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Using ‘feedforward’ in employee performance reviews

Illustration of people holding up a star.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

See how we've integrated Feedforward into our Performance Management Software