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Career Tips

Feedforward, not feedback

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
November 17, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 38


A person with long hair and wearing a white dress stands atop a ladder while watering a golden star with a golden watering can.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock

Feedback as a mechanism was first described centuries ago—and as we know it in the workplace today, since the 1950s. Organizations provide feedback through formal performance reviews, 360° assessments, constructive criticism, and other types of informal evaluation. The surveys that now appear after every transaction, no matter how minor, attest to the increasing importance of feedback.

Recently, some companies have started using the term feedforward instead of feedback. Does this terminology change matter? And how can you use these types of critical insight to your advantage?

Look forward, not back. In a perfect world, the purpose of feedback is improvement. A colleague’s reason for requesting a change or pointing out a mistake is so you can learn and ultimately be better. While feedforward still uses past challenges to improve future work, the name change shifts the emphasis from what you have done to how you can use that information to move forward.

A forward focus can be particularly useful for younger professionals who may have entered the workforce when circumstances from the global pandemic made employer expectations looser and who may not have much experience with being told directly that there are things they need to improve on.

Keep calm and understand. In the moment, as you are receiving critical information, make sure you understand exactly what is being communicated. You don’t have to agree with the comments, but you do want to be certain that you’re clear on what your evaluator thinks and that you know what their opinion is or where it is coming from. It could stem from their observation of something obvious, like a missed deadline, or something more subtle, like a poor attitude or subpar quality of work. If necessary, ask for specific examples. Keep your emotions in check and focus on understanding; avoid arguing or getting defensive.

Take time to process. If needed, take some time away from both the person sharing criticism and the situation to really think about their comments. Can you see the issue from their point of view? Do you understand why they think what they think? If you have additional information they didn’t consider, you may want to set up a follow-up meeting. In most cases, a coworker’s assessment will offer you insight into your strengths and weaknesses as an employee, and you will need to decide how much it matters to you and to your career. Identify the areas in which you can, and want to, improve.

Be SMART. Once you’ve identified what you’re going to improve, set goals for how you are going to do so, and make them SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time based.

Start with small changes that you know you can make and that have quantifiable results. Are there strategies or job aids you can use, classes or workshops you can attend, or ways for you to practice skills outside the workplace?

Put your plan into action. Focus on the strengths you have, and use them to improve in other areas. Find an accountability partner who will help you monitor your progress and keep you on track; this person may or may not be your supervisor. Track your efforts over time to note how you are advancing.

No matter what it’s called, an honest assessment of how others perceive your performance is always valuable. Using that information to better your actions can only serve to make you a more skilled employee and enhance your career prospects moving forward.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published monthly in C&EN. Send your comments and ideas for topics for future columns to


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