Should we prefer ‘feedforward’ over ‘feedback sandwich’ approach?

Since the ‘feedback sandwich’ comes with some flaws, the ‘feedforward’ approach of giving feedback to employees can be a better move for improving the performance management system

Before digging further into why the ‘feedforward’ approach is recommended over the ‘feedback sandwich’ approach, let us first understand what these approaches mean and the significant differences between the two. 

Approaches to giving feedback to employees

Who hates a sandwich? Probably no one. Unless it is a Feedback Sandwich. The ‘Feedback Sandwich’ approach of giving feedback to an employee is very common and popular among management professionals. But in the recent past, some experts and business leaders have found flaws in this approach of giving feedback to an employee. On the other hand, management professionals and leaders welcome the ‘feedforward’ approach of giving feedback to someone. 

‘Feedforward’ is a new term for many. But this approach of giving feedback to someone comes with great benefits. Unlike a more traditional feedback approach which focuses on pointing out or picking the mistakes and flaws of someone, which has already happened in the past, the ‘feedforward’ approach focuses on coaching the recipient on improving on the mistakes, which is more future-oriented. People always look forward to feedback that can help them grow in their careers and improve on their mistakes.   

On the other hand, the ‘feedback sandwich’ approach was devised to simplify the process of giving critical or constructive feedback to someone. This way of providing feedback involves giving constructive or negative feedback between two statements of positive feedback or encouragement. The ‘feedback sandwich’ approach is exactly how it has been named. It is literally about sandwiching a negative point between two positive statements. 

Nakul just concluded his PowerPoint presentation on the new product launch. After the presentation, Nakul’s manager said, “Nakul, I think you have done a great job. I could see the in-depth research on content and the examples used to back your points. But I believe we can improve the presentation of your slides. Moving forward, you should use the branded slides which have been prepared by our design team to make it more personal. But overall, it was excellent. The presentation will look more engaging when we improve on our slide’s design.” This is an example of giving a ‘feedback sandwich.’ Nakul’s manager started his feedback by appreciating the content of the presentation. Then he came to pick a flaw in the design of the slides and ended with a positive comment by appreciating the overall presentation style.   

How 'feedforward' is different from the 'feedback sandwich' approach

Though both approaches focus on giving employees feedback for self-reflection, the way they are given is different, and their impact also varies. When we talk about a ‘feedback sandwich,’ it involves giving negative or constructive feedback to the recipient. Whereas the ‘feedforward’ approach does not include criticizing the recipient at any given point. 

Moreover, the idea behind using the sandwich approach of feedback focuses on how effectively and smoothly we can give constructive feedback to someone. But the ‘feedforward’ way of giving feedback focuses on improving the performance of the individual for the future. So the objective of both types of feedback is different. 

Why 'feedforward' seems to be more promising than 'feedback sandwich' approach

The ‘feedback sandwich’ approach has been quite popular, and many senior management professionals recommend you follow it. But it has some flaws which raise questions and doubts in people’s minds.

The feedback becomes unclear

When giving feedback, we should ensure that it is clear to the recipient. But since the ‘feedback sandwich’ approach gives critical feedback in between two positive statements, the recipients get confused about whether they should take the feedback as negative or positive. It can leave them confused about areas they need to improve. As a manager or a team lead, we want our employees to be clear after receiving feedback. 

The feedback might look fake

When we chip in negative feedback between two positive feedbacks, the receiver at times feels that their good performance is being undermined. Using words like ‘but’ or ‘however’ during a feedback conversation is not a healthy practice. Just imagine how you would feel when it happens to you during a date, “I love spending time with you, and you are great, but…” The receiver feels the positive feedback was made up by the manager to just create a ‘feel good’ environment. 

Makes it difficult for the manager to construct a feedback

The ‘feedback sandwich’ forces you to give positive feedback. At times, one may not have positive feedback to share. What will you do in that case? In other words, it is restricting the manager or the team leader from giving concise and accurate feedback to the employee, which may not even be good for the growth of the recipient itself. 

Is 'Feedforward' the key to better managing performance?

Giving feedback is a challenging thing. In fact, many managers run away from giving critical feedback to their employees for the sake of maintain a healthy professional relationship with them. At first, the ‘feedback sandwich’ approach seemed to be an appropriate solution. It helped the recipient to smoothly digest criticism. But now, the ‘feedforward’ approach appears to be more effective since it does not distort the feedback message and also seems to be genuine at the same time. 


As the definition suggests, the ‘feedforward’ approach of giving feedback avoids picking out mistakes and flaws which have happened in the past. Instead, it focuses on coaching the recipient on improving on their mistake. It is more future-oriented in nature as it emphasizes ‘what you will be becoming’ rather than ‘what you are or were.’ So the whole process of ‘feedforward’ eliminates either giving negative or positive feedback and focuses on how an individual can learn from their mistake and come out better in the future. 

Strengthens relationships at work 

Since the ‘feedforward’ approach does not involve criticism, the recipient is rather looking forward to your feedback. Otherwise, people are rather ignorant of negative feedback and do not improve their processes and work methods. As a manager, when you focus on coaching and improving the recipient, they also look up to you. This way, the manager-employee relationship strengthens. 

Promotes talent development

The quality of talent can become a significant differentiator for the company. It has the potential to give you an edge over your competitors. The ‘feedforward’ approach promotes talent development by focusing on improving employees on their mistakes and flaws. This also gives an opportunity for employees to grow in their careers and become better at what they do. 

Encourages a culture of coaching and development

Clark, a sales associate, managed to fix a client meeting within a month of his joining. But still, he lacked presentation skills. He had never done a sales pitch to a client before. But his manager and a senior colleague conducted mock presentations before the meeting and highlighted improving areas to Clark. This way, Clark was much more confident during his actual presentation and meeting with the client. This culture of coaching and development is a result of a ‘feedforward’ approach which makes you develop talent. 

Enhances the overall employer brand

A company that adopts a ‘feedforward’ way of managing performance builds a great culture. This way, your own employees can become your brand ambassadors and recommend others to join the company. It helps you to improve the employer brand and attract talent. It will allow the organization to build better teams, delivering good performance for the company. 

The ‘feedback sandwich’ and ‘feedforward’ approaches have their own benefits and flaws. But it is recommended that companies should move on from the traditional way of giving feedback to employees. In today’s world, people look forward to feedback that adds value to their life and not criticize them for their mistakes.