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Feedback and Feedforward control in Management

INTRODUCTION



Control is the function of management, which measures and corrects the performance of activities in order to make sure that the objectives of a concern and the plans engineered to attain them are completed.
Thus, it involves knowing the extent to which actions are in consonance with the plans adopted and instructions issued so that errors and deviations are promptly reported, analyzed and rectified.

Since, it forces events to conform to plans, control becomes integrally connected with planning and has the same characteristics of unity, continuity, flexibility and pervasiveness.
To achieve organizational objectives and to complete various company plans, managers have to regulate work assignments properly, review work progress, and check operations lying within their jurisdiction.

Control depends on other functions of management and contributes to them as well.
Without plans to set objectives and specify activities, control would serve no useful purpose.
Without organization, there would hardly be any guidance about who should make the evaluation and who should take the corrective action.
No manager can control actions, which are not planned. Thus, a complete and co-ordinated set of plans greatly facilitates the control process.

There is a misleading impression that the control function is the task of the top authorities of management only and that little or no control is needed at the lower levels. Although the nature of control and the scope of the actions performed vary, it is an essential function performed at all levels of management.
Control pervades all levels of management.

Control consists of assuring the results of operations confirm as closely as possible to the established goals and pre-determined standards. The essential elements of any control process are:

1. Establishment of goals and standards.
2. Measurement of actual performance against standards.
3. Corrective action.
4. Follow through action.

A manager needs to ascertain the decisions he should take according to the information he gets. To initiate an effective control system, this data needs to be compared to the goals and standards and the corrective measures are carried out henceforth. The concepts of Feedback and Feedforward control stand out in this purview.

FEEDBACK



Feedback is the process of adjusting future actions based upon the information about past performance. The principle of feedback is applied in various fields where the idea is to make control instantaneous.
It is based upon inter-dependence of different parts of a system.
Managerial control is perceived as somewhat akin to the usual household thermostat. The diagram below can show us how a feedback control system works:


Managers measure actual performance, compare this measurement against standards, and identify and analyze deviations. But then, to make necessary corrections, they must develop a program for corrective action and implement this program in order to arrive at the performance desired.

A manager responsible for control needs a continuous flow of information relating to actual performance so that deviations are promptly detected and corrected. Information which flows back to the manager for this purpose is nothing but feedback. It may be formal or informal in nature. Informal feedback is through personal contact, informal discussions and personal observations. Financial statements, reports, statistical analysis, and other written communications furnish examples of formal feedback.

One drawback that lies in the Feedback system is that whatever be the efficiency in date feedback, managerial control can not be so instantaneous or self-correcting as if it were in an electronic mode.
Even when deviations are promptly recorded, it takes time to analyze them, chalk out a program of actions and implement them.
Thus, even the fastest data collection will not result in automatic correction in Feedback.

FEEDFORWARD



The time lag in the management control process, as seen in Feedback system has caused much inefficiency. This shows that the control should be future-directed to be effective. One of the difficulties faced while using the historical data, given by the Feedback system, is that the information is late and the rectification is not possible. One can only refer to the data and make corrections for the future.
The need is high for a system that can tell the managers, in time, to take coercive actions.
Though, future-directed control is largely disregarded in practice, because managers have been excessively dependent on accounting and statistical data for the purpose of control. In the absence of any means of looking forward, reference to history is considered better than no reference at all.

However, the concept of feedforwarding has been applied now and then. One common way managers have practiced it is through careful and repeated forecasts using the latest available information, comparing what is desired with the forecasts, and introducing program changes so that forecasts can be made more promising.

Managers develop new advertising plans and sales promotion strategies in order to better forecast sales growth.
In most businesses, managers carefully plan the availability of cash to meet requirements.

PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique), is one of the better techniques of future-directed control being used today. This enables the managers to anticipate the problems they might face unless the act now.

One of the problems that is faced with feedforwarding is the necessity for watching out for factors known as "disturbances". These are factors, which have not been taken into account in the input model but do have an affect on the expected result. It will not be practical to take all variables, which may possibly affect the operation of a program.
The bankruptcy of a huge customer or supplier might be an unanticipated variable.

However, since uncertain and untimely things do take place and may upset a desired output, monitoring of regular inputs must be supplemented with taking into account the unexpected "disturbances".


FEEDFORWARD versus FEEDBACK



Simple feedback systems measure output of a process and feed into the system or the inputs of a system corrective actions to obtain desired outputs. For most management problems, due to the time lags, this process becomes unfavorable. Feedforward systems monitors inputs into a process to ascertain whether they are as planned.



As we can see from the diagram above, Feedforward is actually like a reverse-feedback. As a result of this, the corrections can be made into the input side of Feedforward system so that the output lies unaffected. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that even with a Feedforward control, a manger would still want to measure final system output since nothing can be expected to work perfectly enough to ensure that the final output will always be exactly to what it is right now.

CONCLUSION



We can see that Feedforward control may prove to be much more efficient than Feedback. This does not imply that leaders should never give feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned.
But it shows how Feedforward can often be preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions.

Quality communication-between and among people at all levels-is the adhesive that holds organizations together. By using feedforward and by encouraging others to use it-leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations.


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References:
1.Management by Harold Koontz and Heinz Weihrich, Ninth Edition, McGraw Hill Editions
2.Study Material, Foundation Program, Institute of Company Secretaries of India
3."Try Feedforward instead of Feedback" by Marshall Goldsmith, http://www.marshallgoldsmithlibrary.com, Last visited on 29.08.2009

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