Organizational Consultation XXIV: Feedback (Part One)

Organizational Consultation XXIV: Feedback (Part One)

Thus, according to Suchman, feedback regarding performance always begins from an appreciative stance. It addresses two questions: What makes the performance successful? This requires an appreciative examination of causal factors. What have we learned from this social experiment? This entails an appreciative leaning into the future. Specifically, at the level of individual performance, we might say that individual performance appraisals are means to test two appreciative hypotheses. First, is this specific employee both qualified and motivated to continue operating in their current job at a specific level of compensation? To answer this question, we must appreciate the context within which the employee is performing.  Second, is this specific employee sufficiently qualified and motivated to operate in a more expanded version of their current job or in a new, more challenging job, at a higher level of compensation? This second question requires a prediction of future performance—another form of appreciative leaning into the future.  Appreciative feedback at both the individual and program level focuses on the testing of specific appreciative hypotheses that can, in turn, influence important personnel and organizational decisions.

An appreciative feedback system yields several other related benefits. First, it enables a supervisor to make equitable and defensible personnel decisions that comply with affirmative action guidelines and that respond to the growing concern in many organizations with the quality of work life issues. Second, appreciative feedback conveys something about why a specific employee has been successful or unsuccessful and sets this employee’s performance within a specific context, so that external influences can also be assessed. Thus, an appreciative feedback system provides organizational leaders with the kind of detailed, systemic information about employee effectiveness that can be used for equitable and defensible decisions regarding future personnel directions.

An appreciative approach to feedback is particularly appropriate if there is widespread concern for quality of work life. Appreciation also thrives in a collaborative culture that encourage employees, customers, and other stakeholders to engage in, or at least be consulted about, personnel decisions. Conversely, a more deficit-oriented approach to feedback is likely to find a home in organizations that are oriented toward quick solutions and tangible results. The productivity culture that reigns supreme in these organizations is based on twin priorities: time and productivity. Deficit-based feedback does do a better job in this culture than appreciative feedback. Deficit-based assessments quickly pinpoint areas where an employee is not performing at an adequate level. Key decision-makers in a productivity culture want to know immediately and specifically where the flaw in their organization is located. Deficit-based feedback can readily yield this information, provided it is being collected in a timely and systematic manner.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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