1. Modic, Mary Beth DNP, RN, CDE

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Feedforward is a novel idea that is attributed to author and leadership innovator Marshall Goldsmith (2012). It originated out of his observation that, although feedback is essential to effective teaching, it may not be well presented or well received. Feedforward is predicated on the idea that one cannot change the past but can influence the future. Feedforward offers constructive guidance on how to improve any aspect of an individual's competence (Bell & Goldsmith, 2013, p. 138).


Feedforward is a process of offering and receiving helpful suggestions. The intent is to provide recommendations that can be used for future implementation. Rather than debriefing about a performance or decision that was ineffective, feedforward concentrates on solutions for the future. The intent of feedforward is to focus on a positive future, not a failed past (Bell & Goldsmith, 2013, p. 140). This process is often used by athletic and other coaches in helping their students achieve optimal performance. "Imagine yourself sticking the landing," may be feedforward that a coach would offer a gymnast. "Envision the ball going into the hoop and making the perfect shot," could be feedforward provided to a basketball player.


Feedforward is often more productive than feedback because it concentrates on how individuals can be right, rather than proving how they were wrong. Feedback, when provided to describe a discrepancy in performance, can be perceived as identifying weaknesses, shortcomings, and mistakes. Feedforward is perceived as positive, as it concentrates on an individual's future potential (Table 1).

Table 1 - Click to enlarge in new windowTable 1

Feedforward is time efficient, as it does not require a description or critique of previous performance. The person offering feedforward offers suggestions that may be accepted or rejected by the recipient with no consequences to the relationship. The giver of feedforward may say, "I would like to offer you two ideas for the future. Please accept them in the gentle spirit in which they are offered. Feel free to ignore what you don't like or does not make sense to you." (Bell & Goldsmith, 2013, p. 142).


Feedforward can be provided by anyone who has the desire to be helpful and is conversant with the subject matter. It does not require expertise, but a wish to sojourn with an individual on the journey of self-improvement and ultimately self-actualization.


Feedforward can be energizing and rejuvenating to the recipient because it is nonjudgmental. The intent is to optimize an individual's assets and to convey a sense of commitment to his or her success.


Preceptors can use this positive technique as they guide their orientees. "I would like to offer this idea when you encounter another patient's family with such challenging expectations[horizontal ellipsis]." "I might suggest when you start your next IV you[horizontal ellipsis]." "I have found this practice works for me and would like to share it with you the next time you need to handoff a patient with Type 1 diabetes[horizontal ellipsis]."


Goldsmith (2012) recommends the following experiential exercise to practice the art of offering and receiving feedforward. This exercise could be used by nursing professional development (NPD) practitioners as they facilitate preceptor development classes or by nursing leaders on their respective units to foster espirit de corps.


The exercise requires the pairing of individuals. If partners know each other, they are not permitted to discuss the past. Participants are instructed to form two equal lines, with participants facing each other to form pairs. (If the group is large, ask the participants to divide into lines that do not exceed 10 people in a row, as this may result in information overload.)


Directions for exercise:


* Create two equal lines with participants facing each other.


* Assign one line as "Participant A." The other line as "Participant B."


* Participant A asks for feedforward on a behavior they would like to change by saying "I would like feedforward to get better at[horizontal ellipsis]."


* Participant B-Offer two recommendations to help meet that goal.


* Participant A-Listen intently and take notes on the recommendations provided.


* Participant A is not permitted to critique the idea or offer judgment by stating that it is a good idea.


* Participant A says, "Thank you."


* Participant B says, "You are welcome."


* Switch roles so that Participant B receives feedforward from Participant A.


* The first "Participant B" in line moves to the back of the "B" line.


* The other "Participant B" members move one place so that each has a new partner.


* The individuals in the "Participant A" line remain in their original position.


* Continue the dialogue until the first "Participant B" returns to the front of the line.



When the exercise is completed, ask the participants for an "appreciative check-in" using one word to describe the experience. Most participants describe the exercise as "fun," "engaging," "instructive," and "reaffirming."


The benefit of this exercise is the positive atmosphere and energy that it creates. Each participant leaves with many ideas and suggestion that they can use or discard. Often the participants are amazed at the variety and creativity of the recommendations. Many of the requests for feedforward from preceptors have included requests such as a desire to be more patient, to be better organized, to improve listening skills, to be more forgiving, to be more positive, and to be less judgmental. Feedforward has the potential to awaken the untapped potential of all of our nursing colleagues because of its emphasis on the future and intent on positivity.


Nursing professional development practitioners and preceptors are charged with the responsibility of fostering knowledge and skill acquisition and helping nurses use their knowledge of "every day understanding" to provide comprehensive care of high quality in predictable as well as complex life-threatening situations. Rather than "eating our young," feedforward can nourish the souls of our next generation of nurses and provide the sustenance of affirmation for which we all hunger.




Bell C., Goldsmith M. ( 2013). Managers as mentors: Building partnerships for learning. San Francisco, CA: Berrett & Koehler. [Context Link]


Goldsmith M. ( 2012). Feedforward. Highland Park, IL: Round Table Companies. Retrieved from[Context Link]