Many of us were excited to see 2020 in hindsight, as I wrote here. Before turning the page on their calendars, the CEOs and executives I work with routinely take stock of the preceding year. Noting both successes and failures, they reflect on what’s worked and what’s been learned. The best leaders engage their teams in this learning exercise, incorporating input from others, including their boards.
Certainly, reflecting on what’s happened is useful. Taking time to identify the good, the bad, and the ugly sets the stage to build on strengths and avoid repeating mistakes. It gives leaders the chance to celebrate successes and honor the efforts of their people. This is particularly important in a challenging year, such as 2020.
Feedback or Feed Forward?
By definition, feedback is backward-facing. It’s a critique of past actions and outcomes. Feed forward, on the other hand, is future-focused. It’s about suggestions, ideas, and behaviors that help you and your business to reach your objectives. It’s actionable. As Marshall Goldsmith (the #1 Leadership Coach and bestselling author) says: “We can change the future, not the past.” Feedback is constrained. Feed forward is expansive. It directs the receiver’s attention to what’s possible or “what could be” rather than “what was.”
Involve the Board
Board members are well-positioned to provide feed forward suggestions to CEOs. Their external perspective and diverse experiences offer alternative paths for the CEO and the business to achieve agreed objectives. And because feed forward ideas support solutions, these conversations are more likely to reinforce positive relationships with your board members. After all, your shared goal is the sustained success of the business in the future.
CEOs: Ask your board questions, exploiting their experience outside of your company. For example:
• In your experience, what one thing do you suggest we change, add, or improve going forward?
• What one or two things have you seen other companies do successfully that we should explore?
• What specific ideas do you have to increase the likelihood of our success?
• Assuming we are successful, what will look different to you?
• How can I better help our team and the business in the future?
Boards: Offer specific suggestions for the future. Focus on what can be changed or done tomorrow, not rehashing past mistakes. Then support efforts to change or implement the ideas going forward, even as you evaluate improvement with honesty and courage. Providing feed forward suggestions does not negate the value of feedback or the need to check progress. It simply asks that you reframe the conversation, offering ideas for solutions aimed at achieving shared goals.
As we close out 2020, we can certainly reflect on “what was” and learn from the experience. Importantly, let’s open the new year with a clean slate and an emphasis on what we’ll do differently or better in the future. Partnering closely with the board and obtaining suggestions for the future strengthens the relationship and expands our thinking and actions. It inspires possibility.
Now is the time to feed forward.