Feedforward: how to engage when people aren't using your analytic solution

first Google image search result for "feedforward" from cultofpedagogy.com

Step 1: Rhetorically ask a meeting full of others who don't have the answer: "Why aren't people using this solution?"

Ambitious people may then proceed to ask some individuals, but it is easy to be perceived as antagonizing and put them on the defensive, us versus them or IT versus the business. "Our data shows that you haven't been using the solution we created, so I'm contacting you to find out why…"

How to engage more effectively

"Feedforward" (as opposed to feedback) is a concept that was introduced to me in What Got You Here Won't Get You There, a book about Marshall Goldsmith’s executive coaching techniques.

Feedback is about behavior from the past, while feedforward is about ideas you can use in the future. It has four steps, outlined in the book (again -- executive coaching context):

  1. Pick a behavior you would like to change.
  2. Describe your objective in a one-on-one conversation with someone you know.
  3. Ask the person for two suggestions for the future that might help you achieve a positive change in the behavior.
  4. Listen to the suggestions without judgement or critique. (Goldsmith says you aren't even allowed to say anything positive about the suggestions.) Then say "Thank you."

Translating the approach to our situation:

  1. Tell a user that your goal is for the solution to save them time and make their lives easier.
  2. Ask for two suggestions to improve it. (Note: not a yes/no question.) For example, "What are two ways this would work better for you?"
  3. Listen attentively and with an open mind. Ask clarifying questions if you need to.
  4. Say thank you. (You don't have to promise anything.)

Advantages of feedforward

  • Doesn't put users on the defensive. This conversation is not about them, but the solution. You are not even saying that the reason you selected them is you know they haven't opened the solution since the initial rollout.
  • Forward, not backward-looking. You can't change whether they have used it before. That already happened. Improvements, however, or even increased awareness, are things you can still change.
  • Positive, not negative, framing. We want the solution to make their lives easier
  • Establishes some priority about what is most important to them. Picking two things (or even one) gives you a sense of their priorities. It's not a laundry list.
  • Makes users feel valued.
  • Gives you a natural reason to follow up, if you do take action on it.

That's it. It's an example of one of the things in the work world when how you communicate about something can make a stark difference in perception and mutual outcomes.

PS This approach applies equally well to solutions that people are using. Just because something is being used doesn't mean it is providing as much value as it could.

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