Use Feedforward to Make Performance a Partnership

You may not like getting feedback, but you can’t deny its importance. Receiving robust feedback – even when it’s negative in nature – is a key driver of performance and leadership effectiveness. And when people ask for feedback, they are generally seen as more effective by their superiors and peers.

There’s just one problem: Most of the time, feedback is hierarchical. One person (i.e. the manager) holds the power and directs the process while the other (i.e. the employee) takes cues from the top. When feedback becomes a power play, people recoil. They get defensive, angry and self-conscious. They may even try to find new social networks that offer more positive affirmation of who they think they are.

Instead of relying on top-down feedback for insights, try approaching performance in a whole new way: As a partnership.

That’s right, a partnership.

Drawing on the power and principles of “feedforward,” this partnership approach can transform the way you think about the whole enterprise of performance reviews. Instead of relegating power to someone else, you take control of that process yourself – and help others along the way, too.

Find someone you trust and respect, and forge a performance partnership with that person. Your joint mission: Help one another navigate the long and sometimes twisted road of personal and professional improvement. Think of this person as your “journey partner” – someone who will help you find your way towards becoming or maintaining a better version of yourself. You and your journey partner will take turns acting as “mirror holders,” guiding one another on a journey through your past accomplishments and future success.


The journey has three stages:

 Stage #1: The Summit

The journey begins at its conclusion – the summit. The person starting off begins by identifying a peak moment of personal or professional success, the feeling one gets when he or she is standing atop the mountain. As your partner is describing the summit, listen attentively and ask clarifying questions like, So why does that moment stand out to you?” orHow was that feeling different than the feeling you got from doing other parts of your job?” The goal is for each partner to label a peak moment and describe it in rich terms with help from the other person.

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 Stage #2: The Trek

Next comes the trek. This is where you help your journey partner uncover who and what made that peak moment possible. Even when we scale great heights, we rarely do it alone. There’s always someone or something that guided our ascent. Guide your partner along the trek with probing questions like, Was there someone on your team who brought out your best work?” or “Was there something about this particular assignment that elevated you?” The point of the trek is for each partner to trace the steps that led to these big moments.

Stage #3: The Climb

Now that each partner has identified his or her peak moment and the circumstances surrounding it, it’s time to move to the last and most important part of the journey: the climb. Because feedforward points toward future steps, not past actions, the goal of the journey exercise is for each partner to experience this sense of professional flow again in the future – to scale their success.

During the climb stage, each partner asks a fundamental question of the other: “You’ve told me about a time when you felt like you did your best work and identified who and what made that possible – so do you feel that you have what you need to do this again?”

The answer might be affirmative. It might not. Each partner may come to realize that he or she is positioned for future success, or may suddenly recognize that the conditions for scaling are lacking. Either way, the landscape for future journeys is clearly defined, for better or worse. Setting out again now becomes substantially easier once the contours of that path are laid out and marked. You can’t get anywhere unless you have a sense of where you’re headed!

Progress through partnership

Having a journey partner completely redefines the prospect and process of performance conversations. You’ll get critical insights into your behavior without having to wait around for review season. You’ll develop trusting relationships with peers who can offer valuable information that your boss may not hold. And you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that you helped another person succeed in getting better, even as you experience your own sense of improvement. Journey partners don’t cost a thing – but the outcomes can be priceless.

Joe Hirsch is the managing director of Semaca Partners and the bestselling author of The Feedback Fix: Dump the Past, Embrace the Future, and Lead the Way to Change.

He specializes in helping organizations break the silos that create friction in the workplace. Drawing from his award-winning experiences as an educational leader, Joe inspires diverse audiences to apply his strategies for success at work and in life. He has earned accolades from top-ranked business leaders to NFL consultants for his forward-thinking approach to improving the way teams communicate and form positive relationships.

A frequent presenter at national conventions and conferences, Joe is an honors graduate of Yeshiva University, where he holds a masters degree in education and is completing a doctorate concentrating on instructional leadership and innovation. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Educational Leadership, LeadX, and other leading publications.

Joe lives in Dallas with his wife and four sons, where they like doing anything outdoors. Connect with at him at or @joemhirsch