Feedforward

You’re sitting in your annual review. Most of the feedback you’re getting is positive. Not just positive, actually, but really encouraging. There are just a few minor areas for improvement: “I wish you’d handled your conversation with X a bit differently.” “We’ve received some complaints about an example you used in a recent sermon.” “There was a slight dip in numbers late in the year.” And all the steam you picked up from hearing about what’s going well dissipates into the strata. Why, when there are so many more items in the plus column?

Part of the reason is that feedback is, well, backward-focused. And there aren’t any mulligans for moves we’ve already made, so we’re left endlessly replaying situations we cannot change. But in Entering Wonderland: A Toolkit for Pastors New to a Church, author Robert Harris introduces the concept of feedforward. Instead of putting the past under the microscope, Harris suggests that questions intended to evoke improvement start with the present moment and look ahead.

  • Instead of (or as a follow-up to) “I wish you’d handled your conversation with X a bit differently,” a feedforward question could be, “How do you want to relate to X in the future?”
  • Instead of (or as a follow-up to) “We’ve received some complaints about an example you used in a recent sermon,” a feedforward question could be, “How do you determine what stories best support your messages? How do you decide when an anecdote might be hard to hear but needs to be included?”
  • Instead of (or as a follow-up to) “There was a slight dip in numbers late in the year,” a feedforward question could be, “What changes can we make in communication, content, support, and timing to help our ministries be as robust as possible?”

This kind of reflection acknowledges that there is room to grow, but it channels that awareness toward action steps. We claim our capacity for positive change instead of being held captive by second-guessing.

Feedforwarding doesn’t automatically happen. It is a different way of thinking, both about ourselves and for the people who join us in ministry. How, then, might you introduce and model the concept in your context?

Creative Commons image “Forward backward” by Khairil Zhafri is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

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