Write the objectives (atleast 10) and their explanation for the chapter “Feeding Back Diagnostic Information”.
DETERMINING THE CONTENT OF THE FEEDBACK
In the course of diagnosing the organization, a large amount of data is collected. In
fact, there is often more information than the client needs or can interpret in a realistic
period of time. If too many data are fed back, the client may decide that changing
is impossible. Therefore, OD practitioners need to summarize the data in ways that
enable clients to understand the information and draw action implications from it. The
techniques for data analysis described in
Several characteristics of effective feedback data have been described in the
literature.1 They include the following nine properties:
Relevant. Organization members are likely to use feedback data for problem solving
when they find the information meaningful. Including managers and employees
in the initial data collection activities can increase the relevance of the data.
Understandable. Data must be presented to organization members in a form that
is readily interpreted. Statistical data, for example, can be made understandable
through the use of graphs and charts.
Descriptive. Feedback data need to be linked to real organizational behaviors if
they are to arouse and direct energy. The use of examples and detailed illustrations
can help employees gain a better feel for the data.
Verifiable. Feedback data should be valid and accurate if they are to guide action.
Thus, the information should allow organization members to verify whether the
findings really describe the organization. For example, questionnaire data might
include information about the sample of respondents as well as frequency distributions
for each item or measure. Such information can help members verify whether
the feedback data accurately represent organizational events or attitudes.
Timely. Data should be fed back to members as quickly as possible after being collected
and analyzed. This will help ensure that the information is still valid and is
linked to members’ motivations to examine it.
Limited. Because people can easily become overloaded with too much information,
feedback data should be limited to what employees can realistically process
at one time.
Significant. Feedback should be limited to those problems that organization
members can do something about because it will energize them and help direct
their efforts toward realistic changes.
Comparative. Feedback data can be ambiguous without some benchmark as a reference.
Whenever possible, data from comparative groups should be provided to give
organization members a better idea of how their group fits into a broader context.
Unfinalized. Feedback is primarily a stimulus for action and thus should spur further
diagnosis and problem solving. Members should be encouraged, for example, to use
the data as a starting point for more in-depth discussion of organizational issues.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE FEEDBACK PROCESS
In addition to providing effective feedback data, it is equally important to attend to
the process by which that information is fed back to people. Typically, data are provided
to organization members in a meeting or series of meetings. Feedback meetings
provide a forum for discussing the data, drawing relevant conclusions, and devising
preliminary action plans. Because the data might include sensitive material and evaluations
about organization members’ behaviors, people may come to the meeting with
considerable anxiety and fear about receiving the feedback. This anxiety can result in
defensive behaviors aimed at denying the information or providing rationales. More
positively, people can be stimulated by the feedback and the hope that desired changes
will result from the feedback meeting. Because people are likely to come to feedback
meetings with anxiety, fear, and hope, OD practitioners need to manage the feedback
process so that constructive discussion and problem solving occur. The most important
objective of the feedback process is to ensure that organization members own the data.
Ownership is the opposite of resistance to change and refers to people’s willingness to
take responsibility for the data, their meaning, and the consequences of using them
to devise a change strategy.2 If the feedback session results in organization members
rejecting the data as invalid or useless, then the motivation to change is lost and members
will have difficulty engaging in a meaningful process of change.
Ownership of the feedback data is facilitated by the following five features of successful
Motivation to work with the data. People need to feel that working with the
feedback data will have beneficial outcomes. This may require explicit sanction and
support from powerful groups so that people feel free to raise issues and to identify
concerns during the feedback sessions. If people have little motivation to work
with the data or feel that there is little chance to use the data for change, then the
information will not be owned by the client system.
Structure for the meeting. Feedback meetings need some structure or they may
degenerate into chaos or aimless discussion. An agenda or outline for the meeting
and the presence of a discussion leader can usually provide the necessary direction.
If the meeting is not kept on track, especially when the data are negative,
ownership can be lost in conversations that become too general. When this happens,
the energy gained from dealing directly with the problem is lost.
Appropriate attendance. Generally, people who have common problems and
can benefit from working together should be included in the feedback meeting. This
may involve a fully intact work team or groups comprising members from different
functional areas or hierarchical levels. Without proper representation in the meeting,
ownership of the data is lost because participants cannot address the problem(s)
suggested by the feedback.
Appropriate power. It is important to clarify the power possessed by the group.
Members need to know on which issues they can make necessary changes, on
which they can only recommend changes, and over which they have no control.
Unless there are clear boundaries, members are likely to have some hesitation
about using the feedback data for generating action plans. Moreover, if the grouphas no power to make changes, the feedback meeting will become an empty
exercise rather than a real problem-solving session. Without the power to address
change, there will be little ownership of the data.
Process help. People in feedback meetings require assistance in working together
as a group. When the data are negative, there is a natural tendency to resist the
implications, deflect the conversation onto safer subjects, and the like. An OD practitioner
with group process skills can help members stay focused on the subject and
improve feedback discussion, problem solving, and ownership.
When combined with effective feedback data, these features of successful feedback
meetings enhance member ownership of the data. They help to ensure that organization
members fully discuss the implications of the diagnostic information and that
their conclusions are directed toward relevant and feasible organizational changes.
Application 8.1 presents excerpts from some training materials that were delivered
to a group of internal facilitators at a Fortune 100 telecommunications company.4 It
describes how the facilitators were trained to deliver the results of a survey concerning
problem solving, team functioning, and perceived effectiveness.
Survey feedback is a process of collecting and feeding back data from an organization
or department through the use of a questionnaire or survey. The data are
analyzed, fed back to organization members, and used by them to diagnose the
organization and to develop interventions to improve it. Because questionnaires
often are used in organization diagnosis, particularly in OD efforts involving large
numbers of participants, and because it is a powerful intervention in its own right,
survey feedback is discussed here as a special case of data feedback.
As discussed in Chapter 1, survey feedback is a major technique in the history and
development of OD. Originally, this intervention included only data from questionnaires
about members’ attitudes. However, attitudinal data can be supplemented
with interview data and more objective measures, such as productivity, turnover, and
absenteeism.5 Another trend has been to combine survey feedback with other OD
interventions, including work design, structural change, large-group interventions,
and intergroup relations. These change methods are the outcome of the planning
and implementation phase following from survey feedback and are described fully in
What Are the Steps?
Survey feedback generally involves the following five steps:6
Members of the organization, including those at the top, are involved in
preliminary planning of the survey. In this step, all parties must be clear about
the level of analysis (organization, department, or small group) and the objectives
of the survey. Because most surveys derive from a model about organizational or
group functioning, organization members must, in effect, approve that diagnostic
framework. This is an important initial step in gaining ownership of the data and
in ensuring that the right problems and issues are addressed by the survey.
Once the objectives are determined, the organization can use one of the standardized
questionnaires described in Chapter 7, or it can develop its own survey
instrument. If the survey is developed internally, pretesting the questionnaire is
essential to ensure that it has been constructed properly. In either case, the survey
items need to reflect the objectives established for the survey and the diagnostic
issues being addressed.
Limitations of Survey Feedback
Although the use of survey feedback is widespread in contemporary organizations, the
following limits and risks have been identified:10
Ambiguity of purpose. Managers and staff groups responsible for the
survey-feedback process may have difficulty reaching sufficient consensus about
the purposes of the survey, its content, and how it will be fed back to participants.
Such confusion can lead to considerable disagreement over the data collected and
paralysis about doing anything with them.
Distrust. High levels of distrust in the organization can render the survey feedback
ineffective. Employees need to trust that their responses will remain anonymous and
that management is serious about sharing the data and solving problems jointly.
Unacceptable topics. Most organizations have certain topics that they do not
want examined. This can severely constrain the scope of the survey process, particularly
if the neglected topics are important to employees.
Organizational disturbance. The survey-feedback process can unduly disturb
organizational functioning. Data collection and feedback typically infringe on
employee work time. Moreover, administration of a survey can call attention to
issues with which management is unwilling to deal, and can create unrealistic
expectations about organizational improvement.
Results of Survey Feedback
Survey feedback has been used widely in business organizations, schools, hospitals,
federal and state governments, and the military. The navy has used survey feedback
in more than 500 navy commands. More than 150,000 individual surveys were completed,
and a large bank of computerized research data was generated. Promising
results were noted among survey indices on nonjudicial punishment rates, incidence
of drug abuse reports, and performance of ships undergoing refresher training (a postoverhaul
training and evaluation period).11 Positive results have been reported in such
diverse areas as an industrial organization in Sweden and the Israeli Army.12
One of the most important studies of survey feedback was done by Bowers, who
conducted a five-year longitudinal study (the Intercompany Longitudinal Study) of
23 organizations in 15 companies involving more than 14,000 people in both whitecollar
and blue-collar positions.13 In each of the 23 organizations studied, repeat
measurements were taken. The study compared survey feedback with three other
OD interventions: interpersonal process consultation, task process consultation, and
laboratory training. The study reported that survey feedback was the most effective of
the four treatments and the only one “associated with large across-the-board positive
changes in organization climate.”14 Although these findings have been questioned on
a number of methodological grounds,15 the original conclusion that survey feedback
is effective in achieving organizational change was supported. The study suggested
that any conclusions to be drawn from action research and survey-feedback studies
should be based, at least in part, on objective operating data.
Comprehensive reviews of the literature reveal differing perspectives on the
effects of survey feedback. In one review, survey feedback’s biggest impact was on
attitudes and perceptions of the work situation. The study suggested that survey
feedback might best be viewed as a bridge between the diagnosis of organizational
problems and the implementation of problem-solving methods because little evidence
suggests that survey feedback alone will result in changes in individual
behavior or organizational output.16 This view is supported by research suggesting
that the more the data were used to solve problems between initial surveys and later
surveys, the more the data improved.17 Another study suggested that survey feedback
has positive effects on both outcome variables (for example, productivity, costs,
and absenteeism) and process variables (for example, employee openness, decision
making, and motivation) in 53% and 48%, respectively, of the studies measuring
those variables. When compared with other OD approaches, survey feedback was
only bettered by interventions using several approaches together—for example,
change programs involving a combination of survey feedback, process consultation,
and team building.18 On the other hand, another review found that, in contrast to
laboratory training and team building, survey feedback was least effective, with only
33% of the studies that measured hard outcomes reporting success. The success rate
increased to 45%, however, when survey feedback was combined with team building.
19 Finally, a meta-analysis of OD process interventions and individual attitudes
suggested that survey feedback was not significantly associated with overall satisfaction
or attitudes about co-workers, the job, or the organization. Survey feedback
was able to account for only about 11% of the variance in satisfaction and other
Studies of specific survey-feedback interventions identify conditions that improve
the success of this technique. One study in an urban school district reported difficulties
with survey feedback and suggested that its effectiveness depends partly on the
quality of those leading the change effort, members’ understanding of the process,
the extent to which the survey focuses on issues important to participants, and the
degree to which the values expressed by the survey are congruent with those of the
CHAPTER 8 Feeding Back Diagnostic Information 149
respondents.21 Another study in the military concluded that survey feedback works
best when supervisors play an active role in feeding back data to employees and
helping them to work with the data.22 Similarly, a field study of funeral cooperative
societies concluded that the use and dissemination of survey results increased
when organization members were closely involved in developing and carrying out
the project and when the consultant provided technical assistance in the form of
data analysis and interpretation.23 Finally, a long-term study of survey feedback in
an underground mining operation suggested that continued, periodic use of survey
feedback can produce significant changes in organizations.24