Organizational Consultation XXIV: Feedback (Part One)
The Functions of Appreciative Feedback
Formal systems of feedback were originally created as a response to demands for accountability. When we monitor the performance of an individual or department, then we are ensuring that this person or department is doing what it is supposed to do. This function made sense during the modern era of the 20th Century, when prediction and control were the major goals of management. As the 20th Century came to an end, the era of prediction and control also gave way to a new era of appreciation and influence. Feedback has taken on new functions and meets newly emerging needs in organizations that are faced with complex, unpredictable and turbulent conditions. Formal feedback at either an individual or program unit level now serves many functions, especially when it is appreciative in nature. Twelve functions often are identified in the contemporary literature on feedback, and they each take on special meaning when considered from an appreciative perspective.[iii]
Function One: Personnel/Program Decisions
Feedback can be and often is used to assist leaders and managers in making and justifying difficult decisions regarding retention, promotion and salary for individual employees. Feedback is also used to inform a leader or manager in their decisions regarding the continuation, expansion, modification or termination of an entire program unit. In each case, an appreciative approach is critical, for the decision is being made from the perspective of achievement and future prospects. Do we promote this person? Do we give her additional responsibilities? Do we continue or even expand this program? Do we replicate it elsewhere? These are all questions that require appreciation of an employee’s or program’s distinctive strengths and potential accomplishments.
As Edward Suchman suggests, significant social experimentation can only occur in a society if some form of evaluation is conducted to determine the extent to which an experiment has been successful and the reasons for that success which it has achieved:[iv]
In its broadest framework . . . evaluative research becomes the study of planned programs for producing social change through social experiments. These experiments test the validity of the hypotheses that the action program has within it elements that will affect certain “causal” factors in the development of the desired objectives. . . . What we evaluate is the action hypothesis that defined program activities will achieve specified, desired objectives through their ability to influence those intervening processes that affect the occurrence of these objectives.