Applying FeedForward Principles


by Marilyn McLeod

published in ExecuNet CareerSmart Advisor, December 2008

As an executive coach, I have attended several of Marshall Goldsmith’s presentations and have participated in his feedforward exercise.  The power of feedforward has fascinated me, and I have used it within my own coaching practice.

Here are several ways in which to apply the exercise:

Peer Coaching

Peer Coaching takes coaching to the next level, extending the feedforward coaching model to large numbers of people without having to hire a coach for each person being coached.  The group being coached pairs up with a peer, meeting with each other on a regular basis, asking for ideas for improvement, and optionally being informally accountable to their peer coach for a list of items they’ve selected for improvement.

Before Meetings

I’ve often wondered how people in the audience who have experienced Marshall’s feedforward exercise adapt it to their business environment.  One manager told me her company often takes 15-20 minutes before a meeting to go through the exact same feedforward exercise Marshall describes, talking to as many people as they can, asking for ideas and taking verbatim notes.  They start their meetings with a list of new ideas even before they begin formal discussion!

For the Self-Employed

Who are your stakeholders?  Your customers, your employees, your vendors, your potential customers.  Are you afraid to ask them for their ideas?  People love to be included, and they love to be asked for their opinion.  If you tell them you’d like to improve and ask for their ideas, and you can listen with an open heart and simply say ‘thank you’, you may receive some very valuable information to help your business grow, and to save valuable resources.

Family and Friends

When you think about it, who are your most valuable stakeholders?  The ones you often think of last, and ask for the most understanding from …your family and friends.  You’re probably most afraid to ask them, because you’re afraid of their answers!   All the same, you might be surprised with the answer to, “How can I be a better husband?”  She might not ask for the new house or a better lifestyle; she may just want you to schedule a date night, or take five minutes to listen without judgment when she tells you about her day.

Here’s a Key 

Just because you ask someone’s opinion doesn’t mean you have to do what they suggest.  Remember, there’s only one of you!   And, often the suggestions you get from one stakeholder run counter to the ones you receive from another stakeholder.

The magic is in asking, and listening without judgment, without hearing criticism and definitely without trying to defend what you think they’re really trying to say.  Just take verbatim notes, graciously say ‘thank you’ without rating or analyzing the ideas, and later think about how you want to implement what you’ve learned.


Marilyn McLeod is an executive coach using Marshall Goldsmith’s coaching methods in her work with corporate executives and small business owners, and the author of “7 Steps to Success in Business & in Life:  During Recession or Recovery published on Kindle 2009.  You can find her at, and reach her by email at or 760-644-2284.



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