defined as the return of information about performance, a process or an activity. Whether we like to receive it or not, feedback is an essential part of career development. If you don’t know how you’ve been doing, how will you know where you need to improve, grow and develop? Feedback is a look backward – it is the review of what has been done; yet, the most important factor in receiving this information is to determine what you will do with it moving forward.

Marshall Goldsmith coined the term “feed-forward” as an alternative to feedback. This is the process of giving someone suggestions for future improvement instead of looking backwards at what they have done in the past. My experience is both are vital aspects of career development. You want to seek input from your manager (or a mentor or a respected colleague) not only on how your performance has been in the past but also get input on improvement suggestions to use in the future.

A great way to ensure you get information that touches on both past and future is to use “start/stop/continue” questions. These questions would be posed with regard to your career development so, relative to where you are looking to grow in your career, ask the following questions: “What should I start doing?”, “What should I stop doing?” and “What should I continue doing?” The answers to these questions comprise both a backward look and a forward look at performance and necessary development.

For example, if you want to develop better negotiation skills, you may ask, “What should I start doing that will enable me to improve my negotiation skills?” The feedback part of the response could be, “You haven’t yet had enough opportunities to negotiate significant contracts with customers.” And, the feed-forward part of the response could be, “Why don’t you sit in on some negotiation meetings with the vice president of sales and then, as you gain confidence, begin negotiating with customers on larger contracts.”

Having information about past behavior is really only useful if we are able to use it to continue to excel or, make necessary changes that help us improve and grow. Although we cannot change the past, we can certainly use past information to help change the future. Using these types of questions about your performance and career development allows you to get input in the form of feedback and feed-forward, which is essential if you want to grow your career.