Organizational Consultation XXIV: Feedback (Part One)
There is, therefore, a role to be played by appreciation in serving this sixth function. The key factor is the understanding of context and setting. Only an appreciative approach to the monitoring of compliance provides an in-depth analysis of the settings in which compliance is being requested. Policies, procedures and priorities are not simply followed or ignored. They are always enacted to varying degrees within a specific setting. This setting may be one in which policies, procedures and priorities are readily modified to fit with the distinctive needs, demands or cultural characteristics of the employees or customers. It is also possible that there may be so much anger, mistrust, or sense of powerlessness among employees in this setting, that strict monitoring of compliance leaves employees alienated from colleagues and aligned with the interests of upper-level management. The setting must be fully appreciated in any compliance monitoring system, if this system is to be constructive and fair.
Function Seven: Equitable Treatment
Feedback becomes an appropriate vehicle to ensure equity of treatment in many organizations. This is especially the case when the feedback allows subordinates or customers to evaluate those to whom they report or those who serve them. A comprehensive feedback system allows each major constituency of an organization to provide evaluative information regarding the performance of every other major constituency. This comprehensive scope is the key feature of the 360-Degree feedback systems, to which I will turn in a later essay. When feedback is given in an appreciative manner, then this feedback will inevitably be viewed as constructive and helpful to all constituencies. When the feedback is oriented toward deficits, then it can be quite destructive.
Negative feedback can be particularly damaging—and often distorted—if it involves upward review of managerial performance by subordinates. Abundant negative feedback often leads to backlash from people at the top of the organization, if employees over whom they have considerable power are being asked to provide this feedback. As a result, deficit-based evaluations of supervisors will often be ineffective. Intimidated employees will offer only superficial or falsely positive feedback regarding the formal leadership of the organization. Frustrated employees, who believe they have nothing to lose or that a shield of confidentiality protects them, will use this opportunity for negative feedback to vent their anger, rather than offering a balanced picture of their boss’ strengths and weaknesses. These recurrent problems, that are inherent in deficit-based assessments, diminish the value of many 360-Degree feedback systems. Yet, these systems continue to proliferate in 21st Century organizations! I will say more about the important role played by appreciative perspectives in 360-Degree feedback processes in a later essay.