Organizational Consultation XXIV: Feedback (Part One)
This important benefit can be simply illustrated by turning to an old childhood game: “Hide the thimble.” After a small object, such as a thimble, is hidden in a room, the game player is led to the object by receiving one of two simple instructions: “warmer” (moving closer to the object) and “colder” (moving away from the object). As anyone knows, who has ever played the game, “warmer” is much more helpful than “colder.” Negative feedback (“colder”) leaves open many options. There are many ways in which we might move closer to the thimble. Negative feedback is even less helpful in an organizational setting. There are many ways in which we might improve our performance. To be told that we are doing it wrong (“colder”) doesn’t tell us anything about how we might do it right (“warmer”).
Positive feedback (“warmer”) provides better information. It tells us specifically that we are moving toward the desired state, the thimble. We have only to continue doing what we are already doing. We don’t have to guess what the right way of doing things might be, nor do we have to invent some new behavior pattern or program strategy. Yet, as I noted above, positive feedback still isn’t very informative. “Warm” only tells us that we are moving in the right direction. It doesn’t tell us where the thimble is located. Imagine how much easier it would be if someone simply described the location of the thimble. This would make the game of “hide the thimble” less interesting—however, feedback in an organizational setting is not a “game” and more detailed descriptions are inevitably more helpful than uni-dimensional statements of good or bad, positive or negative, “warm” or “cold.”
When appreciative feedback is offered, the recipient knows that the person giving the feedback has been thoughtful enough, and specific enough, to provide a detailed analysis concerning the recipient’s proximity to a desired state. Appreciative feedback also suggests ways in which the feedback recipient might more effectively influence the world in which she is working. The recipient gains helpful information about both location and strategy that can inform future actions in the organization. This is the heart of an appreciative strategy of feedback and is critical in the creation of an appreciative organization.