Feedback It Forward

“The intentions of our feedback serve to amplify the engagement or disengagement of the listener from the process.” 

Sitting in a recent meeting, progress on the agenda was being slowly overwhelmed in reaction to the level and frequency of feedback in the room.  It was becoming rather disconcerting and abrasive.  What started as a low buzz was turning into a raucous and piercing blare.  However, the disturbing feedback was not emanating from the attendees, rather, the annoying sound was deriving its volume from a disconnect between the microphones and the public announcement system in the room.  Funny, that two technical tools built to work in unison, can create such discord and wreak audible havoc.

And yet, we can create the same level of discord and havoc in our own organizations when we are not clear on what feedback is for and why we are using it.  When we are not clear on the goal and purpose of the feedback, we very often miss the mark and do more harm than good…

Feedback finds its effectiveness as much in the intention, as it does in the actuality of what is being said.  Meaning that there has to be clarity behind the observation offered.  Clarity in the intention of what you are trying to achieve.  When clarity does not exist, discord, chaos, and confusion are often not far behind.  Leaving what was initially used as a learning tool, as an obstacle and hindrance to ongoing learning and growth.  Which is why feedback must be a reflective and intentional process.  If it is to be effective and influential, for both sides.

Otherwise, if our feedback does not match our actions, lacks integrity to our intentions, or sends the wrong message to the listener, it be can be a distractor, or even an outright negative.

Feedback is often already met with avoidance because it has historically been provided only when negative behaviors or concerns about performance are observed or exist.  And even then, it is often provided in a staggered and awkward fashion.  Not very effective for supporting a continuum of learning and growth across an organization, or as a process that many want to engage in whole-heartedly.  And for those reasons, feedback often fails to create forward momentum.  It fails to hit its target.  To feed forward.

Feedback is most effective when it provides direction on how to move forward effectively…the learning for how to grow and improve.  According to Grant Wiggins, “The term feedback is often used to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation.  But none of these are feedback, strictly speaking.”  “Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.” 

And unfortunately, when feedback fails to feed forward towards a goal, and when the intentions are found to be lacking, it ends up sounding very much like the feedback emanating from the public announcement system, an unwelcome, noisy racket to be deflected and/or tuned out.

As leaders…this becomes an arena for improvement, especially for the critical nature and importance of this strategy.  For, if we are to create and sustain ongoing learning and growth within our institutions and organizations, we need to be able to provide feedback that feeds forward.  That initiates growth and next steps towards a goal.  Otherwise, we become stagnant.  Stale.  Allowing organizational growth and learning to slowly recede and fade.

We need to acknowledge that people don’t crave evaluations or advice however, they do crave feedback.  People want feedback related to their progress.  They want to know how they are doing.  They want to know how to be better, to learn and grow.  We all do.  It is human nature.  Understanding how to create and provide that feedback for those you lead is the best way to grow and improve your organization, from the inside out.  It is not just about assessing progress.  It is providing a continuum of progress that leads people forward.

And according to Grant Wiggins, there are seven keys to remember for making feedback effective, it needs to be, ”Goal-Referenced.  Tangible and Transparent.  Actionable.  User-Friendly.  Timely.  Ongoing.  Consistent.”  “Seven keys” that speak to the process being reflective and intentional on the part of the leader.

Remember, feedback has the power to engage or disengage.  To push people forward or drive them to check out.  It is often in the delivery.  It is all in the intention.  It is all in the purpose.  All of which must be transparent…as each of those will ultimately be perceived and ascertained by the listener, the receiver.

So determine before starting…what is your goal?  What is your purpose?  What is your feedback intended to achieve?  Start there and the chances of being successful and feeding growth and learning forward will most likely be realized.

 “All effective and engaging learning experiences provide frequent and meaningful feedback.  Without feedback on whether or not one is getting closer to a goal, progress is unlikely.”  -Unknown


Wiggins, Grant.  (2012)  Seven Keys to Effective Feedback.  ASCD Educational Leadership.  September Volume 70, Number 1, pgs. 10-16.


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