Organizational Consultation XXIV: Feedback (Part One)
Much of the contemporary concern for accountability seems to center on money. The leaders of many 21st Century organizations must make the case for expenditure of scarce financial and personnel resources. The abundance of the 1990s has slipped away with the collapse of the dot.coms and the insanity of September 11, 2001. An appreciative feedback system is essential if both the cost and benefit sides of a financial analysis are to be properly addressed. A deficit-based feedback system can effectively address the cost side of the ledger, but it yields little about benefits. Deficit-analyses usually focus on costs associated with the performance of specific employees or program units. These costs include rates of failure or flaws in a system, wasted time and inefficiency, and discrepancies between desired outcomes and actual program outcomes.
In most cases, this cost-oriented analysis yields little information that is of much use to either internal or external stakeholders in their decision-making processes. What about the assessment of benefits? This type of assessment usually relies heavily on appreciative analyses. An appreciative appraisal is made of the achievements that can be attributed to specific employees or program units in the organization. An appreciative appraisal uncovers unintended and indirect benefits that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Appreciation enhances perceived value. This is yet another key point in creating an appreciative organization. The costs identified in an analysis of deficits are counterbalanced by the benefits identified through an appreciative analysis. The eighth feedback function is clearly aligned with an appreciative approach to feedback.
Function Nine: Research and Development
The feedback documents of an organization are rich and often untapped sources of information regarding the reasons why certain employees and programs are successful. Once confidentiality has been ensured, the research and development unit of an organization can use these documents to test various hypotheses regarding the effectiveness of individual employees or entire programs. Obviously, the most valuable information concerns instances when the individual or the program has been highly effective. This requires an appreciative analysis of the individual or program unit within its specific context. A deficit model tells us very little about the reason why some person or program has been successful. Typically, a deficit perspective directs attention toward the inadequacies of individual performers, whereas an appreciative perspective directs attention toward systemic factors that produce success.