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 Management Minute

"Focus on the promise of the future rather than the mistakes of the past." ― Marshall Goldsmith

This past week, I had the pleasure of participating with the senior AMCHP staff leadership (directors and associate directors) in our Summer Retreat. We had decided earlier in the year that it would be good for us to leave the office for a day in the summer to focus on leadership development activities, to consider the work done to date on the AMCHP strategic plan, and to set a plan in motion to bring to life the Board and membership's vision, mission, goals and objectives for AMCHP. You'll be hearing about this more in an upcoming Management Minute.

It was not only a beautiful summer day, but we were at a location on the Eastern Shore of Maryland that had been graciously donated to AMCHP for the day's activities. With the beauty of the Chester River and the Chesapeake Bay as backdrops, and the amazing historically significant Bowlingly Manor House as our host, we set about working to learn more about one another individually and how we can truly leverage our skills to be the best team we can be for our sake and for that of our members.

With the guidance of an excellent facilitator, Brenda Harrington of Adaptive Leadership Strategies, we participated in a few different leadership development activities through the morning hours. One of the activities, however, struck me as being particularly worthwhile to share with you and to encourage you to try it out in your own settings.

The owner of the quote above, Marshall Goldsmith is a world-renowned executive coach who has authored many books on the subjects of leadership, executive development, and coaching. He also is responsible for a concept known as FeedForward. FeedForward embraces the idea of letting go of past notions, ideas and performance to free yourself to face forward to the future. This shifts our thinking from always looking in the rearview mirror to looking ahead to see what the headlights are illuminating. FeedForward is meant to take the place of traditional feedback. You cannot change the past and traditional feedback has been focused on behaviors and results that have ALREADY occurred.

FeedForward can be used in a number of different ways in organizations. For example, if utilized in the performance management area, the idea of performance reviews would become a thing of the past. As managers, we'd instead be uniquely focused on our goals in the future, setting expectations for accomplishment, and identifying opportunities to change behaviors and outcomes moving forward.

In a much simpler demonstration of its use, however, our staff used FeedForward to conduct a small exercise around alternative ways to encourage behavior change by providing active suggestions for the future to help achieve a positive change in behavior. As Brenda Harrington explains, as they strive to achieve the goals of the organization, employees need and want to know how they are doing. It is important for them to learn what they have done well and what they need to change, in a constructive and developmental manner. The objective of our exercise together at the retreat was to help us all develop a vocabulary and habits around engaging with colleagues, direct reports and supervisors that promotes collaboration and diminishes barriers. FeedForward also provides immediate returns – once learned you can immediately begin using FeedForward after you practice the concept.

Here's how FeedForward works (the practice exercise itself). You'll be both surprised at its simplicity and likely be skeptical that it works! Trust me, it does.

Step 1:
Person has a behavior they wish to change or a challenge they want to address – it must be described in one short sentence (e.g. "My goal is…".

Step 2:
Person responding to the request provides two brief suggestions.

Ground Rules:
There is no mention of the past; use only future tense. Be supportive and helpful and use positive words. Make no judgments.

Step 3:
Switch roles, repeat.

I admit, when we did this together at our retreat, I was the first person to wonder how this could possibly be helpful or useful to our work back home. I was proven completely wrong. I received at least 10 different suggestions on how to change a long-term, potentially harmful behavior. All of the suggestions were creative, innovative, positive, and encouraging. And, they were all provided by my very staff that seemed to genuinely care about my issue and helping me to find ways to address it.

The exercise taught me (and the other AMCHP leaders) to truly consider and value asking for help from all levels of staff. Embrace talking openly about an issue (behavioral or otherwise) and use that as an opportunity to ask for advice, to get suggestions from all layers of the organization, and to be prepared to be in awe of others' ingenuity, creative thinking, and supportiveness. To truly find a way forward (and leave the past behind).

For more information on Marshall Goldsmith and his FeedForward tool, click here.

Until next time…if you have any initial reactions to this column, please feel free to e-mail me directly at lfreeman@amchp.org or amchpengage@amchp.org.