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A Test of the Influence of Goal Orientation on the Feedback-seeking Process

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Abstract

A longitudinal field study (N = 44) and a scenario study (N = 239) were conducted to investigate the influence of the individual difference of goal orientation (an orientation toward developing or demonstrating one's ability) on feedback-seeking behavior by the inquiry method. The results of the 2 studies were consistent with the hypotheses of a positive relationship between a learning-goal orientation and feedback seeking and of a negative relationship between a performance-goal orientation and feedback seeking. Also as hypothesized, the perceived cost and perceived value of feedback seeking mediated these relationships. The theoretical and practical implications of the research are discussed.
Journal of Applied Psychology Copyright 1997 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
1997, Vol. 82, No. 3, 390-400 0021-9010/97/$3.00
A Test of the Influence of Goal Orientation
on the Feedback-Seeking Process
Don VandeWalle
Southern Methodist University
Larry L. Cummings
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus
A longitudinal field study (N = 44) and a scenario study (N = 239) were conducted to
investigate the influence of the individual difference of goal orientation (an orientation
toward developing or demonstrating one's ability) on feedback-seeking behavior by the
inquiry method. The results of the 2 studies were consistent with the hypotheses of a
positive relationship between a learning-goal orientation and feedback seeking and of a
negative relationship between a performance-goal orientation and feedback seeking. Also
as hypothesized, the perceived cost and perceived value of feedback seeking mediated
these relationships. The theoretical and practical implications of the research are
discussed.
Because feedback is valuable information, individuals
often proactively seek feedback from others (e.g., peers,
subordinates, or supervisors) rather than passively wait
for it (Ashford, 1986; Ashford & Cummings, 1983; Mor-
rison, 1993). Feedback can be sought by
inquiry
(directly
asking others for feedback) and
monitoring
(observing
the environment and others for feedback) methods. By
seeking feedback, individuals can obtain information to
improve their task performance (Butler, 1993), reduce
their uncertainty (Ashford, 1986), and "learn the ropes"
of a new job (Morrison, 1993).
Don VandeWalle, Organizational Behavior and Business Pol-
icy Department, Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist
University; Larry L. Cummings, Strategic Management and Or-
ganization Department, Carlson School of Management, Univer-
sity of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus.
This article is based in part on Don VandeWalle's doctoral
dissertation, under the supervision of Larry L. Cummings, at
the University of Minnesota.
A preliminary version of this article was presented at the
meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psy-
chology, San Diego, California, April 1996. Financial support
for this research was provided by the University of Minnesota
Graduate School, the Carlson School of Management, and the
Richard D. Irwin Foundation.
Thanks are extended to Ruth Kanfer, Mary Nicbolls, Judi
McLean Parks, and Andrew Van de Ven for their service on the
dissertation committee. We thank John Slocum, Robin Pinkley,
and Jennifer Roney for their comments on a draft of this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed
to Don VandeWalle, Cox School of Business, Southern Meth-
odist University, P.O. Box 750333, Dallas, Texas 75275-0333.
Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to dvande@
mail.cox.smu.edu.
Despite the evidence for the value of feedback seeking,
some individuals have a tendency to forgo opportunities
to seek feedback. The purpose of this article is to examine
the influence of the individual difference of goal orienta-
tion on feedback seeking by the inquiry method. Building
on recent research demonstrating that goal orientation in-
fluences self-regulation activities (e.g., Sujan, Weitz, &
Kumar, 1994), we propose that goal orientation influences
the perceptions that individuals hold about the cost and
value of feedback seeking and that these perceptions in-
fluence the decision to seek feedback (see Figure 1 ). We
next review evidence for cost and value perceptions as
determinants of feedback seeking, explain goal orienta-
tion, and develop arguments for the influence of goal ori-
entation on the feedback-seeking process.
The Perceived Cost and Value of Feedback Seeking
Ashford and Cummings (1983) proposed the perceived
cost of feedback seeking as a primary determinant of the
decision to seek feedback. In subsequent studies, Ashford
(1986) and Fedor, Rensvold, and Adams (1992) found
negative relationships between the perceived cost of feed-
back seeking and feedback seeking. In their discussion,
Fedor et al. (1992) noted that the perceived cost was the
most consistent predictor of feedback seeking in their
study. There is also indirect evidence for the influence of
cost perceptions on feedback-seeking behavior. Labora-
tory studies by Ashford and Northcraft (1992) and Levy,
Albright, Cawley, and Williams (1995) found that partici-
pants sought less feedback in public than in private condi-
tions. Northcraft and Ashford (1990) found that partici-
pants with low performance expectations sought less feed-
back than participants with high expectations. In these
three studies, public conditions and low performance ex-
390
FEEDBACK-SEEKING BEHAVIOR 391
I
I :1
Orientation ~
P~s
Performance Goal Value Perceptions
Orientation[
I
I (+~(-)~ Feedback Seeking
Figure 1.
Goal orientation and the feedback-seeking process. Pluses indicate positive relation-
ships; minuses indicate negative relationships.
pectations appeared to decrease the frequency of feedback
seeking because the cost perceptions were higher in such
conditions.
There is also direct and indirect evidence that the per-
ceived value of feedback seeking influences the decision
to seek feedback. Ashford (1986) found a positive rela-
tionship between the perceived value of feedback seeking
and feedback-seeking behavior. Fedor et al. (1992) found
a positive relationship between source credibility and
feedback-seeking behavior; this positive relationship
probably occurred because feedback seeking from a more
credible source increased the value of the feedback for
purposes such as performance improvement.
In summary, the cost and value of feedback seeking
are two substantial determinants of the decision to seek
feedback. Many studies have identified situational vari-
ables that influence the perceived cost and the perceived
value of feedback seeking (e.g., Ang, Cummings,
Straub, & Earley, 1993; Ashford, 1986), but the research
on individual-differences antecedents of these perceptions
is limited to Rensvold (1993), who found that self-esteem
had a modest correlation with the perceived cost of feed-
back seeking (r = -.19, p < .05). We propose that goal
orientation is a promising individual-differences construct
for explaining the cost and value perceptions held by
individuals.
Goal Orientation
Psychologists (e.g., Butler, 1993; Dweck & Leggett,
1988; Nicholls, 1984) have identified two broad classes
of underlying goals that individuals pursue in achievement
settings: (a) a
learning-goal orientation
to develop com-
petence by acquiring new skills and mastering new situa-
tions and (b) a
performance-goal orientation
to demon-
strate and validate the adequacy of one's competence by
seeking favorable judgments and avoiding negative judg-
ments about one's competence. In keeping with recent
construct validation research (e.g., Button, Mathieu, &
Zajac, 1996; VandeWalle 1996, in press), we conceptual-
ize learning- and performance-goal orientations as two
separate constructs instead of as opposite ends of a single
continuum.
There is considerable evidence of goal orientation ex-
isting as a trait (e.g. Button et al., 1996; VandeWalle,
1996, in press), but goal orientation can also be influ-
enced by situational cues about effort, competition, evalu-
ation standards, and rewards (C. Ames, 1992; Nicholls,
1984). When the situation offers no cues as to what goals
are favored, the trait goal preferences should govern be-
havior. If, however, the situation offers strong cues, trait
goal preferences can be overridden by the situational cues.
This article focuses on the trait influence of goal
orientation.
Learning- and performance-goal orientations are im-
portant because of their association with three characteris-
tic patterns of how individuals interpret and respond to
achievement situations. First, Dweck and Leggett (1988)
reported evidence of individuals holding implicit theories
about the controllability of personal attributes such as
intellectual ability. These implicit theories are associated
with different goal orientations. Individuals with a
perfor-
mance-goal
orientation tend to hold an
entity
theory about
their ability; they view ability as a fixed, uncontrollable
personal attribute. In contrast, individuals with a learning-
goal orientation tend to hold an
incremental
theory about
their ability; they view ability as a malleable attribute that
can be developed through effort and experience.
Second, goal orientation influences how individuals
view effort expenditures (C. Ames, 1992). With a learn-
ing-goal orientation, there is a belief that effort leads to
success. Effort is viewed as a means for activating current
ability for task achievement and as a means for developing
the ability needed for future task mastery. With a perfor-
mance-goal orientation, however, ability is perceived as a
fixed attribute. Therefore, exerting effort is unlikely to be
viewed as a means for developing the ability needed for
task mastery. Also, performance-oriented individuals view
high effort as an indicator of low ability because they
reason that a high-ability person would not need to try
so hard to accomplish a task.
Third, goal orientation influences how individuals
re-
spond
to task difficulty or task failure (Dweck & Leggett,
1988; Elliott & Dweck, 1988). With a learning-goal ori-
entation, individuals pursue an
adaptive
response pattern,
392 VANDEWALLE AND CUMMINGS
in that they persist, escalate effort, engage in solution-
oriented self-instruction, and report enjoying the chal-
lenge. This pattern is predictable because they view effort
on a challenging task as instrumental to achieving their
desired goal of personal development. With a perfor-
mance-goal orientation, however, individuals pursue a
maladaptive
response pattern, in that they withdraw from
the task, make negative ability attributions, and report
decreased interest in the task. This pattern is also predict-
able because their perceived effort-task mastery expec-
tancy is low and continued effort in the face of failure
could risk revealing low ability.
Goal Orientation and the
Feedback-Seeking Process
When seeking feedback, individuals face the prospect
of receiving negative feedback. Negative feedback is valu-
able for identifying ineffective behaviors and substandard
performance levels (Taylor, Fisher, & Ilgen, 1984), but it
can also be unpleasant to receive. The goal preferences
and characteristic patterns associated with learning- and
performance-goal orientations can help to explain why
individuals differentially weigh their cost and value per-
ceptions when deciding to seek feedback.
The Perceived Cost of Feedback Seeking
Ego cost
is the cost suffered from hearing negative
feedback about the self (Ashford, 1989). With different
implicit theories of ability, the ego cost should be greater
for performance- than learning-goal-oriented individuals.
Farr, Hofmann, and Ringenbach (1993) and Bobko and
Colella (1994) suggested that because performance-goal-
oriented individuals perceive their ability as a fixed attri-
bute, they might primarily view performance feedback
as an evaluation or judgment of their fixed ability level.
Feedback-seeking attempts that could result in the receipt
of negative feedback should be costly to their ego, because
such feedback conflicts with their goal of ability valida-
tion. In contrast, individuals with a learning-goal orienta-
tion view ability as a malleable attribute. Negative feed-
back is thus less likely to be perceived as a judgment
about their ability and more likely to be perceived as
diagnostic information about how to develop ability.
When feedback is viewed from this perspective, the ego
cost is likely to be lower.
Performance-goal-oriented people may also have a
higher ego cost for feedback seeking because they expect
their feedback to be more negative than is warranted.
Diener and Dweck (1980) found that participants with a
maladaptive response pattern to failure (a characteristic
of a performance-goal orientation) overestimated their in-
stances of failure after they encountered setbacks in a
series of problem-solving tasks. In contrast, participants
with an adaptive response pattern to failure (a characteris-
tic of a learning-goal orientation)more accurately esti-
mated their failure levels.
Self-presentation cost
is the cost of exposing one's un-
certainty and need for help (Ashford, 1989). There are
potential self-presentation costs for the
act
of feedback
seeking and in the
content
of the feedback sought (Mor-
rison & Bies, 1991 ). Both forms of self-presentation costs
should be higher for performance-goal-oriented than
learning-goal-oriented individuals. First, Ashford and
Cummings (1983) noted that the act of feedback seeking
requires effort, often considerable. Because performance-
oriented individuals view effort as an indicator of low
ability, the need to exert effort to seek feedback, especially
diagnostic feedback on how to improve performance,
could be viewed as an indicator of low ability. They reason
that high-ability people would not need to seek such help.
Second, performance-goal-oriented individuals should
have a higher self-presentation cost for the content of the
feedback when performing poorly. Seeking feedback in
such situations could draw attention to their poor perfor-
mance and would conflict with their goal of competence
demonstration.
The Perceived Value of Feedback Seeking
Expectancy value
is the belief that the feedback sought
will be useful for improving performance and developing
ability (VandeWalle, 1993). Learning-goal-oriented indi-
viduals hold an incremental theory about their ability and
believe in a positive effort-mastery relationship. There-
fore, feedback seeking has a higher expectancy value for
them because the feedback received can indicate how to
change their behavior to improve performance. Because
performance-goal-oriented individuals are more skeptical
about being able to develop their ability, feedback on how
to improve performance has a lower expectancy value.
Support for this logic can be inferred from a study by R.
Ames and Lau (1982) in which low-performing psychol-
ogy students were offered an opportunity for review ses-
sions. Students who believed that performance was a func-
tion of effort (compared with those who did not) indicated
a greater expected value for attending the sessions and
had a higher attendance rate at the sessions. Because a
key attribute of a learning-goal orientation is a belief that
effort leads to mastery, these individuals may likewise
perceive feedback to have a higher expectancy value than
those with a performance-goal orientation.
Goal Orientation and Feedback-Seeking Behavior
So far, we have developed the rationale for the relation-
ships of goal orientation with the perceived cost and value
FEEDBACK-SEEKING BEHAVIOR
393
of feedback seeking and have presented evidence for the
relationships of these perceptions with feedback seeking.
The logic of testing a mediated model, however, also re-
quires that the independent variable (i.e., goal orientation)
and the dependent variable (i.e., feedback seeking) be
related (Baron & Kenny, 1986). Several lines of evidence
support our expectations of finding a positive relationship
between a learning-goal orientation and feedback seeking
and a negative relationship between a performance-goal
orientatiori and feedback seeking.
First, learning- and performance-goal orientations are
associated with different response patterns to task diffi-
culty and task failure (Dweck, 1986). Individuals with a
learning-goal orientation have an adaptive response pat-
tern of persistence and effort escalation. For them, feed-
back seeking is a means of continued effort. In contrast,
individuals with a performance-goal orientation have a
maiadaptive response pattern of task withdrawal. Decid-
ing to not seek feedback is consistent with task
withdrawal.
Second, the results of laboratory research by Butler
(1993) are consistent with our logic. Butler assessed the
problem-solving skills of the participants and then used
instructional treatments to induce learning- and perfor-
mance-goal orientations. The participants then attempted
to solve a series of problems and had access to computer-
generated feedback. For low-skill participants, those in
the performance-goal-orientation condition sought dra-
matically less feedback than those in the learning-goal-
orientation condition.
Third, several studies on the self-regulation styles asso-
ciated with performance- and learning-goal orientations
can be interpreted as supportive of the proposed relation-
ships. Miller, Behrens, Greene, and Newman (1993)
found that individuals with a learning-goal orientation
were more likely than individuals with a performance-goal
orientation to use three self-regulation strategies (goal
setting, self-checks of comprehension, and strategy devel-
opment) in an undergraduate statistics course. In a field
study with salespeople, Sujan et al. (1994) examined the
influence of goal orientation on "working smart": self-
regulation efforts to develop the knowledge needed to
succeed in sales situations. Working smart had a strong,
positive relationship with a learning-goal orientation but
had a statistically insignificant relationship with a perfor-
mance-goal orientation. Neither of these studies included
feedback seeking as a form of self-regulation, but it can
be postulated that feedback seeking as a form of self-
regulation should have similar relationships with learning-
and performance-goal orientations.
The influence of goal orientation in the feedback-seek-
ing process can be summarized with the following
hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: There will be a negative relationship between
a learning-goal orientation and the perceived cost of feed-
back-seeking behavior.
Hypothesis 2: There will be a positive relationship between
a performance-goal orientation and the perceived cost of
feedback-seeking behavior.
Hypothesis 3: There will be a positive relationship between
a learning-goal orientation and the perceived value of feed-
back-seeking behavior.
Hypothesis 4: There will be a negative relationship between
a performance-goal orientation and the perceived value of
feedback-seeking behavior.
Hypothesis 5: There will be a positive relationship between
a learning-goal orientation and feedback-seeking behavior.
Hypothesis 6: There will be a negative relationship between
a performance-goal orientation and feedback-seeking
behavior.
Hypothesis 7: The perceived cost of feedback seeking and
the perceived value of feedback seeking will mediate the
relationship of goal orientation and feedback-seeking
behavior.
In presenting our hypotheses, we note that previous
goal-orientation research (e.g., Button et al., 1996; Mac-
Gyvers, 1992) has primarily conceptualized goal orienta-
tion as a two-factor construct (learning and performance ),
and the items used to operationalize the performance fac-
tor have primarily focused on concerns with proving abil-
ity. Observe, however, that a performance-goal orientation
is defined as both the desire to gain favorable judgments
and the desire to avoid unfavorable judgments about one' s
ability (Dweck, 1986; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; see Ni-
choUs, 1984, for a similar definition.) More recently, how-
ever, Elliot and Harackiewicz (1996) and VandeWalle
(1996, in press) conceptualized goal orientation as a
three-factor construct because of the need to partition
the performance-goal orientation into separate prove and
avoid dimensions. VandeWaUe ( 1996, in press) found that
compared with the prove dimension, the avoid dimension
had a significantly stronger relationship with concerns
about negative evaluation. Given this stronger concern
with negative evaluation, we theorized that the avoid di-
mension would have a stronger positive relationship with
the perceived cost of feedback seeking and stronger nega-
tive relationships with the perceived value of feedback
seeking and with feedback seeking.
Study 1
Method
Overview. Study 1 was a longitudinal field study in an un-
dergraduate accounting course and was designed as an initial
examination of the relationship of goal orientation and feedback
seeking (Hypotheses 5 and 6). At Time 1, the beginning of the
academic semester, participants completed a survey that in-
cluded a goal-orientation instrument. At Time 2, the end of the
394 VANDEWALLE AND CUMMINGS
academic semester, participants completed a second survey to
measure feedback seeking for their accounting course during
the semester.
Participants.
Longitudinal data were collected from 44 eve-
ning students enrolled in three sections of an introductory ac-
counting course at an urban community college. Participation
in the research was voluntary, and the participants received ex-
tra-credit class points toward their course grade. The partici-
pants had an average age of 32.2 years; 62.7% of the participants
were women, and 37.3% were men.
Procedure.
At the beginning of the academic semester, the
researcher met with each class and offered the students the
opportunity to participate in a research project for extra-credit
points. After reading and signing the participation consent form,
the participants completed a survey, which included a goal-
orientation instrument. During the last week of the academic
semester, the researcher again met with the participants during
a regular class period and invited them to participate in a second
survey, to complete the earning of their extra-credit points. The
second survey included items to measure the participant's feed-
back-seeking behavior for the accounting course during the se-
mester. Data were gathered from 44 participants at Time 1 and
from 41 of the same participants at Time 2.
Measures.
Goal orientation was assessed with a 13-item
instrument developed and validated by VandeWalle (1996) to
measure goal orientation in an academic domain. The instrument
has three scales: (a) Four items measure a learning-goal orienta-
tion, which is the desire to develop the self by acquiring new
skills, mastering new situations, and improving one's compe-
tence; (b) four items measure the
prove
dimension of a perfor-
mance-goal orientation, which is the desire to prove one's com-
petence and to gain favorable judgments about it, and (c) five
items measure the
avoid
dimension of a performance-goal orien-
tation, which is the desire to avoid the disproving of one's
competence and to avoid negative judgments about it. A 6-point
Likert-type response scale, ranging from 1
(strongly agree)
to
6 (strongly disagree),
is used for each item.
Feedback-seeking frequency was measured with two items.
The first item asked about the number of times during the semes-
ter that the participant had called or visited the course instructor
to seek feedback on his or her performance in the accounting
class. The second item asked about the number of times during
the semester that the participant had called or visited a classmate
to seek feedback on his or her performance in the accounting
class. Each item had a response range of zero to three or more
contacts. The value for the variable was calculated by adding
the responses of the two items together to obtain the total fre-
quency of feedback-seeking behavior during the semester. The
variable was reverse coded to correspond with the 1 =
strongly
agree
coding of the goal-orientation scales.
The descriptive statistics and reliabilities (Cronbach's a) cal-
culated for the data-set variables are provided in Table 1. All
of the reliability estimates met or exceeded the .70 level.
Results
Preliminary analyses.
An analysis of the Study 1 data
revealed that the frequency distribution for the feedback-
seeking frequency variable had a moderately bimodal dis-
tribution. Because of the lack of data normality, we used
Spearman's rank correlation coefficient (rs) for the statis-
tical tests of the hypotheses. Independent-samples t tests
revealed no differences between the means for men and
women for each goal-orientation scale, so the data for men
and women were combined for the statistical analyses.
The correlation values are reported in Table 1. Hypothe-
sis 5 proposed a positive relationship between a learning-
goal orientation and feedback-seeking behavior. There
was a positive, although not significant, correlation be-
tween the learning scale and feedback-seeking frequency
(rs = .14, p = .381). Hypothesis 6 proposed a negative
relationship between a performance-goal orientation and
feedback-seeking behavior. The hypothesis was sup-
ported. Feedback-seeking frequency had negative correla-
tions with the avoid scale (rs = -.34, p = .031 ) and with
the prove scale (rs = -.49, p = .002).
Additional statistical analyses.
To further explore the
relationship of goal orientation and feedback seeking, we
subtracted the response average for the avoid and prove
scales from the learning scale average to calculate a differ-
ence score. The difference score was termed a
dominant
goal orientation.
It had a value range of 5 to -5. A
positive difference score value meant that the respondent's
average on the learning scale was greater than the average
of the two performance scales. A negative difference score
value meant that the respondent's average for the two
performance scales was greater than the average of the
Table 1
Study 1 Descriptive Statistics and Correlations
Variable
M SD 1 2 3 4 5
1. Avoid 4.14 0.96 (.76)
2. Learning 2.65 2.65 -.35 (.75)
3. Prove 4.52 0.83 .37 -.14 (.71)
4. Dominant goal orientation 1.68 1.14 -.76 .80 -.52 (.73)
5. Feedback seeking 1.80 1.68 -.34 .14 -.49 .39
Note.
Cronbach's a values are reported in parentheses on the diagonal, except for the dominant goal
orientation, which is the reliability of a difference score based on Cronbach and Fttrby (1970). Correlations
1.331 are significant at p < .05.
FEEDBACK-SEEKING BEHAVIOR 395
learning scale. As displayed in Table 1, there was a posi-
tive correlation between a dominant goal orientation and
feedback-seeking frequency (rs = .39, p = .014). A me-
dian split of the dominant goal orientation variable re-
vealed that individuals with a high dominant goal orienta-
tion had a significantly greater mean feedback-seeking
level of 2.47, compared with a mean of only 1.09 for low
dominant goal orientation individuals (Mann-Whitney U
= 106, p = .01).
Study 2
Method
Overview.
In Study 2, we used a scenario study to conduct
a second test of the relationship between goal orientation and
feedback seeking. We also further explored that relationship by
examining the mediating role of the perceived cost and value of
feedback seeking.
Participants.
Data were collected from 239 evening stu-
dents enrolled in 12 sections of business administration and
psychology courses at two suburban community colleges. The
participants had an average age of 26.69 years; 67.5% of the
participants were women, and 32.5% were men. Participation
in the research was voluntary, and the participants received ex-
tra-credit points toward their course grade. The sample was very
relevant for research on feedback seeking about work activities,
because 84% reported that they were employed. Because we
were studying feedback seeking in the work domain, the unem-
ployed participants (16%) were excluded from the data analy-
ses, resulting in a sample size of 200.
Procedure.
At the beginning of a regular class period, the
course instructor introduced the researcher to the students and
indicated that they would have an opportunity to participate in
a research project. The researcher then explained the class activi-
ties with this statement:
You will be participating in two research studies today. In
the first study, you will be asked about your opinions on
several groups of survey questions. In the second study,
you'll be asked to make decisions in several situations that
are typically encountered by college students and new em-
ployees. There are no right or w/ong answers for the ques-
tions in either study, and you are encouraged to be as honest
as possible in all of your responses.
After reading and signing a participation consent form, the
participants were requested to complete Research Study A,
which was a survey that contained a battery of personality in-
struments, including one for goal orientation. On completion of
the survey, the participants were thanked for their participation
and then asked to complete Research Study B. For this study,
the participants read a scenario with the following format:
Upon graduation from college, you were hired by the ABC
Company. During the first six months, your home depart-
ment loaned you part of the time to a department at a
different company location to work on a special project.
Fortunately, your progress on the special project is going
well and there are only a few aspects of the project where
you feel stuck. Your home department supervisor is for the
most part unaware (and probably will stay unaware) of
your progress on the project since the project is at another
company location. He does, however, have a fair amount
of expertise related to the project because of his experience
on similar projects.
After reading the scenario, the participants were asked about
their perceived cost and value of feedback seeking for the situa-
tion and asked if they would seek feedback in the situation. The
instructions to the participants framed the class activities as two
separate research studies, so as to minimize the influence that
completion of the survey instruments would have on the re-
sponses in the scenario study. The wording of the scenario was
based on the results of a pilot study. We sought to portray a
situation in which feedback seeking would have value because
there was room for improvement but there would also be possi-
ble costs for feedback seeking when the seeking revealed defi-
ciencies to the superior.
Measures.
Goal orientation was assessed with an instrument
developed and validated by VandeWalle (in press) to measure
goal orientation in the work domain. The instrument dimension-
ality and format were parallel to those of the academic-domain
instrument used in Study 1.
The perceived cost of feedback seeking was assessed with a
three-item instrument that was adapted from F-~lor, Mathieson,
and Adams (1993) and Ashford (1986). The items used 6-point
Likert-type response scales, ranging from 1 (strongly
agree)
to
6 (strongly disagree).
We assessed the perceived value of feedback by means of a
three-item instrument adapted from Ashford (1986). The items
used 6-point Likert-type response scales, ranging from 1
(strongly agree)
to 6
(strongly disagree).
Feedback seeking was a three-item instrument, adapted from
Fedor et al. (1993) and Ashford (1986), which assessed the
willingness to seek inquiry feedback. The items used 6-point
Likert-type response scales, ranging from 1
(very likely)
to 6
(very unlikely).
For each instrument, the response values were added together
and then divided by the number of scale items to calculate the
variable value. The descriptive statistics and reliabilities (Cron-
bach's a) estimated from the data set for each instrument are
provided in Table 2. All of the reliability estimates met or ex-
ceeded the .80 level.
Resul~
Independent-samples t tests revealed no differences be-
tween the means of the men and women for each goal-
orientation scale, so the data for men and women were
combined for the statistical analyses.
Hypotheses 1-6 were tested with Pearson product-
moment correlations; the results are reported in Table 2.
Hypothesis 1 was supported, because there was a negative
correlation between the learning scale and the perceived
cost of feedback seeking (r = -.38, p < .001 ). Hypothe-
sis 2 was supported. The perceived cost of feedback seek-
ing had positive correlations with the avoid scale (r =
396
VANDEWALLE AND CUMMINGS
Table 2
Study 2 Descriptive Statistics and Correlations
Variable
M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6
1. Feedback seeking 1.89 0.74 (.97)
2. Cost 4.54 0.91 -.44 (.81)
3. Value 1.72 0.74 .54 -.39 (.95)
4. Learning 2.16 0.73 .39 -.38 .36 (.89)
5. Prove 3.44 1.06 .06 .18 .03 .02
6. Avoid 4.08 0.98 -.34 .47 -.26 -.41
(.84)
.41 (.88)
Note.
Cronbach's a values are reported in parentheses on the diagonal. Correlations =- [. 181 are significant
at p < .01.
.47, p < .001) and with the prove scale (r = .18, p =
.009). Hypothesis 3 was supported, because there was a
positive correlation between the learning scale and the
perceived value of feedback (r = .36, p < .001 ). Hypothe-
sis 4 was partially supported. The perceived value of feed-
back had the hypothesized negative correlation with the
avoid scale (r = .-26, p < .001 ) but had an insignificant
correlation with the prove scale (r = .03, p = .660).
Hypothesis 5 was supported, because there was a positive
correlation between the learning scale and feedback seek-
ing (r = .39, p < .001 ). Hypothesis 6 was partially sup-
ported. Feedback seeking had the hypothesized negative
correlation with the avoid scale (r = -.34, p < .001)
but had an insignificant correlation with the prove scale
(r = .06, p = .401).
Hypothesis 7 was tested with the three-step mediated
regression method recommended by Baron and Kenny
(1986). Using this method, the mediators of the perceived
cost and value of feedback seeking were regressed on
goal orientation; next, feedback seeking was regressed
on goal orientation; and finally, feedback seeking was
simultaneously regressed on goal orientation and the
mediators.
The results displayed in Table 3 support mediated rela-
tionships for two of the goal-orientation scales. With the
learning scale as the independent variable, the first-stage
regressions produced significant betas for the perceived
cost of feedback seeking (B = -.38, p < .001 ) and for
the perceived value of feedback seeking (fl = .36, p <
.001). In the second stage, the learning scale had a sig-
nificant beta when feedback seeking was regressed on it
(~ = .39, p < .001). In the third stage, the beta of
the learning scale remained significant, but the weight
dropped substantially (/~ = .16, p < .01). The results
suggest partial mediation because the independent vari-
able's relationship to the dependent variable of feedback
Table 3
Summary of Three-Step Mediated Regression Analysis for Variables
Predicting Feedback Seeking
Dependent Independent Adjusted
Step variable variable /~ t R 2 F dfs
1 Cost
Value
2 Feedback seeking
3 Feedback seeking
Mediated regression analysis: Learning scale
Learning -.38 -5.81"* .14 33.70** 1, 198
Learning .36 5.48** .13 29.98** 1, 198
Learning .39 5.98** .15 35.53** I, 198
Learning .16 2.55*
Cost -.23 -3.56**
Value .39 6.18"* .37 39.19"* 3, 196
Mediated regression analysis: Avoid scale
1 Cost Avoid .47 7.54** .22 56.83** 1, 198
Value Avoid -.26 -3.75** .06 14.04"* 1, 198
2 Feedback seeking Avoid -.34 -5.08** .11 25.80** 1, 198
3 Feedback seeking Avoid -. 13 -2.05"
Cost -.21 -3.11"*
Value .40 6.48** .34 34.72** 3, 196
Note.
The adjusted R 2 and F value results are reported for each equation in Steps 1 and 2 and for the
overall equation in Step 3.
*p <.05. **p <.001.
FEEDBACK-SEEKING BEHAVIOR 397
seeking decreased in magnitude but remained significant
after the mediators were added to the regression equation.
With the avoid scale as the independent variable, the
first-stage regressions produced significant betas for the
perceived cost of feedback seeking (/3 = .47, p < .001 )
and for the perceived value of feedback seeking (/~ =
-.26, p < .001 ). In the second stage, the avoid scale had
a significant beta when feedback seeking was regressed
on it (/3 = .-.34, p < .001 ). In the third stage, the beta
of the avoid scale remained barely significant, and the
magnitude dropped substantially (/3 = -. 13 p < .05 ). The
results suggest partial mediation because the independent
variable's relationship to the dependent variable of feed-
back seeking decreased in magnitude but was still sig-
nificant after the mediators were added to the regression
equation. With the prove scale, mediated regression was
not supported, because the betas for first- and second-
stage regressions were not significant.
Discussion
Overall, the results of Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate
strong support for the proposed influence of goal orienta-
tion on the feedback-seeking process. For Study 1, both
the prove and avoid dimensions of a performance-goal
orientation had statistically significant, negative relation-
ships with feedback seeking. Although the relationship of
a learning-goal orientation and feedback seeking was not
significant, the correlation was positive, as hypothesized.
Also, the exploratory analyses of the data with the goal-
orientation difference score revealed that the likelihood
of feedback seeking increased as the learning-goal orien-
tation became greater than the performance-goal orienta-
tion. This finding is consistent with Dweck and Leggett
(1988), who proposed that performance goals become
dysfunctional when they dominate learning goals.
To summarize Study 2, a learning-goal orientation had a
positive relationship with feedback seeking, and the avoid
dimension of the performance-goal orientation had a neg-
ative relationship with feedback seeking. Both of these
relationships were mediated by the perceived cost and
value of feedback seeking. Contrary to the fully mediated
model presented in Figure 1, however, the mediated re-
gression results in Table 3 support a partially mediated
model. The operationalization of the mediators may ex-
plain these findings. The instrument used to operationalize
the perceived value of feedback seeking assessed the in-
formation value of the feedback received from feedback
seeking. Morrison and Bies (1991), however, noted that
the act of feedback seeking can also have value for im-
pression-management purposes, because such seeking dis-
plays a concern with performance improvement. The in-
strnment used to operationalize the perceived cost of feed-
back seeking assessed the self-presentation cost of
exposing one's need for help and uncertainty. Ashford
(1989), howevel; also proposed an ego cost for feedback
seeking--the cost of hearing negative news about the self.
The relationship of goal orientation and feedback seeking
may be more completely mediated when the impression-
management value and ego cost are also operationalized
as mediators in future research.
There were also other interesting departures from the
predicted relationships. In Study 2, the prove scale did
not have the same strong relationships that the avoid scale
had with the cost, value, and feedback-seeking variables.
Elliot and Harackiewicz (1996) also found different re-
sponse patterns for task involvement and intrinsic motiva-
tion for their two similar conceptualizations of a perfor-
mance-goal orientation. These differences in the correla-
tion strengths for the avoid and prove scales demonstrate
the value of assessing both dimensions.
The pattern of results for the tests of Hypotheses 5 and
6 in Study 1 are similar to those found in Study 2, but
there are also interesting differences in the magnitudes of
the relationships. Compared with Study 2, the correlations
of the avoid and prove scales with feedback seeking were
much stronger in Study 1. In contrast, the correlation of
the learning scale with feedback seeking was much weaker
and insignificant in Study 1. There are several possibilities
that might explain these differences. The performance-
goal orientation-feedback-seeking relationships may have
been stronger in Study 1 because the participants could
more acutely feel the price for seeking feedback when
faced with the prospect of actually going to someone
to do so. The learning-goal orientation-feedback-seeking
relationship may have been weaker in Study 1 because
the participants with a high learning-goal orientation had
developed a strong enough skill level through self-regula-
tion activities in prior classes that they had less of a need
to seek feedback during the accounting course in the study.
The learning-goal orientation-feedback-seeking relation-
ship may have been stronger if all of the participants faced
a situation in which they had a similar initial ability level
for the class. Another possible explanation is that the dy-
namics of seeking feedback in a work setting (Study 2)
differ from the dynamics of seeking feedback in an aca-
demic setting (Study 1 ). Future research should investi-
gate these potential dynamics differences.
Future research should also consider the influence of
goal orientation on other dimensions of a person's pattern
of feedback-seeking behavior (e.g., the type, target,
method, and timing). For example, goal orientation may
influence the choice of the inquiry or monitoring method
for feedback seeking. Ashford and Cummings (1983)
suggested that the publicness of the inquiry method made
it more costly because of potential face loss and negative
inferences about ability. The monitoring method, however,
does not involve these costs because the seeker does so
398 VANDEWALLE AND CUMMINGS
covertly. Because performance-goal-oriented individuals
are more sensitive to the costs of feedback seeking, they
should prefer the monitoring method of seeking, espe-
cially when performing poorly. The monitoring method,
however, is prone to errors of inference by the seeker, and
individuals desiring highly accurate feedback should be
motivated to use the inquiry method (Ashford & Cum-
mings, 1983). Because learning-goal-oriented individuals
desire to develop their ability, and accurate feedback has
a higher expectancy value for such development, they
should be more motivated than performance-goal-oriented
individuals to use the inquiry method.
Managerial Implications
It is easy to assume that individuals often do not seek
feedback about how to improve their performance because
they do not care about their performance. Our research,
however, indicates that it may not be a lack of concern
about performance, but rather unproductive preoccupa-
tions with competency validation and impression manage-
ment that deter some individuals from seeking feedback.
Given that feedback seeking can be a valuable form of
self-regulation in academic and work settings, the follow-
ing recommendations are made.
First, changing the attributions that individuals make
about ability and performance can enhance a learning-
goal orientation. Individuals with a performance-goal ori-
entation perceive ability as a fixed attribute (Dweck &
Leggett, 1988) and perceive ability, rather than effort, as
the cause of performance success (Duda & Nicholls,
1992). The learning-goal orientation of these individuals
may be enhanced by retraining them to understand that
many forms of ability can be developed and that effort is
an important determinant of performance success. In a
similar vein, Sujan et al. (1994) recommended enhance-
ment of a learning-goal orientation by encouraging sales-
people to change their attribution for a lost sale from task
difficulty to a poor but correctable sales strategy. Such
training may be especially useful for organizations in the
life insurance, auto, and real estate industries, where dis-
couragement from initial low sales success results in high
attrition rates for new salespeople.
Second, C. Ames (1992) noted that the use of self-
regulation strategies is in part determined by whether a
person is aware of and knowledgeable about such strate-
gies and understands how and when to apply them. As
with other forms of self-regulation, individuals may not
be fully aware of the benefits of feedback seeking or
understand the best techniques to use when seeking feed-
back. Individuals may thus benefit from training in feed-
back-seeking tactics and from education to understand
that feedback seeking is an important strategy to develop
effort rather than an indicator of low ability.
Third, Ashford and Northcraft (1992) found that an
audience effect reduced feedback-seeking frequency. This
audience effect on feedback seeking may be especially
pronounced for performance-goal-oriented individuals.
Organizations may want to reduce the audience effect by
making available to its members alternative sources for
feedback seeking that reduce face-to-face interaction, for
example, computer sources, electronic mail, or special
telephone help lines. The value of feedback from a com-
puter source could be further enhanced if it was paired
with computer-based tutorials that could help individuals
develop the skills required to improve performance.
Limitations of the Research
As with all research, this research has limitations. First,
the data in Studies 1 and 2 for the goal-orientation and
feedback-seeking-behavior variables were self-report and
consequently may have been prone to various response
biases. We took several steps, however, to minimize the
potential for response biases. The participants were as-
sured of the confidentiality of their responses, and they
were assured that their responses would not affect their
relationships with their educational institution. These pro-
cedures should have reduced the felt need for impression-
management tactics. We sought to prevent the participants
from linking goal orientation and feedback seeking by
separating the collection of data for the two variables with
a time interval of 3 months in Study 1 and with intervening
activities in Study 2. These procedures appeared to be
successful in that the participants were unable to identify
the hypotheses during the debriefing sessions.
Second, the generalizability of the Study 2 scenario
results to a field setting is an issue. Several organizational
behavior scholars, however, have previously addressed
this issue. Locke (1986) presented a strong case for the
generalizability of laboratory research to field settings in
many areas of organizational behavior research, including
feedback. Brockner et al. (1986) addressed a similar va-
lidity concern for a laboratory study of escalation of com-
mitment. They noted that if significant results could be
found in an experimental context where the stakes for the
pa(ticipants were relatively low, then there is reason to
speculate that similar, if not even more dramatic, results
could be expected in a "real-world organizational set-
ting." Indeed, this was, in part, the case found in the
analysis of the Study 1 field-setting data. The magnitudes
of the correlations for the prove and avoid scales with
feedback seeking were much higher than the correlations
found for the scenario study of Study 2.
Third, the cross-sectional nature of the Study 2 data
qualifies causal inferences. Study 1, however, used a longi-
tudinal format with the goal-orientation data collected at
Time 1 and the feedback-seeking-frequency data collected
FEEDBACK-SEEKING BEHAVIOR
399
at Time 2, an interval of 3 months. The patterns of results
for both studies were similar for the relationships of the
goal-orientation scales with feedback seeking.
Conclusion
Ashford and Cummings (1983) argued that the goals
of a person shape the feedback-seeking process. Our re-
search found that goals, when assessed as an individual
difference, do indeed influence the feedback-seeking pro-
cess. The results of the research provide initial support
for the theoretical framework in both the academic and
work domains. The results also provide a promising plat-
form for future research on the relationship of goal orien-
tation and feedback-seeking behavior.
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... The scale was developed by Vandewalle and Cummings. 54 The performance-prove goal orientation consists of four items, a typical item such as "I show my performance to others better than my colleagues", the Cronbach's alpha was 0.764 in this study. Performance-avoid goal orientation includes 4 items, a typical item such as "I will avoid new tasks that may make me appear incompetent", and the Cronbach's alpha was 0.846 in this study. ...
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... Learning goal orientation is a desired adaptive motivational quality, especially among organizations that strive for creativity and learning (Gong et al., 2009). By using a goal orientation instrument, managers can strategically select employees with strong learning goal orientations (VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997), as a strong learning goal orientation synergizes with leader humility to promote employees' affective commitment. Although considered a stable individual characteristic, a strong learning goal orientation can also be developed in the workplace. ...
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... Though conceptually related, learning identity differs from the growth mindset or LGO. Although both learning identity and LGO capture aspects of learners' motivation to learn, the former evokes an enduring self-perception rooted in learners' values, beliefs, and emotions, whereas the latter was conceptualized as a reactive response to external situa tions, such as task difficulty, failure, feedback, and effort (Dweck & Leggett, 1988;Elliott & Dweck, 1988;VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997). As opposed to the intrinsic nature of learning identity, LGO depends on extrinsic motivation, which makes it more susceptible to changes in situational demands and external rewards. ...
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... 148,149 In addition, work has shown that achievement goal orientation influences both feedback seeking and feedback practices. 150,151 Here, the literature differentiates between 2 achievement goal orientations 152,153 : a learning goal orientation that encourages a growth mindset of improvement through effort and a performance goal orientation that emphasizes talent and a desire for positive reinforcement, thus viewing critical feedback as a threat. A learning goal orientation enhances feedbackseeking behaviors; educators may also assume a learning goal orientation by focusing on improvement rather than conveying a sense that they are "grading" learners' performance. ...
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