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From Feedback to Feedforward: Rethinking Employee Performance Reviews for Effective Canadian Workplaces

  • By Diana Kawarsky, MA, CCP
  • May 8, 2024

Employee Performance Reviews

Performance reviews, often a bane in employees’ annual calendars, have garnered a reputation for being dreaded and disheartening sessions that sometimes do more harm than good. In their traditional form, they’ve meant looking back at an employee’s past year of work, critiquing actions that are often ancient history, and providing a one-size-fits-all set of objectives for the year ahead. But workplace dynamics are rapidly changing, calling for a more forward-thinking approach to employee development, and Canada is at the forefront of this shift.

This blog post targets Canadian HR professionals and employers, focusing on adopting “feedforward” as a development-oriented approach to the employee performance review. We’ll delve into the model’s details and its potential to enhance the employee experience, achieve organizational goals, and strengthen the Canadian workforce.

The Feedback Fizzle: Why Traditional Reviews Often Fall Short

The underpinnings of the traditional performance review system often fall short in terms of fostering engagement and yielding actionable results. Here’s why they’re losing their lustre in today’s evolving work environment:

A Look at the Past, Not the Future

Traditional reviews are predominantly backward-looking, focusing on what has happened rather than on future potential development. This approach does little to inspire or guide employees toward achieving new milestones and adapting to evolving roles.

One Side of the Conversation

When managers dominate the discussion, employees can feel their voices are neither heard nor valued. The conventional feedback loop is often unidirectional, with little room for two-way communication that fosters a sense of mutual partnership and growth.

Apprehension and Negativity Surrounding Reviews

Employees often approach performance reviews with trepidation, anticipating criticism or tense interactions. This fear-based environment is counterproductive, stifling open dialogue and potentially damaging employee-manager relationships.

Impact on Morale and Engagement

Poor communication and ineffective employee performance reviews can harm morale, leading to disengagement, decreased motivation, and even higher turnover rates.

The Feedforward Future: A Communication-Centric Approach

The future of performance management lies in a more effective form of communication: feedforward. Canadian organizations that adopt this method focus on future goals and constructive conversations that lead to continuous development and progress.

Feedforward is a management approach that emphasizes continuous improvement through future-oriented conversations. Rather than dwelling on past mistakes, feedforward encourages setting clear, achievable goals with input and coaching from both managers and employees.

For feedforward to be effective, communication must be at its core. Managers must develop strong communication skills for conducting feedforward reviews that are open, honest, and forward-looking discussions that inspire growth and collaboration.

Benefits of Feedforward for Business and Employees

Adapting feedforward performance reviews yields an array of benefits for businesses and employees aligned with the realities of the modern workplace.

Benefits for Businesses 

  • Improved Performance and Productivity: With a focus on future objectives and skill development, employees are better equipped to exceed performance expectations, driving overall productivity.
  • Enhanced Employee Engagement: Feedforward empowers employees to take an active role in their development, fostering a more engaged and motivated workforce.
  • Reduced Conflict and Misunderstandings: By providing regular, future-focused employee feedback, misaligned expectations can be minimized, leading to better team cohesion and reduced workplace conflicts.
  • Stronger Talent Retention: A continuous growth and development culture is attractive to employees and can significantly enhance retention rates. 
  • More Effective Goal Setting: By learning from past achievements to set clear, specific, and attainable goals, organizations can set a path that both challenges and supports employees.
  • Improved Employer Branding: A progressive feedforward performance management approach can boost an organization’s reputation as an employer of choice, attracting top talent.

Benefits for Employees 

  • Clearer Path for Development: Feedforward offers a clear and transparent route for individual growth and career progression.
  • Increased Confidence and Self-Awareness: Regular conversations centred on future success build an employee’s confidence and self-awareness of their strengths and areas for development.
  • Enhanced Sense of Ownership: Involving employees in decision-making about their development increases their commitment and responsibility for their results.
  • Improved Communication Skills: Engaging in forward-looking discussions builds an employee’s ability to express themselves and their ideas more effectively.
  • Positive Work Environment: A feedforward approach fosters a positive and growth-oriented workplace culture.
  • Improved Work-Life Balance: By clearly charting a course for professional growth, employees can better balance work and personal life.

Communication Strategies for Effective Feedforward

For feedforward conversations to be productive, they must be founded on strong communication strategies that promote understanding and engagement.

Clarity and Specificity in Goal-Setting

Setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals ensures that employees and managers are on the same page, working towards clear, concrete objectives.

Focusing on Strengths

Identifying and building upon an employee’s strengths is key to fostering growth and developing new skills that complement their existing abilities.

Positive Reinforcement

Celebrating successes and milestones is a vital component of constructive feedback that motivates employees and recognizes their contributions to the organization.

Using Open-Ended Questions

Engaging employees with open-ended questions encourages them to provide valuable insights into their performance and aspirations, creating a more participative and valuable conversation.

Mastering Active Listening

Effective managers practice active listening, seeking to truly understand the employee’s point of view and fostering a culture of mutual respect and openness.

Implementing Feedforward in Your Workplace

Making the switch to a new performance management system is not without its challenges, but with a structured approach, Canadian businesses can successfully implement feedforward reviews.

Training Managers on Communication Skills

Providing managers with training on how to effectively guide feedforward conversations is critical to the system’s success. This training involves instruction on active listening, asking open-ended questions, and delivering feedback constructively.

Establishing Clear Review Guidelines

Creating and communicating clear guidelines for the feedforward review process ensures that all employees and managers understand expectations, which reduces anxiety and promotes fairness.

Utilizing Online Tools and Templates

Leveraging technology to facilitate feedforward reviews can promote consistency and provide a documented record for future reference. Online systems can also streamline the goal-setting process and the tracking of progress.

Develop Communication and Feedforward Skills with TSSG

At The Soft Skills Group (TSSG), we understand the pivotal role of communication in facilitating feedforward performance reviews. Our communication skills training workshops are designed to equip Canadian organizations with the skills to master the art of feedback and feedforward. Organizations can create a work environment that cultivates ongoing individual and collective success by emphasizing open, future-focused, and two-way communication.

Transform your approach to performance management and unlock the full potential of your Canadian workforce with our leadership training program in particular. We can provide your managers with the tools and insights needed to make that transition a success. Contact us today to learn more!

Diana Kawarsky, MA, CCP

Diana is President of The Soft Skills Group Inc., and a senior training & development professional with over 20 years of experience in delivery, design & consulting with Fortune 500 companies, Universities & Colleges in Canada, USA, Europe, and Asia. Read More