Organizational Consultation XXIV: Feedback (Part One)
The final strategy concerns the generation of valid and useful information about the performance of employees in the organization. This information should aligned with the mission, vision, values and purposes of the organization, and should be provided to each employee in a timely and systematic manner. Of the six strategies being considered in this series of essays, it is most important that this sixth strategy be appreciative. Feedback concerns the capacity of an individual to benefit from information about the impact of a specific idea or ongoing performance. It is easy to make this feedback deficit oriented. We are all accustomed to identifying what is wrong with another person. Yet, psychological research over the years has repeatedly shown that negative feedback doesn’t produce an improvement in behavior. Humanists tell us that negative feedback diminishes the human spirit. Their polar opposites, the behaviorists, similarly tell us that negative feedback doesn’t work.
From the pragmatic perspective of the behaviorist, the process of negative feedback doesn’t work because this process typically produces a concerted effort on the part of the recipient of this negative feedback to avoid the source of this feedback. When they are punished for doing something, children learn either to engage in this activity when no one is watching or to avoid the person doing the punishing. This person is usually a parent. There is yet another pragmatic reason for avoiding negative feedback. The behaviorists and humanist both tell us that when we give negative feedback, the recipient may gain a clear idea about what she is not supposed to do. However, she usually gains little insight into what she is to do in place of the unwanted behavior. Positive feedback is needed to reinforce the desired behavior; otherwise, the recipient of negative feedback, like the often-punished child, will simply withdraw.