The Feedback Fix by Joe Hirsch Book Summary

The Feedback Fix, Dump the Past, Embrace the Future, and Lead the Way to Change by Joe Hirsch


Anyone who has suffered through excruciating performance evaluations knows that giving and receiving feedback can be a fruitless experience, if not downright counterproductive. As an alternative, leadership and communication consultant Joe Hirsch introduces “feedforward,” a future-oriented approach. He explores six ways to fix traditional feedback. Citing numerous case studies, including data from multinational companies, state schools, leadership training facilities and new areas of research, he shows that feedforward is a life skill that is crucial to business, education, parenting, and more.


  • Traditional past-oriented feedback is counterproductive to enhancing performance.
  • “Feedforward” focuses on future prospects rather than past mistakes.
  • Feedforward consists of six core components, which form the acronym REPAIR: It “regenerates” and “expands.” It is “particular” and “authentic.” It has “impact,” and it “refines.” 
  • Feedforward has immense potential to improve four realms of performance: “creativity, consciousness, teams” and “autonomy.”
  • Creativity thrives where curiosity and freedom abound.
  • Developing more consciousness – that is, listening carefully to your inner voice – hones your performance.
  • Using feedforward, leaders can improve team communication and cooperation. 
  • Autonomy transforms people from victims into creators.
The Feedback Fix Book Cover

The Feedback Fix Book Summary

Traditional past-oriented feedback is counterproductive to enhancing performance.

The traditional feedback model is outmoded. It may have worked well when businesses could measure an employee’s output, but now that some 70% of employees work in service- and knowledge-based jobs, output is impossible to gauge. In business, feedback tends to be infrequent, subjective, arbitrary, time-consuming and past-oriented. According to a Columbia University study, individuals absorb only 30% of the feedback they receive, and dismiss or ignore the remainder. In education, an emphasis on grading fosters an apathetic attitude toward learning. After all, students can’t improve their grades retrospectively. Nevertheless, the traditional feedback approach is overwhelmingly popular in education and business.

“Giving feedback to others about things they can’t change is like asking them to step out from a block of cement that has already set.”

Traditional feedback requires a huge investment of time. Consulting firm Deloitte, a multinational with more than 250,000 employees, calculated that it spends some two million hours annually on performance management. Yet top-down evaluations fail to encourage career development or enhanced engagement. They focus on weaknesses rather than presenting solutions and, thus, decrease possibilities for growth. Feeling judged by a set narrative about their capabilities, employees resist the feedback, which can trigger “learned helplessness” – a psychological state where people feel powerless to change their outcome.

“Feedforward” focuses on future prospects rather than past mistakes.

Executive leadership coach and author Marshall Goldsmith developed the concept of feedforward, which involves asking for advice on how to improve in the future. The approach is based on the premise that people perform at their best when they focus their energy on future behaviors that they can change rather than on past events that they can’t.

“The past is a time for reflection. The future is a place for action. The past is already transcribed. The future is still unwritten. We can never change the past. We can always transform the future. In the past, we gave feedback. In the future, we’ll give feedforward.”

Under the feedforward framework, managers conduct simple weekly check-ins with employees to discuss open assignments and recent work. Check-ins prioritize development over evaluation and allow frank discussion between managers and employees. Managers can offer guidance to employees, who, in turn, can broach the subjects of their strengths, the team’s goals and their career aspirations. The feedforward approach takes employees on a voyage of self-discovery and offers professional clarity.

Feedforward consists of six core elements, which form the acronym REPAIR: It “regenerates” and “expands.” It is “particular” and “authentic.” It has “impact,” and it “refines.” 

The feedforward model contains six mutually enhancing components. Organizations can apply them all or cherry-pick those that best suit their needs:

  1. Regenerates – Feedforward regenerates talent by helping people find purpose. It treats human resources as investments, not expenses. Feedforward extends opportunities for leadership development and job rotation to develop employees’ skills. The approach inspires employees to engage in lifelong learning in pursuit of job satisfaction as well as career advancement. 
  2. Expands – Feedforward expands possibilities, allowing people to churn out ideas. For example, Pixar uses “plussing” in its critiquing sessions, an approach that uses amplifiers (phrases like “yes, and,” “what if,” “let’s try”) rather than silencers (“this won’t work”) to keep ideas flowing. Structured debates, whereby individuals have to defend their work, generate more ideas than open brainstorming.
  3. Particular – Feedforward is specific and focuses on just one issue at a time. This helps avoid decision fatigue, a condition that information overload can trigger. In feedforward sessions, advice should be simple, clear and well-defined.
  4. Authentic – To provoke genuine improvement, corrective feedforward must be honest and candid, even if it is negative. While novices prefer positive critique, experts relish negative critique that helps them improve. Ensure your feedforward is constructive, but avoid giving empty praise just to offset negative comments. Instead, objectively present observations and facts with a view to future achievement.
  5. Impact – If you don’t transfer knowledge to action, you won’t make progress. When encouraging employees to act, begin with a long-range goal (“milestone”), but break it down into smaller steps (“pebbles”). Urge employees to propose their own ideas for accomplishing their tasks.
  6. Refines – Feedforward makes employees feel like co-creators in their own development process. Leaders form teams with complementary styles, encouraging objective disagreement and “creative abrasion” in order to create breakthroughs.

Feedforward has immense potential to improve four realms of performance: “creativity, consciousness, teams” and “autonomy.”

In repairing the traditional feedback model, managers and teachers share the responsibility for assessment and improvement with employees and students, respectively. The benefits of feedforward manifest in four main areas of performance:

  1. Creativity – Free from restrictions, your imagination visits undiscovered places.
  2. Consciousness – Listening to your inner voice helps you to “work smarter, play harder and live better.”
  3. Teams – Feedforward can radically improve how teams cooperate and communicate.
  4. Autonomy – Autonomous feedforward imbues people with the confidence they need to act.

Creativity thrives where curiosity and freedom abound.

Creativity grows in environments where people have autonomy to choose and experiment. Tight restrictions strangle creativity and innovation, as people rarely try to eliminate seemingly immovable limitations. Rather than prescribing a fixed solution to the receiver, a tendency of traditional feedback, feedforward holds up a mirror for employees to see themselves, allowing self-revelation. Feedforward urges people to cross boundaries to discover new ways of thinking.

“Getting others to do their best work happens when we manage from a point of detached connection: close enough to matter, but too far to meddle.”

In traditional feedback, the power dynamic is skewed in favor of the giver. Feedforward, on the other hand, emphasizes equality. It diffuses power and encourages curiosity, inquiry and autonomy. The way in which an authority figure communicates affects how creatively people approach a problem. Giving an open-ended task allows a variety of solutions to emerge. For instance, 3M, a multinational conglomerate, encourages employees to take frequent breaks, and it welcomes distractions, or “speculative pursuits,” that lead to insight. Similarly, Google has a policy that allows employees to dedicate 20% of their time to explore ideas that interest them. And several US schools have established Genius Hour, one hour a week whereby students can choose what to learn and how, with accountability and personal responsibility built in.

Developing more consciousness – that is, listening carefully to your inner voice – hones your performance.

Most feedback originates from an external source – a manager, coach or teacher. But feedforward encourages people to focus introspectively and perform an honest self-evaluation to discover their passions, skills, hopes and fears. Tune in to your inner voice, mining the depths of your self-knowledge. As you grow aware of your own strengths, weaknesses and desires, you can actively set your own course. Behavioral changes begin with an internal shift. Hearing someone else’s opinion can instruct, but only your personal response truly transforms.

“Others may see what we know, but only we know what we see – and we see more than anyone else. No one can access the hazy parts of our deep consciousness. So if feedback is supposed to bring about a change in behavior, and behavioral change starts with a shift in mind-set, then it turns out that we, and no one else, hold the best view of our own performance. After all, we’re the ultimate insiders.”

Michael Gervais, a sports psychologist who specializes in the science of high performance, is an essential member of the Seattle Seahawks’ backroom team. He encourages players to train in both mental toughness and self-reflection. Without emphasizing winning, the Seahawks’ coaches encourage each player to achieve a personal best. A commitment to team values and the assessment of personal potential is a winning combination.

The following techniques can help you to shift to an inner mind-set not only on the playing field but at work and at school:

  • “Constructive self-talk” – This self-coaching technique improves how you make decisions, handle your emotions and accomplish tasks. Having an internal coach giving encouragement, talking through actions and self-evaluating produces an effective cycle of thought and action.
  • “Phantom practice” – Also known as “motor imagery,” phantom practice is a visualization technique whereby imagining doing an activity can have the same cognitive benefit as physically practicing, and going through the motions in your mind can improve real-life performance.
  • “Mindfulness” – Honing your focus and attention on the present moment has physical and psychological benefits. The American Psychological Association found that 45% of teens feel stressed by school. However, overprotecting students won’t produce resilient adults, nor is it possible to eliminate all stress. Mindfulness is an antidote, helping students to manage behavior, better concentrate and improve their academic results.
  • “Describe, don’t prescribe” – The ability to label emotions is a potent method of dealing with fear and anxiety. In approaching a challenging situation, step back and notice your emotions, thoughts and observations without judgment. Be precise and avoid being overly self-critical. Studies of people with arachnophobia – a fear of spiders – show that verbalizing the fear decreases subjects’ terror.
  • “One thing at a time” – Multitasking can inhibit your ability to think clearly, learn, switch between tasks, retain information and distinguish between important information and distracting input. Feedforward encourages prioritizing tasks and concentration on the task at hand, helping avoid productivity loss. 
  • “Treat all moments as equals” – This mind-set counteracts performance stress. Life’s big moments can paralyze us with stage fright. But approaching every task with the same energy and purpose will help you to stay calm and self-aware.
  • “Make it stick” – Changing any behavior starts with intentionally creating new habit patterns. For example, one study found that high-stress people who practiced mindfulness for just eight weeks managed to change their emotional state and improve their immunity. But for lasting results, you must ritualize any habit. Establish a trigger followed by an action, which leads to a reward. Repeat until this loop creates new neural pathways.
  • “Trust yourself” – Looking inward for validation works best when you have large expectations of yourself. Having the courage to listen to your own voice and believe in your potential calls forth the best version of yourself.

Using feedforward, leaders can improve team communication and cooperation. 

Today’s consumers demand corporate integrity, and workers desire purpose. These drivers prompt increased consciousness in the workplace. Thus, businesses are becoming more values-driven, which starts with leadership. Conscious leaders pursue both purpose and profit, and strive to serve and create value for all stakeholders. Shifting from feedback to feedforward can unlock these traits within corporate leaders.

Conscious leaders are moved by meaning and mission, not just power and money. They lead by mentoring, motivating, developing and inspiring people in a way that shuns command and control.”

The micromessages that imbue everyday actions and conversations within a workplace define its culture. When those micromessages are negative and focused on past mistakes, the culture can be poisonous. But when those micromessages look toward the future of possibilities with hope and positivity, a favorable team culture emerges. With its focus on the future, feedforward ripples through teams, inspiring employees with a sense of purpose, leading to increased connection, contribution and collaboration.

Autonomy transforms people from victims into creators.

Feedforward focuses on strengths and future possibilities, granting receivers the tools of autonomy. Rather than being a victim of someone else’s opinion of your shortcomings, feedforward helps you find a source of power in your own endeavors. You face challenges believing your efforts will make a difference, and that you have control over the outcome. This attitude produces resilience and self-determination instead of fatalism.

Traditional feedback ends with finger-pointing and frustration. It turns people into victims. But feedforward climaxes in optimism and opportunity. It turns people into creators – the ones who manage to turn challenge into opportunity.”

The three S’s of autonomy are “support, sweat and significance.” Supporting new employees through coaching and mentoring is a worthy investment that builds up their confidence and independence. Supportive social connections within teams increase productivity. Sweat, in the form of hard work, trumps talent as a determinant of success. Even those with natural talent need to apply effort, to practice and to strive toward their goals. Significance, the intrinsic joy your work brings you, engenders greater engagement. Self-direction and choice can create a sense of ownership and autonomy even over tedious and seemingly meaningless tasks.

Traditional feedback kills autonomy with incentives and praise. Incentives cause people to strive for an external reward rather than intrinsic goals and personal satisfaction. Autonomy and effort are more effective strategies for securing long-term success. Praise that focuses on the end result empowers the assessor and limits employees to a fixed view of their potential. Using feedforward to prioritize process and growth shows employees how they can continue to improve and build their own success, even though they will experience failures along the way. 

Feedforward is more than a tool; it is a new way of thinking that releases potential, increases mastery and enables self-discovery in all areas of life.

About the Author

Joe Hirsch

Joe Hirsch is an educator and speaker. His research has featured in The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Inc., and other major outlets.

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