Selected Journal Publications

16.05.2019

What Employees Seek From Feedback

Towards a Goal Orientation-based Feedback-seeking Typology: Implications for Employee Performance Outcomes
GONG, Yaping | WANG, Mo | HUANG, Jia-Chi | CHEUNG, Siu Yin
Journal of Management, Vol. 43, No. 4, April 2017

The simple assumption about feedback is that it should let employees know where they stand on job performance, yet researchers have had difficulty proving this happens in practice. One recent study, however, has been able to demonstrate how feedback can play this goal by focusing on the varieties and nuances of feedback.

The study, by Yaping Gong, Mo Wang, Jia-Chi Huang and Siu Yin Cheung, looks at employees’ own goals from feedback and whether the feedback is positive or negative, and ties this to job performance.

While some employees have learning goals and seek feedback to help them improve, others are focused on performance goals related to ego support. The latter group seeks feedback that will either give them a favorable evaluation or help them to avoid a negative one. Additionally, employees of both orientations may seek feedback about others to support their goals, and their goals will lead to different responses to positive or negative feedback. All of this impacts job performance.

“Individuals with a strong learning orientation view competence as malleable so they see negative feedback as useful for improving competence; it thus does not increase their stress levels. Such individuals will alter strategies, increase effort and persist to overcome challenges or obstacles,” the authors said.

“But individuals with a strong performance orientation see competence as a fixed entity. They are concerned about demonstrating the adequacy of their abilities or avoiding negative judgements from others, and they experience anxiety and stress. Because they attribute failures or setbacks to their own lack of ability, they tend to choose easier tasks or exert less effort.”

The different orientations also influence the kind of feedback that employees seek about colleagues and their motivation for doing so. Those with a learning orientation are interested in positive feedback about others because it can show them how to improve. But those with a performance orientation find value in seeking negative feedback about others so they can look good in comparison.

In studies that measured feedback-seeking and motivations in two different groups of employees, the authors found support for most of this framework, although negative feedback-seeking of others was mostly confined to those in the performance-oriented group who were focused on seeking favorable evaluations, not those who wanted to avoid negative evaluations.

The authors also looked directly at the impact of goal orientation and feedback on job performance and found those who pursued negative feedback about themselves and positive feedback about others had enhanced their job performance, compared with those seeking positive feedback about themselves and negative feedback about others.

Self-negative feedback also led to more role clarity and better social integration in the workplace.

The results point to ways in which managers can target feedback to improve job performance. For example, they can encourage and facilitate employees to seek negative feedback, however uncomfortable that may be for both parties, by establishing a safe culture for that to happen in. The authors suggested managers start with themselves.

“Managers are advised to start self-negative feedback seeking with themselves, for example by asking employees how they are impeding their success. This not only helps managers to improve their own job performance, but also creates the psychological safety to admit failures and learn from them,” they said.

Managers should also encourage positive feedback-seeking about others so employees can learn from each other. Again, managers can start with themselves. “They should start other-positive feedback seeking with themselves, Employees are more likely to follow when they see such managerial behaviors.”

The authors also advised that the kind of feedback managers give to employees who seek negative feedback should offer encouragement and concrete advice for improvement. “As employees see their performance improve, they will be more willing to seek self-negative feedback,” they added.


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