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Examination of the explanatory role of self-evaluation motives when studying feedback-seeking behavior in organizations

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The objectives of the studies presented in this dissertation are threefold. First, on the basis of the self-motives framework, we aimed to identify new antecedents of feedback-seeking behavior. Second, we took a closer look at unresolved issues from previous feedback research by considering the explanatory role of self-motives. Third, we aimed to investigate how self-motives research might contribute to understanding the troubling relationship between feedback and performance. The first chapter of this dissertation presents an overview of past feedback-seeking research by systematically reviewing 49 studies that examined feedback-seeking behavior. In the second chapter, I examined how feedback-seeking across performance dimensions can be influenced by changing the feedback-seeker’s lay beliefs. An experiment showed that people sought more feedback about important dimensions as opposed to unimportant dimensions and sought more feedback about non-modifiable dimensions as opposed to modifiable dimensions. In the third chapter, I took a closer look at the relationship between uncertainty and feedback-seeking. Results of two studies showed that the relationship between uncertainty and feedback-seeking is less simple than previously thought. People sought more indirect feedback at high and low levels of uncertainty as opposed to moderate levels of uncertainty. In the fourth chapter, I investigated whether employees are merely interested in hearing good news about themselves or are more interested in feedback that confirms their self-concept. Results across two studies showed that people mainly reacted favorably to positive feedback. It seems that feedback reactions are dominated by self-enhancement strivings and that self-verification strivings are less prominent. In the fifth chapter I investigated the impact of requiring individuals to elaborate on feedback messages on task performance. Results of two studies showed that mean performance on a web-based in basket improved more when participants elaborated on feedback as compared to when feedback was not elaborated upon. These findings point to the importance of effortful cognitive processing of feedback in organizations. In the final chapter, the empirical findings of this dissertation are briefly summarized. The contributions, opportunities, and limitations of this dissertation are delineated from a theoretical, methodological, and practical perspective.
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Examination of the Explanatory Role
of Self-Evaluation Motives when Studying
Feedback-Seeking Behavior in Organizations
Frederik Anseel
Promotor: Prof. Dr. Filip Lievens
Proefschrift ingediend tot het behalen van de academische graad
van Doctor in de Psychologische Wetenschappen
2005
Examination of the Explanatory Role
of Self-Evaluation Motives when Studying
Feedback-Seeking Behavior in Organizations
Frederik Anseel
Promotor: Prof. Dr. Filip Lievens
Proefschrift ingediend tot het behalen van de academische graad
van Doctor in de Psychologische Wetenschappen
2005
CONTENTS
CONTENTS 5
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 9
INTRODUCTION 11
REFERENCES 15
CHAPTER 1 THE INTEGRAL ROLE OF SELF-MOTIVES IN
THE FEEDBACK-SEEKING PROCESS: TOWARDS A MORE
COMPREHENSIVE MODEL 17
ABSTRACT 17
INTRODUCTION 18
METHOD 20
RESULTS OF THE REVIEW 21
Model Underlying Previous Studies 21
Antecedents 22
Outcomes 28
MOTIVES OF THE SELF 30
Background, Assumptions, and Motives 30
Implications of Self-Motives for Antecedents of Feedback-seeking Behavior 33
Implications of Self-Motives for Outcomes of Feedback-seeking Behavior 37
Underlying Model for Future Research 41
CONCLUSIONS 44
THE PRESENT DISSERTATION 45
REFERENCES 49
APPENDIX: SUMMARY OF STUDIES WHICH INVESTIGATED FEEDBACK-SEEKING
BEHAVIOR IN ORGANIZATIONS 60
6 CONTENTS
CHAPTER 2 AN EXAMINATION OF STRATEGIES FOR
DIRECTING FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS SPECIFIC
PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 67
ABSTRACT 68
INTRODUCTION 68
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND 70
Importance Beliefs 70
Modifiability Beliefs 72
OVERVIEW OF CURRENT STUDY 74
Method 75
Results 81
DISCUSSION 86
Boundary Conditions and Future Research 89
REFERENCES 93
CHAPTER 3 A CLOSER LOOK AT THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN UNCERTAINTY AND FEEDBACK-SEEKING 99
ABSTRACT 100
INTRODUCTION 100
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND 102
Uncertainty Reduction Theory 102
Self-Verification Theory 103
Uncertainty Reduction and Self-verification Theory 104
Integrating Uncertainty Reduction and Self-Verification 105
BETWEEN- AND WITHIN-PERSONS APPROACHES 107
STUDY 1 109
Method 109
Results and Discussion 111
STUDY 2 114
Method 114
Results and Discussion 116
GENERAL DISCUSSION 121
CONTENTS 7
Curvilinear Relationship 121
Feedback-seeking Strategies 122
Individual Differences as Moderators 124
Practical Implications 125
Limitations 127
CONCLUSION 128
REFERENCES 129
APPENDIX 135
CHAPTER 4 CERTAINTY AS A MODERATOR OF
FEEDBACK REACTIONS: A TEST OF THE STRENGTH OF
THE SELF-VERIFICATION MOTIVE 137
ABSTRACT 138
INTRODUCTION 138
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND 140
Integrating Self-Verification and Self-Enhancement Motives 141
UNIQUE CONTRIBUTIONS OF CURRENT STUDY 143
STUDY 1 145
Method 145
Results 149
STUDY 2 152
Method 152
Results 154
GENERAL DISCUSSION 158
REFERENCES 165
CHAPTER 5 DOES ELABORATION OF FEEDBACK
ENHANCE THE FEEDBACK – TASK PERFORMANCE
RELATIONSHIP? 171
ABSTRACT 172
INTRODUCTION 172
BACKGROUND 173
Recent Research on the Feedback-Performance Relationship 173
8 CONTENTS
Theoretical Basis of Elaboration 175
Practical Basis of Elaboration 177
STUDY 179
Method 179
Results 184
DISCUSSION 188
Practical Implications, Limitations, and Directions for Future Research 191
CONCLUSION 194
REFERENCES 196
APPENDIX A EXAMPLE OF AN IN-BASKET ITEM AND THE CORRESPONDING
PARALLEL ITEM 201
APPENDIX B EXAMPLE OF FEEDBACK REPORT FOR COMPETENCY
“COORDINATING” 203
CHAPTER 6 GENERAL CONCLUSIONS 205
ABSTRACT 205
RESEARCH OVERVIEW 206
Objective 1: Identifying New Antecedents of Feedback-seeking Behavior 206
Objective 2: A Closer Look at Unresolved Issues in the Feedback-Seeking
Process 207
Objective 3: Understanding and Enhancing the Feedback - Performance
Relationship 209
CONTRIBUTIONS, LIMITATIONS, AND RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES 211
From a Theoretical Perspective 211
From a Methodological Perspective 215
From a Practical Perspective 218
REFERENCES 224
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This doctoral thesis was accomplished while I was working as a Research
Assistant of the Special Research Fund at the Department of Personnel
Management, Work and Organizational Psychology of Ghent University,
Ghent, Belgium. I would like to thank these institutions for their support.
First of all, I want to thank my advisor Prof. Dr. Filip Lievens for his
excellent guidance on my first steps in academia. Actually, “excellent” is
somewhat of an understatement. He introduced me to the field and taught me
all the ins and outs of doing research in I/O psychology. He encouraged me
to seek my own research path, and generously shared his incredible
expertise. His drive and enthusiasm has proven to be dangerously infectious.
A second person who played a key role is Prof. Dr. Rita Claes. As head of
the department, she provided the ideal conditions to complete this
dissertation. Her help in contacting the Flemish Public Employment Service
for conducting the field studies was very valuable. Her advice and comments
on various papers and proposals were much appreciated and helped me to
stay focused.
I’m very grateful to Marc Covents who did all the programming work for the
in-basket exercise. I couldn’t dream of a better programmer to develop this
management simulation. Marc combines great technical skills with a drive
for perfection, and an inexhaustible patience to put up with my sheer endless
requests for modifications. I’m sure there were times he cursed the day we
met. Thanks for your excellent work, Marc.
Very special thanks go to Dr. Wouter Duyck, who was my help-desk deluxe
during the past four years. He provided assistance in writing research
proposals, solving lay-out problems, conducting statistical analyses, getting
me alive out of a taxi in Beijing, and saving me from starvation during work
hours.
10 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank and acknowledge the following people for their
valuable suggestions on my work in the past four years and for making the
empirical studies possible: Y. Bostyn (VDAB), Prof. Dr. S. Brutus
(Concordia University), Prof. Dr. J. Edwards (University of North Carolina),
Prof. Dr. J. Fontaine (UGent), Prof. Dr. W. Fias (UGent), M. Gillebeert
(VDAB), Prof. Dr. M. Harris (University of Missouri - St.-Louis), D.
Houbrechts (VDAB), Prof. Dr. A. Kluger (The Hebrew University of
Jerusalem), Prof. Dr. P. Levy (University of Akron), S. Maertens (VDAB),
K. Naessens (KATHO), Dr. M. Schittekatte (UGent), Prof. Dr. L. Sels
(KUL), Prof. Dr. W. Swann (University of Texas), Prof. Dr. R. Tett
(University of Tulsa), Prof. Dr. I. Van Den Brande (VLEKHO), I.
Vandamme (KATHO), Prof. Dr. A. Van Hiel (UGent), C. Van Rillaer
(VDAB).
I would also like to thank all my colleagues and former colleagues of the
Department of Personnel Management, Work and Organizational
Psychology for making this department such a great place to work and for
their continuous encouragements during these last months. Special thanks go
to Stefaan, Helga, Colin and Greet for reviewing and editing my papers, to
Hans for his computer savvy and to Bart for his indispensable problem-
solving skills.
Finally, I should not forget the moral support I received during all those
years from my father, my mother, my sister, and, of course, from my
girlfriend. Jane, thanks for being there from start to finish. Whatever analysis
I conducted, you always turned out to be the most significant factor with the
widest confidence interval. I hope I can help you as much as you helped me.
You’re up next!
Frederik Anseel, Ghent, February 2nd, 2005
INTRODUCTION
“How am I doing ?!!” - In a recent speech, endorsing the sitting president’s
re-election campaign, former New York City mayor Ed Koch could not
resist tapping into his trademark “how am I doing”-line. The crowd roared
with applause and cheering. In the 1980s, mayor Ed Koch became famous
for walking the streets of New York, and asking citizens the same question
over and over, “How am I doing?” Apparently, gathering feedback about his
administration was important to him, and as you would expect, New York
City voters were happy to provide him with feedback. This unorthodox
feedback-seeking strategy attracted worldwide attention, as it appealed to a
basic human need, the need for obtaining feedback about one’s own
performance.
Providing feedback to people, that is, informing people about the results of
their performance to stimulate development and improvement, has become
one of the most widely accepted and applied psychological interventions.
Across a wide range of settings, feedback is believed to direct, motivate, and
reward behavior. The assumption that giving feedback is beneficial for
individual and group performance has also been widely supported in
organizations. This assumption is well reflected in a number of statements of
prominent researchers in the performance feedback domain:
“Numerous studies have examined the effect of feedback on
performance, and practically all of these investigations have
supported the existence of such a relationship” (Becker &
Klimoski, 1989, p. 343)
“The positive effect of feedback on performance has become one of
the most accepted principles in psychology” (Pritchard, Jones,
Roth, Stuebing, & Ekeberg, 1988, p. 338)
12
“The importance of feedback as a tool for enhancing performance
in organizations can hardly be overestimated” (Larson, 1989, p.
408)
As described by Kluger & DeNisi (1996, 1998), feedback research dates
back more than 100 years. In the beginning of the previous century, several
scholars experimented with providing individuals “knowledge of
results”(KR) about task performance to improve subsequent performance.
Thorndike (1927) provided the initial theoretical arguments for the
effectiveness of feedback with his law of effect. Based on the law of effect,
positive feedback was equated with reinforcement and negative feedback
with punishment. Reinforcement and punishment facilitate learning and thus,
both positive and negative feedback should improve performance because
one reinforces the correct behavior and the other punishes the incorrect
behavior. The first feedback studies suffered from methodological problems
and often did not pay attention to inconsistent results. Still, these flawed
studies installed the first vague though persistent notions about the beneficial
role of giving feedback. The wonder years of feedback research were
summarized by Ammons (1956) in a review of the effectiveness of
“knowledge of results” interventions. Ammons’ most important conclusions
were (a) that knowledge of results increases learning, and (b) that knowledge
of results increases motivation. Although the evidence Ammons reported
was highly questionable and ignored contradictory studies, his conclusions
had substantial impact on the psychological literature of its time. The
conviction that feedback always has a strong enhancing effect on
performance was further spread and became generally accepted knowledge
for years, as illustrated in the above cited statements.
However, in the 80s several studies began reporting that “there was
something rotten in the state of Denmark”, suggesting that the relationship
between feedback and performance was more complicated than had
previously been assumed (Balcazar, Hopkins, & Suarez, 1985; Salomi,
Schmidt, & Walter, 1984; Taylor, Fisher, & Ilgen, 1984). Ilgen, Fisher, and
INTRODUCTION 13
Taylor (1979) were among the first to note that relating feedback directly to
feedback was very confusing and that results were contradictory and seldom
straightforward. In their review paper, they argued that the effects of
feedback interventions on performance could only be understood if research
gained more insight in how feedback recipients responded to feedback.
Around the same time, a new and innovating perspective on the feedback
process was articulated. In this perspective, organizations were depicted as
feedback-rich environments, wherein employees were not condemned to
passively wait for feedback, but acted as active monitors and seekers of
feedback (Ashford & Cummings, 1983; Hanser & Muchinsky, 1978; Herold
& Parsons, 1985). This new perspective radically differed from previous
feedback process conceptualizations as it portrayed the feedback recipient no
longer as a passive information-processor, but as an active information-
seeker. The stage was set for the study of feedback-seeking behavior, which
would become the most dominant and prolific research theme in the
feedback domain in years to come. One of the aspirations of feedback-
seeking research was to shed new light on the troubling feedback –
performance relationship by examining the active role of the feedback-
seeker. It was assumed that people would be more willing to act on feedback
they had sought themselves, leading to more likely performance
improvement. Consequentially, organizations were adviced to look for
managerial strategies to promote feedback-seeking if they wanted to improve
individual and organizational performance. The feedback-seeking entreprise
received additional impetus when an extensive quantitative review of
feedback interventions demonstrated that the effects of giving feedback on
performance were still far from understood (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996, 1998).
This meta-analysis showed that in more than one third of the cases feedback
impaired performance and that there was no general principle that could
predict the effectiveness of feedback interventions. As it became clear that
giving feedback to people often produced detrimental effects on
performance, research looking for practical strategies to encourage feedback-
14
seeking and examining outcomes of feedback-seeking, grew even more in
importance.
The first chapter of this dissertation presents an overview of past feedback-
seeking research by systematically reviewing 49 studies that examined
organizational feedback-seeking behavior. On the basis of this review, the
main limitations of previous feedback-seeking research are summarized. An
alternative model that, on the one hand, might increase understanding of
feedback-seeking behavior in organizations, and, on the other hand, provides
several new avenues for future research, is presented. At the same time, this
model depicts the broad framework that connects the various empirical
studies that are presented in this dissertation. At the end of this first chapter,
a general outline of these empirical studies is provided with specific
attention to how these studies relate to the framework that has been
presented.
INTRODUCTION 15
REFERENCES
Ammons, R. B. (1956). Effects of knowledge of performance: A survey and
tentative theoretical formulation. Journal of General Psychology, 54, 279-299.
Ashford, S. J., & Cummings, L. L. (1983). Feedback as an individual resource:
Personal strategies of creating information. Organizational Behavior and Human
Performance, 32, 370-398.
Balcazar, F., Hopkins, B. L., & Suarez, Y. (1985). A critical, objective review of
performance feedback. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 7, 65-
89.
Becker, T. E., & Klimoski, R . J. (1989). A field study of the relationship between
the organizational feedback environment and performance. Personnel Psychology,
42, 343-358.
Hanser, L. M., & Muchinsky, P. M. (1978). Work as an information environment.
Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 13, 244-256.
Herold, D. M., & Parson, C. K. (1985). Assessing the feedback environment in
work organizations: Development of the job feedback survey. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 70, 290-305.
Ilgen, D. R., Fisher, C. D., & Taylor, M. S. (1979). Consequences of individual
feedback on behavior in organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 64, 349-
371.
Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. S. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on
performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback
intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 254-284.
Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. S. (1998). Feedback interventions: Toward the
understanding of a double- edged sword. Current Directions in Psychological
Science, 7, 67-72.
Pritchard, R. D., Jones, S. D., Roth, P. L., Stuebing, K. K., & Ekeberg, S. E. (1988).
Effects of group feedback, goal setting, and incentives on organizational
productivity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 73, 337-358.
Salmoni, A. W., Schmidt, R. A., & Walter, C. B. (1984). Knowledge of results and
motor learning: A review and critical reappraisal. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 355-
386.
Taylor, M. S., Fisher, C. D., & Ilgen, D. R. (1984). Individuals’ reactions to
performance feedback in organizations: A control theory perspective. In K. M.
Rowland & G. R. Ferris (Eds.), Research in personnel and human resources
management (Vol. 2, pp. 81-124). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
16
Thorndike, E. L. (1927). The law of effect. American Journal of Psychology, 39,
212-222.
CHAPTER 1
THE INTEGRAL ROLE OF SELF-MOTIVES
IN THE FEEDBACK-SEEKING PROCESS:
TOWARDS A MORE COMPREHENSIVE MODEL1, 2
ABSTRACT
This article reviews 49 studies that have examined feedback-seeking
behavior in organizations. The review shows that a resource-based
perspective of feedback-seeking behavior has dominated the field. However,
several mixed results about antecedents and outcomes of feedback-seeking
behavior could not be explained on the basis of the dominant resource-based
framework. Borrowing from research on self-motives in social psychology,
we offer a new theoretical perspective and more comprehensive model that
might guide future research. In particular, we propose three new directions
for future research. First, on the basis of the self-motives framework several
new antecedents of feedback-seeking behavior might be identified. Second, a
new light might be shed on unresolved issues in antecedents of feedback-
seeking behavior by considering the role of different self-motives in the
feedback-seeking process. Third, the relation between feedback-seeking
behavior and performance can be better understood by considering feedback
reactions in relation to self-motives. These new directions offer an
alternative and more theoretically-driven underpinning for studying
feedback-seeking behavior in organizations.
1 Parts of this review study were published in the Dutch blind peer-reviewed journal
“Gedrag & Organisatie”. The full reference is: Anseel, F., & Lievens, F. (2002).
Feedback-zoekend gedrag in organisaties: Literatuuroverzicht en richtingen voor
toekomstig onderzoek. Gedrag & Organisatie, 5, 294-319.
2 This paper benefited significantly from several excellent suggestions made by Paul
Levy.
18 CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
In the last twenty years, an increasing number of studies has examined how
employees take on an active role in the feedback process and seek out
feedback themselves. By asking for feedback, employees can adjust their
goal-directed behavior (Morrison & Weldon, 1990), better assess their
capabilities (Ashford & Tsui, 1991; Williams & Johnson, 2000), manage
impressions about their performance potential (Ashford & Northcraft, 1992),
enhance their future effectiveness (Morrison, 1993; Renn & Fedor, 2001),
and “learn the ropes” of a new job (Morrison, 1993).
In their seminal work, Ashford and Cummings (1983) introduced feedback-
seeking behavior as “a conscious devotion of effort toward determining the
correctness and adequacy of behaviors for attaining valued end states.”
(Ashford & Cummings, 1986, p. 466). The theoretical model of Ashford and
Cummings took a “resource-based” perspective (also called a “cost-value”-
perspective). Ashford and Cummings proposed that employees make an
assessment of the costs and values that are associated with feedback-seeking
and that this cost-value analysis is the primary determinant of subsequent
feedback-seeking behavior. For instance, people will seek more feedback
from a source with a high expertise on a feedback matter because feedback
from this source is more valuable. Conversely, employees will seek less
feedback in public because of fear for face-loss in the presence of their
colleagues.
The purpose of this article is to provide a review of research on feedback-
seeking behavior and to offer a new theoretical perspective on the feedback-
seeking process in organizations. Granted, there have been other reviews of
the feedback-seeking literature (Ashford, Blatt, & VandeWalle, 2003;
Morrison, 2002). However, none of these earlier reviews have focused on
feedback-seeking from the broader social psychological literature. Yet, we
argue that theoretical perspectives in social psychology are of key relevance
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 19
to the organizational feedback-seeking literature for various reasons. First,
feedback-seeking behavior in organizations is historically grounded in social
psychology (see Ashford & Cummings, 1983). Since its origin, the literature
on organizational feedback-seeking has evolved independently from research
on self-evaluation processes in social psychology. Although several
similarities can be noted between the two domains, the social psychological
literature on self-evaluation processes has taken a broader perspective, and
now deals with how and why people select, process, and react to self-
relevant information across a variety of contexts. In social psychology,
feedback-seeking behavior is only one special case of the broad self-
evaluation framework. So far, this conceptually similar framework has
remained largely ignored in feedback-seeking research in organizations.
Second, although we believe that knowledge relevant to feedback-seeking
has advanced considerable over the last decades, in recent years several
inconsistencies and shortcomings have been noted (see Ashford et al., 2003;
Farr, 1993; VandeWalle, 2003). Furthermore, previous studies on feedback-
seeking behavior in organizations are almost entirely grounded in the
original resource-based perspective, introduced by Ashford and Cummings
(1983). A new theoretical perspective on feedback-seeking behavior might
shed additional light on these inconsistencies and shortcomings, and might
advance our understanding of the antecedents and outcomes of feedback-
seeking behavior. In short, despite the fact that seeking feedback in
organizations is essentially a self-evaluation process, the feedback-seeking
literature has not kept pace with social psychological advances in research
on self-motives. We have given special consideration, therefore, to recent
theoretical developments in social psychology as they relate to feedback-
seeking behavior in organizations.
The structure of this review is as follows. In a first section, we use
Morrison’s (2002) integrated model of information seeking as a way to
organize a systematic review of the prior empirical literature on feedback-
seeking, including both field and laboratory studies. On the one hand we
summarize the most important findings about feedback-seeking behavior in
20 CHAPTER 1
organizations. On the other hand we point out that there still are some
inconsistent findings and shortcomings in the research domain. In the second
section, we introduce various self-(evaluation) motives. On the basis of this
new perspective we propose several avenues for future research. These
recommendations are based on recent research on self-motives in social
psychology. By using this social psychological framework as a theoretical
underpinning, we aim to ground feedback-seeking behavior back to its roots
in social psychology.
METHOD
To be included in the review, we used the following criteria. First, a study
had to empirically examine a relationship between feedback-seeking
behavior (direct or indirect) and one or more antecedents or outcome
variables. Second, studies had to be conducted in a (simulated)
organizational context. We used a number of electronic databases (PsychLit,
Social Science Citation Index and Current Contents) to detect relevant
studies. Additionally, we scrutinized reference lists from obtained studies to
find other published and unpublished studies. Finally, researchers in the
feedback-seeking domain were contacted to retrieve more unpublished
papers.
Forty-nine studies, dating from 1985 to 2004 conformed to the stated
criteria. Thirty-seven studies were published, 12 studies were unpublished.
Seventeen studies used an experimental design, 26 studies used a cross-
sectional design, and 6 studies used a longitudinal design. For comparison
purposes, the results of each study are synthesized in the appendix. For each
study, we describe the objective, the sample, the design, the antecedents, and
the outcomes. In the appendix, we provide the nature of the zero-order
correlation between the feedback-seeking behavior and the antecedents and
outcomes as follows: a significant positive relationship (+), no significant
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 21
relationship (ns.), and a negative significant relationship (-). All studies
included in our review are marked by an asterisk in the Reference list.
RESULTS OF THE REVIEW
MODEL UNDERLYING PREVIOUS STUDIES
As mentioned before, almost all the studies in the appendix were guided by
perceptions of feedback costs and feedback value. In particular, 45 studies
examined antecedents that might affect cost and value perceptions and
feedback-seeking behavior. In Figure 1, a simplification of Morrison’s
(2002) integrative conceptual model is provided. We believe this model
depicts the kind of approach that has guided previous feedback-seeking
research. Basically, Morrison’s model suggests both individual and
contextual antecedents to a desire for or perceived need for feedback.
Feedback-seeking costs play an important role in this model, moderating the
relationship between one’s desire or felt need for feedback and actual
feedback-seeking intentions. Feedback-seeking research has traditionally
been built around this idea of comparing costs and values of feedback-
seeking or what Ashford and Cummings (1983) called a resource-based
approach. There has not been very much research looking at outcomes of
feedback-seeking behavior. Further, research has not been especially
effective in distinguishing among the various outcomes of feedback-seeking
behavior. Morrison breaks the outcomes up into primary and secondary
outcomes, but notes that most research has been focused on performance
improvement and, in all, the research has been inconsistent. We will use
Morrison’s integrated model as a framework for our review of the existing
literature.
22 CHAPTER 1
FIGURE 1: A SIMPLIFICATION OF MORRISONS (2002) CONCEPTUAL MODEL OF FEEDBACK-SEEKING.
ANTECEDENTS
Individual antecedents. The study of individual antecedents that influence
feedback-seeking behavior has been mainly guided by possible value
(benefits) perceptions of feedback-seeking behavior (Ashford, 1986;
VandeWalle, Challagalla, Ganesan, & Brown, 2000; VandeWalle &
Cummings, 1997). First, feedback can be advantageous because it can help
employees to attain various valued end states and personal goals. Therefore,
it is hypothesized that antecedents, that are related to the value of a particular
goal or to the expectation of attaining a certain goal, will be significantly
related to feedback-seeking behavior. Consistent with this expectation,
several studies in the appendix showed that goal attainment (Ashford, 1986;
Morrison & Weldon, 1990), performance expectations (Ashford, 1986;
Morrison & Cummings, 1992; Northcraft & Ashford, 1990; Thomas &
Williams, 1998), need for achievement (Klich & Feldman, 1992), and job
involvement (Ashford & Cummings, 1985) were positively related to
feedback-seeking behavior.
A second benefit associated with feedback-seeking is that feedback is a
valuable source of information because feedback can be used to reduce
uncertainty (Ashford & Cummings, 1983). Some studies in the appendix
Individual
antecedents
Felt need
for
feedback
Feedback
seeking
costs
Intention to
seek
feedback
Feedback
seeking
Contextual
antecedents
Primary and
secondary
outcomes
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 23
supported this hypothesis (Ashford & Cummings, 1985; Callister, Kramer,
& Turban, 1999; Fedor et al., 1992,), but Morrison (2002) argues that it is
surprising that research has neither focused very heavily or directly on
uncertainty as a motivator of feedback-seeking nor on the role of feedback-
seeking in reducing uncertainty. From the research that does exist, one could
conclude that antecedents that are conceptually related to uncertainty (e.g.,
role ambiguity, role conflict, tolerance for ambiguity) had a positive effect
on feedback-seeking behavior (Ashford & Cummings, 1985; Fedor,
Rensvold, & Adams, 1992; Madzar, 2001). Moreover, research showed that
newcomers in organizations seek more feedback for reducing their
uncertainty (Ashford & Black, 1996; Brett, Feldman, & Weingart, 1990;
Callister et al., 1999; Morrison, 1993; Morrison, Chen, & Salgado, 2004).
However, no unequivocal conclusions about the role of uncertainty in the
feedback-seeking process can be drawn because other studies yielded
conflicting findings (Ashford, 1986; Fedor et al., 1992; Gupta,
Govindarajan, & Malhotra, 1999; Stark & Sommer, 2000). Using various
measures of uncertainty, these studies revealed that high levels of certainty
also lead to increased feedback-seeking behavior. Thus, employees who
already have high certainty about their performance continue to seek
feedback. Furthermore, several studies failed to support the hypothesis that
more tenured employees, which are supposed to suffer less from uncertainty,
seek less feedback (Brutus & Cabrera, 2004; Gupta et al., 1999; Renn &
Fedor, 2001; Roberson, Deitch, Brief, & Block, 2003; Wanberg &
Kammeyer-Mueller, 2000).
Competence creation and achieving a sense of mastery serves as a final
benefit that employees might experience by seeking feedback (Ashford &
Cummings, 1983). Along these lines, goal orientation has been found to be
an important antecedent. Two major classes of goal orientations are typically
distinguished – a learning and a performance goal orientation. Individuals
with a learning goal orientation seek to develop themselves by improving
their ability, acquiring new skills, and mastering new situations. In contrast,
people with a performance goal orientation seek to demonstrate and validate
24 CHAPTER 1
the adequacy of their ability by seeking favorable judgments and avoiding
negative judgments about their ability (Dweck & Legget, 1988; VandeWalle
& Cummings, 1997). VandeWalle and Cummings proposed that employees
with a goal orientation would seek more feedback, even in challenging
situations or when the necessary skills are not available. Individuals with a
learning goal orientation tend to view feedback in terms of its diagnosticity
and focus on how likely this feedback is to help them to improve
performance, whereas people with a performance goal orientation tend to
interpret feedback rather as an appraisal of their competency and worth.
Thus, employees with a learning goal orientation attach more value to
feedback as compared to employees with a performance goal orientation.
The appendix shows that these hypotheses have been supported by a series
of empirical studies (Farr, Ringseis & Unckless, 1999, Madzar, 2001; Moon
& Levy, 2000; Nowakowski & Kozlowski, 2004; Park, Schmidt, Scheu, &
Deshon, 2003; Stark & Sommer, 2000; Tuckey, Brewer, & Williamson,
2002; VandeWalle et al., 2000; VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997).
A number of scholars also investigated individual antecedents that influence
perceptions of feedback costs. It was hypothesized that the cost of feedback-
seeking was higher for people with low self-efficacy because of the
detrimental impact negative feedback might have on the feedback-seeker’s
self-image. However, research shows that this individual difference variable
is not directly related to feedback-seeking behavior (Brown et al., 2001;
Moon & Levy, 2000; Renn & Fedor, 2001). Instead, it seems to act as a
moderator in the feedback-seeking process. For example, Moon and Levy
(2000) demonstrated that the relation between performance goal orientation
and feedback-seeking behavior was negative for employees with a high self-
efficacy. They concluded that individuals with a low performance
orientation and a high self-efficacy, frequently seek feedback because they
have high confidence in their abilities and are more eager to use the
feedback. Employees with a low performance orientation and a low self-
efficacy exhibited lower levels of feedback-seeking behavior.
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 25
Whereas self-efficacy refers to a context-specific assessment of competence
to perform a specific task or a range of tasks in a given domain (Bandura,
1997), self-esteem refers to a global cognitive appraisal of the self-concept.
The appendix shows that the relationship between self-esteem and feedback-
seeking behavior is not very clear. For example, Ashford (1986), Morrison
(1993), and Levy, Albright, Cawley, and Williams (1995) found no
significant relationship. Northcraft and Ashford (1990) reported that self-
esteem was significantly related to feedback-seeking behavior about absolute
performance levels. Yet, it was not related to feedback-seeking about
comparative (relative to others) performance levels. Fedor et al. (1992)
found a negative relationship between self-esteem and direct feedback-
seeking (inquiry) but not between self-esteem and indirect feedback-seeking
(monitoring). Moss, Valenzi, and Taggart (2003) found that employees with
high self-esteem sought more positive feedback for reasons of impression
management. Finally, Vancouver and Morrison (1995) revealed that the
relationship between self-esteem and feedback-seeking was moderated by
the quality of the relation between the feedback source and the feedback-
seeker.
Conclusion. Our review of individual antecedents of feedback-seeking
behavior leads to three conclusions. First, it appears that individual
antecedents referring to the attainment of valued goals and competence
creation are positively related to value perceptions of feedback and
accordingly to feedback-seeking behavior. Second, the cost-value model of
feedback-seeking behavior has led to mixed findings and has only been
sporadically tested. For example, the relationship between antecedents that
are conceptually related to the uncertainty reducing function of feedback
(e.g., tenure) and feedback-seeking behavior is not clear. A third conclusion
concerns the inconsistent findings about the role of two individual difference
variables (i.e., self-esteem, and self-efficacy) in the feedback-seeking
process.
26 CHAPTER 1
It is important for future research to shed light on these inconsistent findings.
We believe that recent empirical and theoretical work in social psychology
can accomplish this, attributing a central role to the various self-motives that
guide behavior in self-evaluative situations. A limitation of previous
research examining feedback-seeking behavior in organizations is that
generally only one dominant motive underlying feedback-seeking behavior
is acknowledged, namely the uncertainty reduction motive. In other words,
although impression management and ego maintenance have been suggested
as important motives (Levy et al., 1995), it has generally been assumed that
people are more driven by feelings of uncertainty and this uncertainty drives
decisions to seek feedback, thereby reducing uncertainty and improving
performance.
Contextual antecedents. Whereas research on individual antecedents of
feedback-seeking research has primarily paid attention to the value of
feedback-seeking behavior, research on contextual antecedents has focused
on the costs associated with feedback-seeking. The perceived costs of
feedback-seeking behavior have been shown to be an important predictor of
feedback-seeking behavior (Ashford & Cummings, 1983, 1986; Fedor et al.,
1992; Thomas & Williams, 1998; Vandewalle & Cummings, 1997). When
people believe that seeking feedback will convey a negative image of
themselves (e.g., looking insecure, unconfident, incompetent) to their
supervisor and colleagues, they will refrain from seeking feedback.
The first contextual antecedent that influences the costs associated with
feedback-seeking is the presence of significant others. As can be seen in the
appendix, research has revealed that employees seek more feedback when
feedback-seeking behavior does not take place in public (Ashford &
Northcraft, 1992; Northcraft & Ashford, 1990), when the situation is
perceived as private (Levy et al., 1995; Moon & Levy, 2000; Williams,
Steelman, Miller, & Levy, 1999), when feedback can be requested and/or
provided via a computer (Ang & Cummings, 1994; Ang, Cummings, Straub,
& Early, 1993; Kluger & Adler, 1993), when stereotype threat is low
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 27
(Roberson, Deitch, Brief, & Block, 2003), and when other colleagues also
seek feedback (Ashford & Northcraft, 1992; Williams et al., 1999). These
contextual studies have typically revealed that the influence of the
environment is moderated by the presence of individual antecedents. For
example, Northcraft and Ashford (1990) found that context interacted with
performance expectations. Employees with low performance expectations
sought less feedback in a public environment, because they anticipated the
potential face-loss in presence of their colleagues and refrained from seeking
feedback. However, the anticipation of positive feedback in people with high
performance expectations yielded an appropriate opportunity to make a
positive impression to others, leading to higher levels of feedback-seeking in
public.
The costs and drawbacks associated with feedback-seeking are also be
influenced by the characteristics of the feedback-sender. Several studies in
the appendix have shown that the following characteristics of the feedback-
sender are positively related to feedback-seeking behavior: positive mood
(Ang et al., 1993), consideration and supportiveness (Brown et al., 2001;
Farr et al., 1999; Kuchinke, 2001; Levy, Cober, & Miller, 2002; Steelman,
Levy, & Snell, 2004; Thomas & Williams, 1998; Wiliams et al., 1999),
charisma (Kuchinke, 2000), accessibility, close relationship, reward power
(Thibodeaux & Kudisch, 2000; Vancouver & Morrison, 1995), and a
transformational leadership style (Levy et al., 2002; Madzar, 2001). The
credibility of the feedback-sender appears to have an influence on the value
perceptions of feedback. Employees are most likely to seek feedback from
high expertise feedback sources because their feedback is seen as more
valuable (Fedor et al., 1992; Morrison, 1993; Steelman et al., 2004;
Thibodeaux & Kudisch, 2000; Vancouver & Morrison, 1995).
Recent studies have also paid attention to cultural differences in feedback-
seeking behavior, as proposed by Sully de Luque and Sommers (2000).
Results of these studies indicated substantial variations in feedback-seeking
behavior across cultures. More specifically, individuals from the United
28 CHAPTER 1
States exhibited more direct feedback-seeking behavior (inquiry) than
individuals from Asian cultures, due to differences in self-assertiveness,
power distance, and perceived face-loss costs (Brutus & Cabrera, 2004;
Kung & Steelman, 2003; Morrison, Chen, & Salgado, 2004).
The degree of structure in an organization (e.g., in a specific team or
department) is a final contextual antecedent. This variable refers to the extent
that roles and responsibilities on the job are clearly defined and structured by
the supervisor or manager. Initially, Ashford and Cummings (1983) expected
a negative relationship with feedback-seeking behavior: when job roles are
clearly defined, employees do not suffer from uncertainty and are less
motivated to seek feedback. However, empirical research has demonstrated a
positive relationship between structure and feedback-seeking behavior
(Brown et al., 2001; VandeWalle et al., 2000). Apparently, providing a high
degree of structure involves setting clear and attainable goals (Fleishman &
Peters, 1962). Goal-setting encourages employees to seek feedback for
obtaining more clarity about the progress made toward attaining these the
goals (Morrison & Weldon, 1990).
Conclusion. Research examining situational antecedents of feedback-
seeking behavior has yielded several consistent findings. The presence of
significant others, the characteristics of the feedback source, and the degree
of job structure affect the potential costs linked to feedback-seeking and in
turn feedback-seeking behavior. Research also suggests that feedback-
seeking strategies are not universal but vary across cultures.
OUTCOMES
Only 18 of the 49 studies measured outcomes of feedback-seeking behavior.
Most studies tested whether there was a positive relationship between
feedback-seeking behavior and performance. One of the main tenets of
Ashford and Cummings’ (1983) feedback-seeking theory was that people
who actively seek feedback, would be more likely to improve performance.
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 29
A first group of studies in the appendix found empirical support for this
hypothesis (Ashford & Northcraft, 1992; Ashford & Tsui, 1991; London,
Larsen, & Thisted, 1999; Morrison & Weldon, 1990). A second group of
studies failed to find support for a positive relationship between feedback-
seeking behavior and performance (Ang et al., 1993; Ashford & Black,
1996; Klich & Feldman, 1992; Moon & Levy, 2000) or reported a negative
relationship (Brown et al., 2001; Fedor et al., 1992). Finally, a third group of
studies illustrated that the relationship between feedback-seeking behavior
and performance was more complicated than previously thought. For
example, Renn and Fedor (2001) reported that feedback-seeking behavior
did not lead to a direct improvement in the quality and quantity of
performance, but was indirectly related to work performance through
personal improvement goals established from performance feedback.
Morrison (1993) reported a positive relationship between monitoring
(indirect feedback-seeking) and performance but no significant relationship
between inquiry (direct feedback-seeking) and performance. Furthermore,
seeking social feedback ("Is my behavior acceptable ?") had no influence on
performance (Morrison, 1993).
The appendix further shows that there is a paucity of studies examining
outcomes of feedback-seeking behavior other than performance
improvement. Hence, Morrison (2002) suggested that future research should
examine other primary and secondary outcomes such as knowledge,
uncertainty reduction, and job attitudes. Only a few other outcomes have
attracted some research attention. Specifically, seeking feedback leads to a
higher congruence between self-appraisals and appraisals by others (Ashford
& Tsui, 1991; Williams & Johnson, 2000). In addition, people who
frequently seek feedback were less inclined to leave the organization and
reported more job satisfaction (Kuchinke, 2000; Morrison, 1993; Wanberg
& Kammeyer-Mueller, 2000). However, this relationship with job
satisfaction was not supported by Ashford and Black (1996). Finally, one
study found that feedback-seeking from clients yielded higher client
satisfaction (Barnard & Greguras, 2001).
30 CHAPTER 1
Conclusion. Prior research yielded mixed results concerning the relationship
between feedback-seeking behavior and performance improvement. These
inconsistent findings do not support one of the main assumptions of the
theory of Ashford and Cummings (1983). Given the importance of the
feedback-seeking – performance relationship, more research examining this
relationship is needed. Again, we hypothesize that recent research in social
psychology can shed light on these unclear findings. In particular, we
propose that many studies fail to uncover the expected relationship between
feedback-seeking behavior and performance because employees’ motives
underlying feedback and their reactions to feedback have been largely
ignored. In the remainder of this paper, we develop a conceptual argument
and model (See Figure 2) that provides a reasonable explanation for the lack
of consistent effects in the feedback-seeking literature. First, we will discuss
self-motives and the role that they play in the feedback-seeking process.
Second, we will consider other outcomes of feedback-seeking such as
employee reactions and propose where they fit into these processes.
MOTIVES OF THE SELF
BACKGROUND, ASSUMPTIONS, AND MOTIVES
Since ancient times, the importance of accurate self-knowledge has been
acknowledged. Centuries before the birth of Christ, devout pilgrims made
the arduous trek to Delphi in Greece to ask for advice from the famous
Oracle about important choices in their lives. The prophecies of the Oracle at
Delphi were given in the form of a riddle, or story, and it was left to the
person inquiring to work out the meaning for themselves. The door of
Apollo's temple at Delphi was inscribed with the famous imperative, "Know
Thy Self" (gnothi seauton). Accurate self-knowledge was believed to be the
key to gain insight in the Oracle’s advice and, consequentially in their own
lives. Throughout history, philosophers, and psychologists have not ceased
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 31
to debate whether people’s self-knowledge is accurate or biased and what the
consequences of several types of self-knowledge are for people’s social
lives. Since its origins, research on self-motives underlying information
processing has occupied a central position in social and personality
psychology. The roots of self-motives research in social psychology go back
to the early writings of Gordon Allport (1937), Charles Cooley (1902), Leon
Festinger (1957), William James (1890), and Prescott Lecky (1945). The
interest in self-motives in social psychology stems from the central
importance of the self to nearly all other phenomena studied by social and
personality psychologists. The self is the central point of reference for social
cognition, emotion, motivation, and social behavior.
Research on self-motives is based on one fundamental assumption: The way
people select, process, and remember information about themselves – their
personal attributes and behaviors – is motivated (Banaji & Prentice, 1994;
Sedikides & Strube, 1995, 1997). Motives have been proposed to color the
ways in which people seek self-relevant information, appraise its sources,
interpret its veracity, and intend to change their behavior. Traditionally, four
different theoretical models have been distinguished, each with a different
view on the dominant motive behind self-evaluation: self-verification, self-
enhancement, self-assessment, and self-improvement (see Figure 2).
According to the self-verification perspective, people are motivated to
maintain consistency between their self-conceptions and new self-relevant
information. They want others to see them as they see themselves (Lecky,
1945). Therefore, people will solicit information that confirms their existing
self-views (e.g., Swann, 1987; Swann, Rentfrow & Guinn, 2002). According
to the self-enhancement perspective, people are motivated to improve the
favorability of their self-conceptions and to protect their self-concepts from
negative information. For instance, people process positive self-relevant
information faster than negative self-relevant information and spend more
time reading favorable information (e.g., Sedikides, Gaertner & Toguchi,
2003; Sedikides, Herbst, Hardin, & Dardis, 2002). The third perspective, the
32 CHAPTER 1
self-assessment perspective proposes that people are motivated to obtain a
consensually accurate evaluation of the self. To accomplish this objective,
people are interested predominantly in the diagnosticity of self-relevant
information, that is, the extent to which the information can reduce
uncertainty about an aspect of the self. Thus, people seek diagnostic
information regardless of its positive or negative implications for the self and
regardless whether the information affirms or challenges existing self-
conceptions. For instance, people rate high diagnostic tasks as more
attractive than low diagnostic tasks (e.g., Trope, 1980; Trope & Pomeranz,
1998). According to the fourth and last perspective, self-improvement,
people are motivated to improve their traits, abilities, and skills. This motive
is conceptually different from the other three motives (Taylor, Neter, &
Wayment, 1995; Wayment & Taylor, 1995). Whereas self-enhancement is
concerned with maximizing the positivity of the self-concept, self-
improvement focuses on genuine improvement. Whereas self-verification is
concerned with maintaining consistency between old and new self-relevant
information, self-improvement focuses on self-concept change. Finally,
whereas self-assessment is concerned with increasing the accuracy of self-
knowledge, self-improvement focuses on self-concept betterment regardless
of self-concept accuracy.
Initially, a fierce debate existed between adherents of the various
perspectives. Proponents of each theoretical model questioned the existence
and dominance of the other motives and tried to persuade the opposition
through ample empirical evidence (for a review, see Shrauger, 1975).
Currently the existence and importance of each of these motives in guiding
behavior and information processing is no longer questioned. Recent studies
have started examining how the various theoretical models can be
reconciled, thus addressing broader questions as how the various self-
motives work in concert (Sedikides & Strube, 1995, 1997). A first category
of studies have looked at individual difference variables moderating the
emergence and interplay of the four motives (e.g., Dunning, 1995). For
instance, Roney and Sorrentino (1995) showed that uncertainty-oriented
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 33
persons are more likely to be guided in their self-evaluation by self-
assessment strivings, whereas certainty-oriented persons are more likely to
be guided by self-verification strivings. A second category of studies has
tried to answer the question "under which circumstances do the motives
operate ?", looking at situational moderators of the self-motives (e.g., Trope
& Gelber, 2003; Morling & Epstein, 1997). For instance, accountability has
been found to moderate the self-enhancement motive. When people expect
that they have to explain, justify, and defend their self-evaluations to another
person, self-evaluations tend to be lower (Sedikides et al., 2002). Finally, a
third category of studies shows that different motives might also be activated
simultaneously and interact with each other (Sedikides, 1993; Swann,
Pelham, & Krull, 1989). For instance, Katz and Beach (2000) found that
individuals were most attracted to romantic partners who provided both self-
verification and self-enhancement, and were less attracted to partners who
provided either self-verification alone or self-enhancement alone.
In short, self-motives research in social psychology proposes that self-
evaluation processes such as feedback-seeking are colored by four different
motives. It is assumed that these motives are dynamically interrelated; they
do not usually operate independently. The key to understanding feedback-
seeking is an enhanced understanding of the dynamic interplay among the
four motives.
IMPLICATIONS OF SELF-MOTIVES FOR ANTECEDENTS OF FEEDBACK-
SEEKING BEHAVIOR
A first implication of using a self-motives perspective for studying feedback-
seeking in organizations is that a more fine-grained view on the underlying
motives of feedback-seeking might be obtained. The common assumption in
the feedback-seeking domain was that people are predominantly motivated
to reduce uncertainty and to attain goals (e.g., Fedor et al., 1992, Gupta et
al., 1999; Renn & Fedor, 2001; VandeWalle et al., 2000). This is best
34 CHAPTER 1
reflected in the following statement of Morrison (1995, p. 352): "In fact
(various works) are best understood as reflecting the important
informational role that feedback has in reducing uncertainty and helping
people to achieve goals. This is the dominant motive behind feedback-
seeking behavior". Similarly, Ashford (1985, p.68) stated: "If one were
completely certain about all potential evaluations of those behaviors, it is
unlikely that feedback would be perceived as valuable. In such situations,
individuals would have no motive to seek feedback". However, even with
this narrow approach of uncertainty reduction, Morrison (2002) has
suggested that feedback-seeking researchers have not directly focused much
of their attention on the role of uncertainty reduction in motivating feedback-
seeking behavior. Although we learned a lot from this perspective, we
suggest that to enhance our current understanding of the feedback-seeking
process, we need to apply recent insights from the self-motives domain.
Social psychological research on self-motives, which evolved almost
independently from the study of organizational feedback-seeking, has
demonstrated that motives other than uncertainty reduction might be
activated when people evaluate themselves. In particular, social
psychological theory and empirical research has suggested that self-
assessment (e.g., uncertainty reduction), self-improvement (e.g., goal
attainment and competence creation), self-enhancement (e.g., nurturing a
more favorable identity), and self-verification (e.g., confirming one’s own
view) might play an important role in guiding self-evaluative behavior.
Although the self-enhancement motive has received some indirect attention
in previous research on feedback-seeking behavior in a public context (e.g.,
Levy et al., 1995; Williams et al., 1999), the role of the self-verification
motive has been neglected (Stark & Sommer, 2000). Furthermore, very few
studies in the feedback-seeking domain have addressed how the underlying
motives work in concert (see Morrison, 2002). Research on self-motives
offers clear guidelines how individual and contextual in variables might
regulate the interplay between the various motives. Thus, we are convinced
that self-motives offer a richer and more theoretically-driven framework for
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 35
studying feedback-seeking behavior in organizations than has typically been
provided.
A second benefit of considering the underlying motives is that we can
identify several new antecedents of feedback-seeking behavior and link them
directly to specific motives based on the self-evaluation literature. For
illustration purposes, we delineate a number of theoretically interesting
antecedents, relating them to one of the four motives. For example, evidence
suggests that people high in uncertainty orientation, people with a high
desire for self-appraisal, Type A individuals, people high in need for
cognition, people high in learning goal orientation, and individuals high in
need for closure are likely to be more prone than their counterparts to self-
assessment concerns as opposed to self-verification concerns (Sedikides &
Strubbe, 1997).
Cultural dimensions are another antecedent that deserve further attention in
relation to feedback-seeking behavior. Research indicates that the
individualism/collectivism dimension of culture instantiates the self-
enhancement versus the self-assessment motive. Apparently, people from
collectivistic cultures are less motivated by self-enhancement concerns
(Sedikides & Strubbe, 1997), whereas those from individualistic cultures are
more driven by self-enhancement concerns.
A third example of a possible antecedent is the way in which feedback is
provided. When positive feedback is given in a non-controlling manner (e.g.,
"You did well at that") self-enhancement and self-improvement concerns
might come into play. However, when feedback is given in a controlling
manner (e.g., "You did just as you should"), the two self-motives might not
become operative because perceived competence and intrinsic motivation are
undermined (Sedikides & Strubbe, 1997).
A third benefit of using self-motives is that they may help explain some of
the inconsistent findings of previous studies. For instance, our literature
36 CHAPTER 1
review showed that the relationship between tenure and feedback-seeking
behavior was unclear. In previous research, it was generally acknowledged
that tenure was an antecedent activating the self-assessment motive
(uncertainty reduction motive). Consequentially, scholars assumed that long-
tenured people do not seek feedback because they are relatively certain about
their performance. However, in social psychology several studies have
shown that certainty might activate the self-verification motive: the more
certain individuals are of a particular self-view, the more they go out of their
way to confirm and sustain this self-view (Chen, Chen, & Shaw, 2004;
Pelham & Swann, 1994; Swann & Ely, 1984; Swann, Pelham, & Chidester,
1988). Thus, highly experienced people who have acquired certainty might
also seek feedback and continue to seek feedback although they are driven
by a different motive.
Another example concerns the relationship between self-esteem and
feedback-seeking behavior. Previous studies (e.g., Ashford, 1986)
hypothesized that people with high self-esteem would seek more feedback
than people with low self-esteem. As indicated in our review, this hypothesis
was not always supported (e.g., Fedor et al., 1992). Social psychological
research offers a likely explanation for these inconsistent findings. On the
one hand, empirical research in the self-motives domain showed that people
with high self-esteem are motivated by a self-enhancement motive or self-
verification motive. People with high self-esteem generally expect to
perform well and thus expect to receive positive feedback. Consequentially,
they seek feedback in order to receive good news, to verify their abilities,
and to feel better. This also gives them an opportunity to create a favorable
impression on their colleagues (Brown & Gallagher, 1992; Brown & Smart,
1991). On the other hand, empirical research in social psychology showed
that people with low self-esteem are motivated by self-enhancement
strivings in certain situations, leading them to seek additional feedback
(Baumgardner, Kaufman, & Levy, 1989). In short, both low and high self-
esteem might lead to increased feedback-seeking behavior under different
conditions. These two examples illustrate how the previously studied
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 37
antecedents of feedback-seeking behavior can be sorted in theoretically
meaningful categories on the basis of social psychological theory and
research.
IMPLICATIONS OF SELF-MOTIVES FOR OUTCOMES OF FEEDBACK-
SEEKING BEHAVIOR
Our review of the literature pointed out that the relationship between
feedback-seeking behavior and performance improvement was often not
supported. Self-motives research in social psychology might help clarifying
the inconsistent findings regarding feedback-seeking behavior and
performance improvement. In this section we will give two possible
explanations for these inconsistent findings, both based on the self-motives
perspective.
Self-motives and locus of attention. A first explanation is based on the
nature of the four self-motives that are supposed to drive feedback-seeking.
Conceptually, these four motives fall apart in two groups. A first group
consists of the self-assessment and the self-improvement motives. These self-
motives are both geared towards obtaining accurate information about the
self and are concerned with improving, learning, bettering oneself etc. For
instance, in terms of task performance, people with a self-assessment motive
will be especially interested in their result on the task (“How am I doing?”)
and people with a self-improvement motive will be looking for strategies to
improve their task performance (“How can I do better?”).
The second conceptual group consists of the self-enhancement and the self-
verification motives. These self-motives are not so much geared towards an
accurate representation of reality, but are more concerned with protection
and ensuring that others see them in a particular way. In terms of task
performance, people with a self-enhancement motive will be especially
preoccupied with obtaining a task result that is favorable for their ego (“In
which part of the task did I do best?”) and people with a self-verification will
38 CHAPTER 1
looking for confirmation of their self-image (“I’m not the kind of person to
score high on these tasks”).
Thus, when self-assessment and self-improvement motives are activated,
attention will be directed at task performance, whereas self-enhancement and
self-verification motives will shift attention from task performance to ego-
goals. Kluger and DeNisi (1996) proposed that the effects of feedback
interventions could be explained by the locus of attention. If feedback
interventions direct attention and cognitive resources to the task,
performance will increase. However, when feedback interventions direct
attention away from the task to self-relevant goals, performance will
decrease. These hypotheses were to a large extent supported in their meta-
analysis. On the basis of these findings, we argue that self-motives might
provide more insight in the relationship between feedback-seeking and
performance. Self-motives might determine the locus of attention in
feedback interventions, leading to improved performance when attention is
shifted towards the task level (self-assessment and self-improvement
motives) and to decreased performance when attention is shifted towards the
ego level (self-enhancement and self-verification motives).
This explanation might enhance our understanding of the conditions in
which feedback is supposed to improve performance. Future research should
identify antecedents of the self-assessment and the self-improvement
motives in order to encourage feedback-seeking geared towards performance
improvement. An example of such an antecedent is the use of specific and
concrete feedback versus the use of group norms in the feedback message.
When employees are confronted with feedback comparing their performance
to the performance of others, attention is directed to ego-based goals,
resulting in decreased performance (DeNisi & Kluger, 2000; Sedikides &
Strubbe, 1997). However, the use of concrete and specific task information
in the feedback message has been related to performance improvement
(Goodman & Wood, 2004; Goodman, Wood, & Hendrickx, 2004).
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 39
Self-motives and feedback reactions. A second explanation for the troubling
relationship between feedback-seeking and performance is based on an
apparent lack of attention for feedback reactions in feedback-seeking
research. As shown in the appendix, none of the previous studies in the
feedback-seeking domain looked at the role of feedback reactions. In social
psychology, findings indicate that the same self-motives that are proposed to
guide feedback-seeking behavior, also influence how people react to
feedback. There is a relative consensus that three categories (see Figure 2) of
feedback reactions can be distinguished (Ilgen & Davis, 2000; Ilgen, Fisher,
& Taylor, 1979; Taylor, Fisher, & Ilgen, 1984). The first category concerns
how people react cognitively to the feedback provided. Feedback acceptance
(Korsgaard, Meglino, & Lester, 1997; Nease, Mudget, & Quinones, 1999)
and perception of feedback utility (Brett & Atwater, 2001; Cawley, Keeping,
& Levy, 1998) constitute two cognitive reactions referring to the extent that
people believe that the feedback accurately reflects their performance and
the extent that people intent to use the feedback for future performance. Self-
motives research suggests that these cognitive reactions to self-relevant
feedback are guided by the self-verification motive. People are more likely
to accept feedback and perceive feedback as useful when the feedback
message confirms their self-views (Shrauger, 1975; Jussim, Yen, & Aiello,
1995; Moreland & Sweeney, 1984; Swann, Griffith, Predmore, & Gaines,
1987). The second category denotes affective reactions such as satisfaction
with feedback (Brett & Atwater, 2001; Korsgaard, 1995). Affective reactions
to self-relevant feedback have been found to be in line with predictions of
self-enhancement theory. Individuals are more satisified with favorable
feedback compared to unfavorable feedback (Shrauger, 1975; Jussim et al.,
1995; Sweeney & Wells, 1990). The third category consists of behavioral or
conative reactions. Employees can change their behavior in several ways
when they receive a feedback message. They can adopt a new strategy to
achieve their goals, they can put in more or less effort, they can persevere or
quit, or they even can sabotage the organizational processes (Fedor, Davis,
Maslyn, & Mathieson, 2001; Vance & Colella, 1990). Little social
40 CHAPTER 1
psychological research has examined conative reactions to feedback,
although recent research shows that individuals reported more destructive
intentions after negative feedback, thus supporting self-enhancement theory
(Van de Vliert, Shi, Sanders, Wang, & Huang, 2004).
Although it is clear that these three categories of feedback reactions are far
from independent (Cron, Slocum, & VandeWalle, 2001; Keeping & Levy,
2000), it is generally accepted that cognitive reactions play a key role in the
feedback process. In particular, feedback acceptance serves as a central
moderator for performance improvement (Ilgen et al., 1979; Taylor et al.,
1984). Feedback only leads to performance improvement when it is
cognitively accepted (O’Reilly & Anderson, 1980, Kinicki, Prussia, Wu, &
McKee-Ryan, 2004). Thus, an examination of feedback reactions constitutes
a second possible avenue to enhance understanding of the intriguing
relationship between feedback-seeking behavior and performance. Feedback
acceptance (and other feedback reactions) have been studied in assessment
and development centers (Jones & Whitmore, 1995), 360-degree feedback
(Brett & Atwater, 2001), management development programs (Ryan, Brutus,
Greguras, & Hakel, 2000), computer testing (Tonidandel, Quinones, &
Adams, 2002), performance appraisal (Cawley, Keeping, & Levy, 1999) and
selection decisions (Bauer, Maertz, Dolen, & Campion, 1998). Given the
widespread study of feedback reactions, it is remarkable that no attention has
been paid to feedback reactions in the context of the feedback-seeking
process. As feedback reactions determine whether or not feedback leads to
performance improvement, we propose to incorporate feedback reactions
into a broader model of feedback-seeking behavior. Furthermore, on the
basis of the self-motives framework two additional moderators are included
in our model. A first moderator of feedback reactions that has been
examined is the cognitive effort that people expend when processing
feedback. It seems that people especially exhibit self-verifying feedback
reactions when they have ample time or are strongly motivated to expend
additional cognitive effort, whereas feedback reactions are driven by self-
enhancement strivings when cognitive resources for processing feedback are
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 41
lacking (Hixon & Swann, 1993; Morling & Epstein, 1997; Paulhus & Levitt,
1987; Swann & Shroeder, 1995; Swann, Hixon, Stein-Seroussi, & Gilbert,
1990). A second moderator that has been examined in relation to feedback
reactions is personal investment. Research has shown that people reacted
according to the self-verification perspective when they were highly invested
in their self-views (confidently held or personally important), whereas
feedback reactions followed predictions of self-enhancement theory when
people were not invested in their self-views (Dauenheimer, Stahlberg, &
Petersen, 1999; Markus, 1977; Seta, Donaldson, & Seta, 1999; Stahlberg,
Petersen, & Dauenheimer, 1999). As low acceptance of negative feedback
has been identified as one of the main stumbling blocks in the feedback
process (Brett & Atwater, 2001; Kinicki et al., 2004), these two moderators
might offer new strategies for enhancing feedback acceptance.
UNDERLYING MODEL FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
In Figure 2, we present a model that should guide future research on
feedback-seeking behavior. This heuristic model shows how the various new
concepts that were introduced in the previous section are theoretically
related to feedback-seeking behavior. Our model builds on Morrison’s
(2002) recent conceptual model (see Figure 1) and opens various avenues for
future research.
First, future studies should focus on the left side of the model (e.g.,
antecedents, motives and feedback-seeking behavior). For instance, scholars
might examine how previously studied antecedents (e.g., learning and
performance goal orientation) are related to various self-motives. In addition,
future studies should explore the broad range of new antecedents that might
be identified on the basis of the self-motives framework. Furthermore,
studies should examine whether self-motives act as mediators between
antecedents and feedback-seeking behavior. In particular, it is important to
42 CHAPTER 1
test whether an antecedent has a different impact on feedback-seeking
behavior depending on the motive that guides the seeking behavior.
FIGURE 2: A SELF-MOTIVE MODEL OF FEEDBACK-SEEKING
Second, other future studies should concentrate on the right side of the
model (e.g., feedback-seeking behavior, feedback reactions’ moderators and
outcomes). Here, scholars should investigate the mediating role of feedback
reactions in the relationship between feedback-seeking behavior and
outcomes such as performance improvement. Furthermore, future studies
should investigate how different feedback reactions (acceptance and
satisfaction) relate to performance improvement. In addition, potential
moderators such as cognitive effort and individual investment should be
targeted to ascertain their role in the feedback-seeking - feedback reactions
chain.
A
Individual
and
Contextual
Anteced ents
Self-
motives
Feedback
Reactions’
Moderators
Feedback
Reactions
Outcomes
A
A
A
Self-Improvement
Self-Assessment
Self-Enhancement
Self-Verification
Feedback
seeking
Cognitive
Effort
Personal
Investment
Cognitive
Affective
Conative
Performance
Job Attitudes
Self-
evaluation
Knowledge
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 43
Third, future studies might test the entire model. For instance, some
empirical findings suggest that antecedents (e.g., credibility, self-esteem,
self-efficacy, goal orientation) that affect feedback-seeking behavior also
play an important role in influencing feedback reactions (Ilgen & Davis,
2000; Steelman & Levy, 2001). Another interesting avenue would be to
investigate whether motives that have been activated at the feedback-seeking
stage continue to have an influence at the feedback reactions stage. Finally,
future research should examine whether self-motives that are geared toward
obtaining accurate, and developmental feedback (the self-assessment and
self-improvement motives) eventually lead to an increase in performance.
From a methodological perspective, two different approaches (i.e., a direct
and an indirect method) can be used. In the direct method the motives are
directly measured by surveys in a cross-sectional or longitudinal design.
This approach is typically used in field studies. Several scholars have
already employed such designs and questionnaires to study self-motives in
an organizational context (see Helgeson & Mickelson, 1995; Stark &
Sommer, 2000; Tuckey et al., 2002). However, McClelland (1980),
McClelland, Koestner, and Weinberger (1989) and Winter, John, Stewart,
Klohnen, and Duncan (1998) pointed out that there is an important
difference between explicit motives (as measured by questionnaires) and
implicit motives (as deduced from experiments) and that these different
motives might have other behavioral consequences (for a meta-analysis, see
Spangler, 1992). Along these lines, one might question whether a rather
implicit and unconscious motive as self-verification can be accurately
measured by a questionnaire (Swann, Rentfrow, & Guinn, 2002). An indirect
approach wherein the activation of several implicit motives is inferred from
experimental designs seems a valuable alternative. In social psychology,
various paradigms for assessing the role of self-motives have been
developed. For example, in a typical self-assessment experiment,
participants are presented with tasks of varying degrees of diagnosticity. The
dependent measures in these experiments focus on whether participants
prefer, choose, or are more influenced by high-diagnosticity versus low-
44 CHAPTER 1
diagnosticity tasks (e.g., Sedikides, 1993; Trope & Neter, 1994). Another
promising paradigm that can easily be transferred to an organizational
context, was developed by Swann and Read (1981). In this paradigm,
participants are presented with a choice between a variety of feedback
opportunities to find out whether they possess a particular attribute. The
typical dependent measure used deals with the degree to which a participant
demonstrates a preference for feedback that is consistent, more positive or
more negative than existing self-views.
CONCLUSIONS
Over the last two decades, research on feedback-seeking behavior has
emerged as one of the most dominant themes in the feedback domain. A
broad range of antecedents and outcomes of feedback-seeking has been
examined. Our review of 49 studies showed that a resource-based
perspective dominated prior research on antecedents of feedback-seeking
behavior. Although twenty years of research has yielded important insights,
some inconsistent findings could not be explained on the basis of the
resource-based perspective. First, it was concluded that antecedents that
were conceptually related to uncertainty did not always have a uniform
impact on feedback-seeking behavior. Second, the role played by self-
concept related variables in the feedback-seeking process was unclear. Third,
findings about the relationship between feedback-seeking behavior and
performance were mixed.
To shed light on these unresolved issues and further refine thinking in this
area, we proposed a general framework for studying feedback-seeking
behavior. By borrowing from broad models in social psychology, we
provided an alternative for the traditional resource-based perspective on
feedback-seeking behavior. The use of insights from the broader self-
motives domain might lead to a more fine-grained and theoretically-driven
picture of feedback-seeking behavior in organizations. More specifically,
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 45
three new directions for future research were presented. First, on the basis of
the self-motives framework several new antecedents of feedback-seeking
behavior might be identified. Second, self-motives research in social
psychology can provide new insights in the inconsistent results concerning
the relationship between antecedents and feedback-seeking behavior in
previous research. Third, the relationship between feedback-seeking
behavior and performance can be clarified by considering the role of various
feedback reactions in relation to self-motives. By providing this self-motives
model of feedback-seeking behavior, we not only hope to bring the study of
feedback-seeking behavior in organizations more up-to-date with recent
developments in social psychology, but also to provide a rich framework for
guiding future feedback-seeking research.
THE PRESENT DISSERTATION
In the current dissertation, I will present several studies which aim to
accomplish some of the research avenues that were suggested in the
previously described research agenda. More specifically, by using the self-
motives framework I aim to pursue three objectives. First, self-motives
should be fruitful in identifying new antecedents of feedback-seeking
behavior, which may offer new strategies to encourage feedback-seeking in
organizations. Second, a closer look will be taken at some unresolved issues
in the feedback-seeking process by considering the role of underlying self-
motives. Third, the self-motives framework will be used to shed additional
light on the troubling relationship between feedback and performance.
In Figure 3, the overarching structure of this dissertation is given. This
structure is a simplification of the self-motives model that was presented
before (Figure 2). As such, it represents a working model for this dissertation
wherein only the specific variables that are directly examined across the
empirical studies are included. As none of the four self-motives will be
directly measured in the following studies, the self-motives are not included
46 CHAPTER 1
as variables in the model. Instead, the self-motives framework acts as
theoretical underpinnings guiding the choice of antecedents and moderators
that will be studied in this dissertation, as is suggested in Figure 3. In each
empirical study, a closer look will be taken at the relationship between
specific elements of this model. Thus, the working model in Figure 3 is
meant to illustrate how the various studies in this dissertation are
interconnected. With this purpose, the model will be retaken before each
chapter, highlighting the specific elements under study.
FIGURE 3: A WORKING MODEL LINKING THE VARIABLES STUDIED IN THIS DISSERTATION.
In the first empirical study (Chapter 2), two antecedents are examined that
are believed to activate self-improvement strivings in people (Sedikides &
Strubbe, 1997), and thus are likely to influence feedback-seeking behavior,
namely people’s beliefs about the modifiability and importance of various
performance dimensions. This experimental study takes a unique perspective
Need for
Closure
Uncertainty
Feedback
seeking
Cognitive
Effort
Performance
Certainty
orientation
Modifiability
Importance
Personal
Investment
Self-motives framework
Feedback Feedback
reactions
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 47
by looking at how these two antecedents influence individuals’ feedback-
seeking decisions when they have several feedback options. Thus, the
primary focus of the first study is to identify new antecedents of feedback-
seeking behavior, targeting the first objective of the dissertation.
Consequentially, this study is situated on the left side of the overarching
structure (modifiability, importance, and feedback-seeking) in Figure 3.
The third chapter presents a laboratory and a field study that take a closer
look at the role of uncertainty in the feedback-seeking process. As discussed
earlier, some studies found that uncertainty lead to more frequent feedback-
seeking, whereas other studies failed to replicate these findings or reported
opposite relationships. The current two studies try to shed a new light on
these inconsistent findings by examining the moderating role of two
individual difference variables, need for closure and certainty orientation, as
suggested by self-motives research. Thus, on the one hand, these two studies
aim to accomplish the second objective of the dissertation, namely resolving
inconsistent findings from previous research. On the other hand, need for
closure and certainty orientation have previously not been examined as
possible antecedents of feedback-seeking behavior, thus also the first
objective is tackled in Chapter 3. As can be seen in Figure 3, these two
studies examining uncertainty, need for closure and certainty orientation
in relation to feedback-seeking are also located at the left side of the model.
Whereas Chapter 3 focused on the role of uncertainty in the feedback-
seeking stage of the feedback process, Chapter 4 mirrors this focus by
considering the role of uncertainty in the feedback reactions stage of the
feedback process. Previous research yielded different answers to the
question whether people prefer favorable or confirming feedback (Shrauger,
1975). In this chapter, I propose that individuals’ level of investment
(certainty) in their self-views might be an important factor that has been
overlooked in previous research. It is hypothesized that people’s preference
for favorable or confirming feedback is moderated by the certainty of their
self-views. Two studies, a laboratory study with a student sample, and a field
48 CHAPTER 1
study with a working sample are conducted to test this hypothesis. Similar to
the previous chapter, these two studies aim to accomplish the second
objective by gaining more insight in unresolved issues from previous
research. Together, chapter 3 and 4 also paint a more complete picture of the
role of uncertainty in the feedback process than has typically been provided.
As can be seen in Figure 3, the relationship between feedback, personal
investment and feedback reactions is situated at the center of the model.
Finally, the last empirical study (Chapter 5) tackles the third objective,
which aims to gain more knowledge concerning the effects of feedback
interventions on performance. As noted before, several theoretical models
have postulated feedback acceptance as the main determinant of performance
improvement. Therefore, low acceptance of negative feedback is identified
as one of the main stumbling blocks in the feedback process. The self-
motives framework suggests that feedback acceptance is to a large extent
determined by the cognitive effort that people put in processing feedback.
Therefore, in two different samples, I tested whether requiring individuals to
extensively elaborate on feedback messages might lead to enhanced
feedback acceptance and improved task performance. As this study looks at
the relationships between feedback, cognitive effort, feedback reactions,
and performance, this final chapter is located at the center and right part of
the model in Figure 3.
After this fourth empirical part, this dissertation finishes with Chapter 6, in
which I present the general conclusions and the theoretical, practical and
research implications which can be drawn from the previous chapters.
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 49
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60 CHAPTER 1
APPENDIX: SUMMARY OF STUDIES WHICH INVESTIGATED
FEEDBACK-SEEKING BEHAVIOR IN ORGANIZATIONS
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 61
62 CHAPTER 1
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 63
64 CHAPTER 1
SELF-MOTIVES IN FEEDBACK-SEEKING 65
66 CHAPTER 1
CHAPTER 2
AN EXAMINATION OF STRATEGIES
FOR DIRECTING FEEDBACK-SEEKING
TOWARDS SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS
Manuscript submitted for publication1
FIGURE 1: CHAPTER 2 SITUATED IN THE WORKING MODEL OF THIS DISSERTATION
1 This paper was co-authored by Filip Lievens
Need for
Closure
Uncertainty
Cognitive
Effort
Performance
Feedback
Certainty
orientation
Modifiability
Importance
Feedback
reactions
Personal
Investment
Self-motives framework
Feedback
seeking
68 CHAPTER 2
ABSTRACT
This study examines how feedback-seeking across performance dimensions
can be influenced by changing the feedback-seeker’s lay beliefs about the
importance and modifiability of the various performance dimensions. A
laboratory experiment (n = 184) showed that people sought more feedback
about important dimensions as opposed to unimportant dimensions and
sought more feedback about non-modifiable dimensions as opposed to
modifiable dimensions. These findings can assist organizations in designing
strategies that direct employee feedback-seeking towards the specific
performance dimensions that are valued in the organization.
INTRODUCTION
The last decade, the world of work experienced some dramatic changes.
Organizations compete in global markets, use state-of-the-art information
technologies, are smaller, leaner, more service-driven and do no longer have
jobs structured as a fixed bundle of tasks (Cascio, 1995). In response,
employees are confronted with multiple competing tasks and demands in
their day-to-day jobs. Additionally, managers and supervisors often demand
performance on multiple dimensions for any single task, reflecting the
heightened environmental complexity (Ashford & Northcraft, 2003). One
strategy for coping with this heightened complexity for employees is seeking
performance feedback. Research has shown that seeking feedback about
performance is an effective self-regulation strategy for employees: by asking
for performance feedback, they can better assess their capabilities (Ashford
& Tsui, 1991), adjust their goal-directed behavior (Morrison & Weldon,
1990) and "learn the ropes" of a new job (Morrison, 1993).
Given the wealth of competing tasks and demands in the current business
environments, not all feedback-seeking about performance will be directed at
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 69
improving the performance dimensions that are valued by an organization.
Similarly, people might seek feedback about performance dimensions that
are difficult to develop or improve on. As feedback-seeking behavior is often
associated with high costs for the feedback-seeker (Levy, Albright, Cawley,
& Williams, 1995), it is of key importance that these costly feedback-
seeking attempts are not in vain and are directed towards the most valued
performance dimensions in an organization. Till now, most studies have
examined how situational and individual antecedents predict the general
frequency of feedback-seeking behavior (Morrison & Vancouver, 2000;
Vandewalle, 2003). Although it is important to know how organizations can
encourage the frequency of feedback-seeking, little is known about which
performance dimensions employees seek feedback, and how these feedback-
seeking decisions might be influenced. The idea of directing feedback-
seeking towards valued KSAOs also echoes a more fundamental problem in
the strategic human resource management literature. Recent calls have been
made for mechanisms that enable a better alignment between the individual
competencies2 represented in the firm and those required by its strategic
intent (e.g., Huselid, 1995; Wright, Dunford, & Snell, 2001).
Therefore, this study addresses the following question: How can feedback-
seeking be encouraged in the direction of specific performance dimensions?
The basic assumption of this study is that employees’ feedback-seeking
decisions are made on the basis of an individual theory of performance.
Therefore, strategies for directing feedback-seeking should aim to influence
employees’ theory of performance. In a laboratory study, we will test two
2 It should be noted that the concept of competency is much debated and often
considered interchangeable with the term KSAOs (e.g., Schippmann et al., 2000).
The performance dimensions we used in this study, were derived from a recent
study by Tett et al. (2000) who developed a taxonomy of performance dimensions in
terms of managerial competencies. Thus, we further use the term competency to
refer to specific performance dimensions with the understanding that the concept is
by no means firmly established.
70 CHAPTER 2
strategies (i.e., communicating explicit importance and modifiability beliefs)
that are proposed to influence these individual performance theories and
thus, that are proposed to direct feedback-seeking towards specific
dimensions of performance. As theoretical underpinnings of these strategies,
we draw on recent developments in social psychology about the role of lay
beliefs in directing attitudes, judgment and behavior.
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
Organizations have a general sense of the knowledge, skills, abilities and
other characteristics (KSAOs) that are deemed to lead to effective
performance as this depends on the goals and values that are emphasized in
their organizational strategy. Apart from this organizational theory of
performance, employees also hold their own beliefs about what is considered
good performance in an organization (Borman, 1987). The combined lay
beliefs of an employee form an individual theory of performance that
includes amongst others the content of the various performance dimensions,
how KSAOs are linked to performance dimensions, which KSAOs are most
instrumental for successful performance and how modifiable KSAOs are
(Maurer, Wrenn, Pierce, Tross, & Collins, 2003; Schleicher & Day, 1998).
We propose that two aspects of individual performance theories will most
likely influence the feedback-seeking decisions of employees, namely beliefs
about the importance and beliefs about the modifiability of the different
KSAOs. Therefore, in order to direct feedback-seeking of their employees,
organizations should try to influence these beliefs by communicating and
making the common theory of performance that is hold in the organization
more explicit.
IMPORTANCE BELIEFS
In a recent review of feedback-seeking behavior, Ashford, Blatt, and
VandeWalle (2003) identified the instrumental motive to achieve a goal or
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 71
perform well as one of the most dominant motives of feedback-seeking.
People seek feedback because it has informational value that can help them
to meet goals and to regulate their behavior. For instance, previous research
has shown that the higher the importance of goal-attainment, the more
frequently employees seek feedback (Ashford, 1986). On the basis of the
instrumental motive driving feedback-seeking, we expect that increasing or
decreasing the importance of specific competencies will lead to more or less
interest in feedback about these competencies. This would occur because
important traits and abilities are closely associated with people’s goals and
ambitions (Pelham, 1991). Important traits are instrumental to achieving
long-term desired outcomes and thus, diagnostic information about these
traits is highly valued (Trope, 1986).
Apart from the feedback-seeking literature, additional evidence about the
role of importance can be found in social psychological research on attitudes
and persuasion. For instance, Petty and Cacioppo (1979) examined how
people consider evidence on an issue when it is of consequence to the person
as opposed to inconsequential. Subjects more systematically processed the
arguments presented to them when the issue was important and
consequential. Furthermore, people sought out more information and were
more interested in information about important attitudes as opposed to
unimportant attitudes when they were told that they would have to use these
attitudes in subsequent judgments (Visser, Krosnick, & Simmons, 2003).
Therefore, we expect that highlighting or playing down the importance of
specific competencies will lead to the following effects:
Hypothesis 1: People will seek more feedback about competencies
they are told to be important as opposed to competencies they are
told to be unimportant.
At a practical level, it is important to note that this first mechanism for
influencing people’s feedback-seeking is relevant to many feedback
situations in organizations. For example, in recruitment and selection,
72 CHAPTER 2
organizations typically convey to applicants which KSAOs are critical so
that applicants know up front which competencies will play a central role in
the selection procedure and in successful job fulfillment. Another example is
that in the context of employee development and career management,
organizations benefit from making explicit which competencies are crucial
for the organization to sustain its competitive advantage so that people can
seek feedback about these competencies and improve on them. Despite its
practical relevance, we still do not know whether it is indeed possible to
encourage people’s feedback-seeking toward competencies that the
organization considers to be important.
MODIFIABILITY BELIEFS
Dweck (1986, see also Dweck & Leggett, 1988) found that people hold lay
beliefs about the modifiability of personal attributes and that these lay beliefs
or implicit theories have important consequences for directing attitudes,
judgments and behavior. People either believe that attributes are fixed and
not modifiable (also known as an entity theory) or that they are modifiable
and can be changed and improved upon (also known as an incremental
theory). Whereas the above mentioned findings have been found with
individuals’ generalized implicit theories, research has also shown that these
theories can be very domain-specific. For instance, people can believe that
intelligence is fixed, but that certain personality traits are highly malleable
(Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995; Maurer et al., 2003). Furthermore, research
has also shown that these domain-specific lay beliefs can be manipulated by
providing individuals with an explicit incremental or entity theory (Chiu,
Hong, & Dweck, 1997; Trope, Gervey, & Bolger, 2003).
One important consequence of this theory is that people with different lay
beliefs pursue very different goals in achievement-related situations. On the
one hand, people with an incremental theory exhibit a learning goal
orientation to develop competence by acquiring new skills and mastering
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 73
new situations. On the other hand, people with an entity theory pursue a
performance goal orientation to demonstrate and validate the adequacy of
one’s competence by seeking favorable judgments and avoiding negative
judgments about one’s competency. Previous feedback-seeking research has
used this goal orientation framework and found that when people believe
traits are modifiable, they tend to seek more feedback: Learning goal
orientation has been consistently found to be related to the frequency of
feedback-seeking (Tuckey, Brewer, & Williamson, 2002; VandeWalle &
Cummings, 1997; VandeWalle, Ganesan, Challagalla, & Brown, 2000).
Taken together, this leads to a second mechanism that organizations might
use to influence the feedback-seeking of people. Specifically, organizations
can influence feedback-seeking decisions by providing employees with
explicit modifiability theories for specific competencies. Again, the practical
relevance of this mechanism should be clear as it might apply to various
assessment, training, and development interventions in organizations. We
formulate the following hypothesis.
Hypothesis 2: People will seek more feedback about competencies
they are told to be modifiable as opposed to competencies they are
told to be not modifiable.
Finally, in an exploratory sense, we examined whether importance beliefs
interacted with modifiability beliefs in predicting feedback-seeking across
performance dimensions. Dutton (1995) examined the impact of trait
importance and modifiability on students’ task preferences and did not find
an interaction effect between trait importance and modifiability. Therefore,
no a priori hypothesis was articulated regarding the direction of a possible
interaction effect.
74 CHAPTER 2
OVERVIEW OF CURRENT STUDY
Previous research has looked almost exclusively at the frequency of
feedback-seeking as a dependent variable (e.g., Ang & Cummings, 1994;
Ashford, 1986; Ashford & Cummings, 1985; Callister, Kramer, & Turban,
1999; Fedor, Rensvold, & Adams, 1992; Gupta, Govindarajan, & Malhotra,
1999; Levy, Albright, Cawley, & Williams, 1995; Levy, Cober, & Miller,
2002; Morrison, Chen, & Salgado, 2004; Morrison & Cummings, 1992;
Northcraft & Ashford, 1990; Renn & Fedor, 2001; Roberson, Deitch, Brief,
& Block, 2003; Tuckey et al., 2002; VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997;
VandeWalle et al., 2000; Williams, Steelman, Miller, & Levy, 1999). Thus,
the topic that has received most attention in the feedback-seeking domain to
date, is how employees decide whether to seek feedback or not. However,
when feedback is available about multiple tasks and dimensions, employees
have different options to seek feedback. Apart from deciding whether to seek
feedback or not, employees have to decide on which dimensions they will be
seeking feedback. To our knowledge, the current study is the first to examine
how people decide about which performance dimensions they will be
seeking feedback and how these feedback-seeking decisions can be
influenced by communicating performance theories.
As the objective of this study is investigating how feedback-seeking can be
directed across different performance dimensions, we adopted a within-
persons approach. Participants in the “experimental” condition received
information about the supposed importance and modifiability of four
different competencies. This enabled us to examine whether participants
sought more feedback about important compared to unimportant
competencies and modifiable compared to non-modifiable competencies
after receiving information about all four competencies. With few exceptions
(e.g., Vancouver & Morrison, 1995), research in the feedback-seeking area
has focused on between-persons relationships. Yet, social psychological
research on self motives and decision making research has shown that it is
appropriate that researchers also adopt within-persons designs to study this
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 75
kind of decision making (for a review, see Morrison & Vancouver, 2000;
Pelham, 1993). Thus, a within-persons examination of feedback-seeking
across the dimensionality of performance is relevant because it furthers our
understanding about how people make feedback-seeking choices.
However, as it could be argued that observed differences in feedback-
seeking across competencies are due to a priori differences in feedback-
seeking, independent of importance and modifiability manipulations, we
included a baseline condition3. In this baseline condition, we examined the
normal “base rate” feedback-seeking of people about the four competencies
(i.e., feedback-seeking rate about the four competencies without receiving
any additional information about them). Thus, a within-persons approach
was combined with a between-persons approach. To rule out the possibility
that the observed effects are caused by a priori differences and not by the
experimental manipulation, an interaction effect between the within-persons
factors and the between-persons factor should be observed, indicating that
people sought more (or less) feedback when the competencies were
manipulated compared to baseline feedback-seeking levels when these
competencies were not manipulated.
METHOD
Participants. In exchange for extra credit in a course in Human Resource
Management, 184 students from different majors (e.g., medical-social
sciences, psychology, economics) voluntarily participated in this session.
Participants had an average age of 23.1 years (SD = 1.8); 73% were female,
27% male.
3 An alternative strategy to avoid this possible confound would have been to
counterbalance or randomly assign competencies to the experimental manipulations.
However, practical constraints precluded this strategy.
76 CHAPTER 2
Design. We used a three factor experimental design containing a between-
persons factor, consisting of the experimental versus the baseline condition,
and two within-person variables that were manipulated, Importance (high vs.
low) and Modifiability (high vs. low). A covariate was also included
consisting of a measured variable (learning goal orientation).
Procedure . Participants were given the task to complete a computerized in-
basket that simulated daily work activities. We chose an in-basket as this
study’s task because it provides participants with a realistic environment that
might instigate high involvement and motivation. In addition, in-baskets are
often used in selection and development contexts (Thornton & Cleveland,
1990). The in-basket used was developed by Tett, Steele, and Beauregard
(2003). They developed this computerized in-basket to measure four
elementary managerial competencies that are included in a recently
developed competency taxonomy (Tett, Guterman, Bleier, & Murphy,
2000): Coordinating, Decisiveness, Problem Awareness and Information
Management4. Completing the computerized in-basket took participants on
average about one hour. Upon completion of the in-basket, participants were
told that there would not be time enough to receive feedback about all
competencies. Therefore, participants were asked to indicate about which
competencies they wanted to receive feedback. Finally, participants received
a feedback report with quantitative and narrative feedback about their
4 In a pilot study, 60 master students rated their standing on the four managerial
competencies relative to their fellow students on a 10-point scale ranging from 1
(bottom five percent) to 10 (top five percent). A one-way within-subjects ANOVA
revealed no significant differences between the self-ratings on the four
competencies F (3,57) = 1.77, p > .05, indicating that participants on average would
have the same performance expectations about the four competencies: Coordinating
(M = 6.10, SD = 1.28), Decisiveness (M = 5.90, SD = 1.24), Problem Awareness (M
= 5.77, SD = 1.21) and Information Management (M = 5.22, SD = 1.26). This is
important because previous research has shown that performance expectations
influence ego costs associated with feedback-seeking and thus, might prevent
people from feedback-seeking.
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 77
performance on the in-basket. At the end of the session, participants were
asked to report their general comments about the computerized in-basket in
writing.
Importance and Modifiability Manipulations. Participants were randomly
assigned to either the baseline condition or the experimental condition. In the
baseline condition, participants were introduced to the computerized in-
basket exercise and were given a short definition of the four competencies
that would be measured by the in-basket. After that, they could immediately
start working on the in-basket. In the experimental condition, participants
were also introduced to the in-basket and also received a short definition of
the four competencies. However, prior to working on the in-basket exercise,
people listened to a briefing, that was given under the pretext of better
informing participants about the background of the different competencies,
measured in this in-basket.
At this point, participants in the experimental condition were instructed
about the supposed importance and modifiability of the four competencies.
Each of the four competencies was put high or low on both the importance
and modifiability dimensions.
The importance manipulation was adapted from Butler (1993), and Dunning
(1995) and consisted of the following instruction: “Being tested on the
abilities Problem Awareness and Coordinating might be of interest to you.
Several studies have shown that these competencies determine managerial
effectiveness in professional careers. Therefore, tests that measure these two
competencies often appear on business schools entrance exams and selection
tests for junior managers. Conversely, Information Management and
Decisiveness are not that important in determining managerial effectiveness.
Although they are nice to have, they are not of overriding importance.
Therefore, these competencies are seldom tested in business schools entrance
exams and selection tests for junior managers”.
78 CHAPTER 2
FIGURE 2: MANAGERIAL COMPETENCIES DEPICTED ON THE IMPORTANCE
AND MODIFIABILITY DIMENSIONS IN THE EXPERIMENTAL CONDITION
The modifiability manipulation was adapted from Dunning (1995) and Trope
et al. (2003) and consisted of the following instruction: “Coordinating and
Information Management are two managerial competencies that are easy to
acquire. They are two of the most changeable, least stable managerial
abilities around. Research shows that these two competencies can easily be
improved by learning, experience and intensive practice. Conversely,
Decisiveness and Problem Awareness are two managerial competencies that
are hard to acquire. They are two of the most stable, least changeable
managerial abilities around. Research shows that these managerial
competencies are closely related to innate intelligence and personality.
Therefore, they are very hard to develop by practice.” As a summary of the
manipulations, participants were presented with a figure (see Figure 2)
depicting the four competencies on the importance and modifiability
dimensions. Finally, participants were told they could start working on the
in-basket exercise.
It is important to emphasize that to ensure the external validity, the
aforementioned manipulation instructions were specifically constructed to be
Importance
Modifiabilit
y
Problem Awareness Coordinating
Information
Management
Decisiveness
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 79
highly consequential to the participants. Laboratory experiments in I/O
psychology have been criticized because participants typically do not take
their role very seriously and do not perceive their actions as important since
those actions are likely to have few, if any, enduring consequences (Sackett
& Larson, 1998). For instance, suppose we had instructed participants about
the importance and modifiability beliefs of the company in the computer
simulation. As this company was entirely fictitious, participants would have
had little reason to adapt their feedback-seeking decisions. Therefore, we
used manipulations that might have important implications for the
participants in their future careers. Furthermore, previous studies have
already shown that the used manipulations were successful in changing
people’s importance and modifiability beliefs (Butler, 1993; Dunning, 1995,
Trope et al., 2003).
Measures.
Feedback-seeking. The measure of feedback-seeking was taken from
Swann, Pelham, and Krull (1989). Upon completion of the computerized in-
basket, participants were given the opportunity to seek feedback about
specific competencies. To this end, the experimenter simply suggested that
each participant ranked the four managerial competencies on the basis of
how much he/she wanted to receive feedback regarding each one (1st rank =
most preferred, 4th rank = least preferred). This way, we obtained an
indication of feedback-seeking preference for each competency. Given that
participants were told that time constraints precluded the provision of
feedback on all competencies, these measures reflect feedback-seeking in a
computerized environment. As noted above, participants also received actual
feedback about the competencies.
Given that the use of ipsative data such as rankings has been criticized (see
Vanleeuwen & Mandabach, 2002), a subsample of 41 participants in each
condition also completed another measure of feedback-seeking, taken from
Trope and Neter (1994). These participants indicated how much they wanted
80 CHAPTER 2
feedback for each of the four competencies on a 7-point scale ranging from
not at all (1) to very much (7). Results of the analyses with this measure of
feedback-seeking as dependent variable were very similar to the reported
analyses with rankings as dependent variable.
Learning goal orientation. Prior to working on the in-basket exercise,
participants filled out the academic learning goal questionnaire
(VandeWalle, Cron, & Slocum, 2000). This questionnaire included four 7-
point scale items (α = .71). People with a learning goal orientation have a
general belief that traits are modifiable and have been found to seek
feedback more frequently (Tuckey et al., 2002; VandeWalle & Cummings,
1997; VandeWalle et al., 2000). Because our manipulation was aimed at
influencing these modifiability beliefs, it was possible that this individual
difference variable would interact with the within-subjects variables.
Therefore, we included learning goal orientation as a covariate.
Analyses. Our two hypotheses were analyzed using analysis of covariance
(ANCOVA) with Importance and Modifiability as the within-persons
factors, Baseline condition as the between-persons factor and Learning Goal
Orientation as a covariate. The dependent variable consisted of the feedback-
seeking measure. Although it is generally assumed that non-parametric tests
(e.g., Kruskal-Wallis) should be substituted for the F test whenever the
initial data are ranks, research has shown that parametric significance tests
are equivalent to their non-parametric counterparts performed on ranks
(Zimmerman, 1995, see also Velleman & Wilkinson 1993). In any event,
alternative non-parametric approaches to the analysis of these data
corroborated the results of the ANCOVA. In addition, analyses with
feedback-seeking ratings as a dependent variable instead of feedback-
seeking rankings yielded the same results.
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 81
RESULTS
Check of Internal Validity of Manipulations. Participants in the
experimental condition were asked to rate the perceived importance (1 = not
important; 7 = very important) and modifiability (1 = very hard to modify; 7
= very easy to modify) of the four managerial competencies at the start and at
the end of the session (thus, before and after the manipulation). In support of
the manipulation, a repeated measures ANOVA with the importance ratings
of the competencies as dependent variables indicated that Coordinating (M =
5.76 vs. 6.32, p < .001) and Problem Awareness (M = 6.11 vs. 6.41, p < .01)
were rated as more important after the manipulation, whereas Decisiveness
(M = 6.00 vs. 4.65, p < .001) and Information Management (M = 5.87 vs.
4.22, p < .001) were rated less important after the manipulation. A repeated
measures ANOVA with the modifiability ratings as dependent variables
indicated that Coordinating (M = 5.14 vs. 6.11, p < .001) and Information
Management (M = 5.90 vs. 6.24, p < .05) were rated as more modifiable
after the manipulation, whereas Problem Awareness (M = 4.02 vs. 3.30, p <
.01) and Decisiveness (M = 3.87 vs. 3.13, p < .01) were rated less modifiable
after the manipulation, indicating that the modifiability manipulation was
also successful. No Importance and Modifiability questionnaires were
administered in the baseline condition because we did not want to influence
the feedback-seeking levels about the different competencies.
We also disposed of an indication of possible demand characteristics. When
asked about their general comments after the session, none of the
participants in the experimental condition wrote down a comment that was in
any way related to the manipulation or the nature of the competencies. All
comments concerned possible improvements in the task (e.g., less items,
different lay-out, more process feedback, items in different order…),
indicating that people had no suspicions about the objective of the study.
Check of External Validity of Experimental Task. Participants completed
an additional questionnaire measuring their involvement in the task (in-
82 CHAPTER 2
basket) on the basis of six items on a 7-point scale, with responses ranging
from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The scale included items
such as, “The background information we received was realistic”, “I was
motivated to perform well on this exercise”, and “I received sufficient
information to perform well on this exercise”. The mean for this scale was
5.70 (SD = .63, α = .70), indicating that participants were highly involved in
the session.
Hypothesis 1. The descriptive statistics for the specific managerial
competencies across the two conditions are given in Table 1. Feedback-
seeking in the baseline condition reflects the average influence of the
participants’ various lay beliefs, whereas feedback-seeking in the
experimental condition reflects the influence of the importance and
modifiability manipulations.
Feedback-seeking (n = 184)
Baseline Condition Experimental Condition
M SD M SD
Decisiveness 2.14 1.00 2.43 .88
Information Management 2.71 1.07 3.46 1.05
Problem Awareness 2.92 1.17 2.15 1.09
Coordinating 2.22 1.06 2.11 .93
Note: Lower Ranks Represent Higher Feedback-seeking
TABLE 1: MEANS AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS OF DEPENDENT MEASURES
FOR SPECIFIC MANAGERIAL COMPETENCIES IN BASELINE AND EXPERIMENTAL GROUPS.
Hypothesis 1 posited that people would seek more feedback about
competencies they are told to be important as opposed to competencies they
are told to be unimportant. As can be seen in Table 2, we found a significant
Importance x Condition interaction effect, F (1,183) = 31.32, p < .001, η² =
.15.
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 83
Feedback-seeking (ranking)
Source df F η²
Between subjects
Learning Goal Orientation (LGO) 1 1.00 .01
Condition 1 2.32 .01
Error 183 (.11)a
Within subjects
Importance (I) 1 .16 .00
I x LGO 1 .99 .01
I x C 1 31.32*** .15
Modifiability (M) 1 2.44 .01
M x LGO 1 3.84 .02
M x C 1 11.55*** .06
I x M 1 .59 .00
I x M x LGO 1 .04 .00
I x M x C 1 .32 .00
Error 183 (1.52)a
Note: a Equals the Mean Square Error. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.
TABLE 2: ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE FOR THE FULL FACTORIAL MODEL
WITH FEEDBACK-SEEKING AS DEPENDENT VARIABLE.
Feedback-seeking (n = 184)
Results Baseline Condition Experimental Condition
Importance Low 2.39 2.95
High 2.55 2.13
Modifiability Low 2.51 2.29
High 2.44 2.79
Note. Lower ranks represent higher feedback-seeking
TABLE 3: MEAN FEEDBACK-SEEKING RANKINGS FOR IMPORTANCE AND MODIFIABILITY DIMENSIONS.
Table 3 presents mean feedback-seeking rankings on the basis of the
Importance dimensions for the baseline and the experimental condition. A
planned comparison indicated that people in the experimental condition
sought more feedback about the important competencies as compared to the
unimportant competencies, F (1,183) = 46.10, p < .001. Then, to examine
whether these differences were not caused by a priori differences in
feedback-seeking preferences, we compared feedback-seeking choices in the
experimental condition with feedback-seeking choices in the baseline
condition. A planned comparison indicated that people sought less feedback
about unimportant competencies in the experimental condition as compared
to the level of feedback-seeking about these competencies in the baseline
condition, F (1,183) = 37.89, p < .001, as can be seen in Figure 3.
84 CHAPTER 2
FIGURE 3: FEEDBACK-SEEKING AS A FUNCTION OF IMPORTANCE
IN THE BASELINE AND THE EXPERIMENTAL CONDITION
Conversely, people sought more feedback about the important competencies
in the experimental condition as compared to the level of feedback-seeking
about these competencies in the baseline condition, F (1,183) = 20.41, p <
.001. As shown in Figure 3, a reversal in feedback-seeking took place in the
experimental condition. The competencies that received least feedback
interest in the baseline condition, received most feedback interest in the
experimental condition. So, Hypothesis 1 was supported.
Hypothesis 2. Hypothesis 2 stated that people would seek more feedback
about competencies they were told to be modifiable as opposed to
competencies they were told to be non-modifiable. As shown in Table 2, we
found a significant Modifiability x Condition interaction effect, F (1,183) =
11.55, p < .001, η² = .06. We first looked at the within-persons effects in the
experimental condition. People in the experimental condition sought more
feedback about the competencies that were said to be non-modifiable as
Vertic al bars de note 0.95 confidence in tervals
* Lower scores represent higher feedback seeking
Baseline
Experimental
Low High
Importance
1,8
2,0
2,2
2,4
2,6
2,8
3,0
3,2
3,4
Feedback Seeking *
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 85
compared to the competencies that were said to modifiable, F (1, 183) =
18.92, p < .001. Thus, as can be seen in Figure 4, the effects of the
Modifiability manipulation were in the opposite direction as was expected.
This pattern was confirmed when we compared feedback-seeking choices in
the baseline and experimental condition. On the one hand, people sought
more feedback about those competencies that were said to be non-modifiable
as compared to the baseline condition, F (1,183) = 6.09, p < .05. On the
other hand, participants sought less feedback about those competencies that
were said to be modifiable as compared to the baseline condition, F (1,183)
= 16.05, p < .001. Again, a reversal in feedback-seeking values in the
experimental condition could be observed as compared to the baseline
condition, but not in the hypothesized direction. Thus, hypothesis 2 was not
supported. As can be seen in Table 2, the Importance and Modifiability
manipulations did not interact to predict feedback-seeking. The Importance x
Modifiability x Condition interaction effect was not statistically significant,
F (1,183) = .32, p > .05.
FIGURE 4: FEEDBACK-SEEKING AS A FUNCTION OF MODIFIABILITY
IN THE BASELINE AND THE EXPERIMENTAL CONDITION.
Vertica l bars denote 0. 95 confidence intervals
* Lower scores re
p
resent hi
g
her feedback seekin
g
Baseline
Experimental
Low High
Modifiability
2,0
2,1
2,2
2,3
2,4
2,5
2,6
2,7
2,8
2,9
3,0
3,1
Feedback Seeking *
86 CHAPTER 2
DISCUSSION
The goal of this study was to examine how people decide about which
performance dimensions they will be seeking feedback. Insight in this
decision process is important because it can assist organizations in designing
strategies that direct employee feedback-seeking towards the specific
performance dimensions that are valued in the organization. It is also crucial
for individuals because it might help them to seek feedback about those
competencies that are of key importance for advancing their careers. On the
basis of theoretical developments in social psychology, we proposed that
feedback-seeking decisions are based on an individuals’ lay theory of
performance and thus, strategies to direct feedback-seeking decisions should
be aimed at influencing these lay theories.
Our findings indicate that strategies to communicate specific aspects of a
desired theory of performance were very effective in influencing feedback-
seeking. Participants who received information about the modifiability and
importance dimensions exhibited a significantly different feedback-seeking
pattern than participants who did not receive information about the
underlying dimensions of the competencies. A reversal in feedback-seeking
values could be observed in the experimental condition as compared to the
baseline condition, illustrating the strength of these strategies. This seems to
suggest that individuals’ lay beliefs or implicit theories are indeed one of the
main factors underlying feedback-seeking decisions.
Although affecting lay beliefs was successful in influencing feedback-
seeking decisions, the direction of feedback-seeking was not always as
hypothesized. First, the effect of highlighting or downplaying the importance
of specific dimensions on feedback-seeking was in the hypothesized
direction. Individuals sought more feedback about competencies from which
the importance was highlighted as compared to competencies from which the
importance was played down, thus confirming previous social psychological
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 87
research that demonstrated how importance beliefs guide behavior in self-
evaluative situations (e.g., Pelham, 1991).
Second, emphasizing the modifiability or non-modifiability of specific
competencies resulted in a feedback-seeking pattern that was in the opposite
direction as was expected. Individuals sought more feedback about non-
modifiable competencies as opposed to modifiable competencies. This is
surprising, given that previous research indicated that people are driven by
self-improvement concerns and seek more feedback when they believe traits
are modifiable (Dweck & Legget, 1988; VandeWalle, 2003). One possible
explanation is the activation of a self-assessment motive instead of a self-
improvement motive in this specific context. In self motives research, two
different but conceptually related motives are distinguished. People who are
driven by self-assessment strivings are interested predominantly in the
diagnosticity of self-relevant information, that is, the extent to which the
information can reduce uncertainty about an aspect of the self, whereas
people who are driven by self-improvement strivings are motivated to
improve their traits, abilities, and skills (Sedikides & Strubbe, 1997; Tayler,
Neter, & Wayment, 1995). In this study, it is plausible that participants were
not highly motivated by self-improvement strivings, because they knew they
would not be assessed again on these competencies in the immediate future.
Instead, the ambition of most graduate students to obtain a management
position in the future might have instigated a self-assessment motive. The
non-modifiable competencies are more diagnostic in providing information
about their potential as future managers. That is, if feedback indicated that
they did not dispose of the non-modifiable competencies at the time of the
experiment, this meant that they probably would never obtain a management
position. In contrast, the modifiable competencies are not that diagnostic
about their management potential, because they may still acquire these
competencies in the future. When people are looking for diagnostic
information, self-assessment concerns have been found to motivate behavior
in self-evaluative situations (e.g. Trope, 1975, 1979). Thus, the higher
88 CHAPTER 2
interest in feedback about the non-modifiable competencies might be
explained by self-assessment strivings.
Finally, our results indicate that importance and modifiability beliefs
independently affect feedback-seeking across performance dimensions. No
significant interaction effect was observed, which replicates the absence of
interaction effects between trait importance and modifiability in predicting
task preference reported by Dunning (1995) .
These results have several practical implications for organizations.
Organizations are increasingly designing various HR practices (e.g.,
performance appraisal, compensation, selection, and training systems) in
order to encourage the development of the KSAOs or competencies that are
highly valued in the organizations. For instance, in the strategic management
literature it is proposed that “individual competencies” should be aligned
with the “core competences” of the organization in order to obtain a strategic
benefit (Becker, Huselid, & Ulrich, 2001; Schippmann et al., 2000). This
study demonstrates that, as an additional mechanism, organizations can also
encourage feedback-seeking to develop highly valued KSAOs or
competencies in their organization. We would recommend that organizations
take special steps to communicate which competencies are most important
for successful performance. This can be done by circulating mission
statements on a wide scale (e.g., on the intranet), by emphasizing important
competencies in recruitment advertisements, performance appraisal
approaches, and employee development plans, and by consistently and
explicitly promoting employees on the basis of important competencies.
On the other hand, the findings concerning the role of modifiability beliefs
suggest caution in emphasizing the modifiability of specific competencies in
practice (e.g., in training and development). Our results seem to indicate that
people seek less feedback about competencies that are believed to be
modifiable. The explanation we provided for this unexpected finding
suggests that this is the case when people are dealing with momentary
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 89
assessments of their abilities. For instance, the design of our task
corresponds closely to organizational practice where people are provided
with feedback about their competencies on one single occasion, for instance
in performance appraisal, developmental assessment centers, 360-degree
feedback, and after completing self-assessment tools. This study seems to
suggest that, on these occasions, organizations should emphasize that
competencies are non-modifiable to encourage feedback-seeking. However,
given that these findings were in contradiction with theoretical predictions,
these results await further confirmation in future research.
Our results also extend results from research on frame-of-reference training.
This type of rater training has been found to be quite successful in imposing
a performance theory on raters (e.g., supervisors). Specifically, frame-of-
reference training is effective in clarifying to raters what the relevant
performance dimensions and effectiveness levels for rating employees are
(Lievens, 2001; Schleicher & Day, 1998; Sulsky & Day, 1994; Woehr,
1994). Our study fits nicely in this literature because we found it is possible
to tell individuals which performance dimensions are important so that they
ask their supervisors feedback about these specific competencies.
BOUNDARY CONDITIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH
Despite the advantages laboratory studies afford in terms of statistical
control, they are often criticized on external validity grounds. For instance,
the task and participants in this study do not completely mimic tasks and
employees in an organization. Generalizability concerns of the current
investigation were specifically focused at obtaining a high experimental
realism (Berkowitz & Donnerstein, 1982). The task was carefully designed
to be interesting, realistic, motivating and within the scope of the
participants’ abilities (see involvement ratings). Furthermore, we believe that
the most important theoretical components of situations where people can
seek feedback across performance dimensions were included in the design,
90 CHAPTER 2
which makes it possible to increase our understanding of the mechanisms
and processes involved (Dobbins, Lane, & Steiner, 1981).
Although efforts were made to create a situation that was as real as possible,
it was far less complicated than most feedback situations in organizations.
For instance, in this study we looked at feedback-seeking decisions across
performance dimensions, while keeping all other feedback-seeking decisions
constant. In an organizational environment, employees have to decide
whether they will seek feedback or not (frequency), whether they will seek
direct or indirect feedback (strategy), and from whom they will request
feedback (source). A second factor that was held constant in this study was
feedback-seeking costs. Previous research has repeatedly shown that
employees in a real feedback environment are constantly balancing the
desire for feedback against the costs associated with seeking (e.g., Ashford
& Cummings, 1986; VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997). In this study,
participants experienced very little feedback-seeking costs. First, participants
requested feedback in a private context (a computer) where face-loss costs
were minimal (Levy et al., 1995). Second, if people have low performance
expectations, this represents a high ego cost (e.g., Northcraft & Ashford,
1990). The pilot study ensured that performance expectations were on
average the same for all competencies.
The current findings present several issues for future research. One
potentially fruitful avenue focuses on feedback-seeking decisions across
performance dimensions in combination with other feedback-seeking
decisions (e.g., sources and strategy). For instance, we would expect that
employees will use different feedback sources for seeking feedback about
different performance dimensions. It is likely that employees will turn to
experts with high credibility when seeking feedback about competencies that
are deemed to be important. Furthermore, the strategy that is used might also
interact with the performance dimensions when seeking feedback. For
instance, employees will probably seek more indirect feedback (monitoring)
about competencies that are believed to be unimportant in an organization,
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 91
whereas they probably will seek more direct feedback (inquiry) about
important competencies.
A second avenue for future research is taking the influence of feedback-
seeking costs in account when studying feedback-seeking across
performance dimensions. One important variable in this context is feedback
sign. Previous research has shown that people tend to seek more feedback,
when they expect that positive feedback will be obtained (Northcraft &
Ashford, 1990). We expect that importance and modifiability beliefs will
interact with feedback sign to predict feedback-seeking. For instance, as
people typically wish to maintain a favorable image of the self, employees
will probably be more likely to seek positive feedback about non-modifiable
competencies and negative feedback about modifiable competencies (e.g.,
Dunning, 1995). A second factor that is proposed to affect feedback costs,
are feedback-seeking patterns of colleagues. Previous research has shown
that individuals seek more feedback when their peers also seek feedback
(Williams et al., 1999). What would happen if an employee believes a
specific competency is unimportant, but all his colleagues openly seek
feedback about this competency? Thus, peer feedback-seeking seems
another promising organizational strategy for directing feedback-seeking
across performance dimensions. A third factor that could influence feedback-
seeking costs is accessibility. In organizations, it is likely that feedback
about some competencies (e.g., profitability) takes more effort to acquire
than feedback about other competencies (e.g., timeliness). One question that
comes to mind is whether emphasizing the importance of these inaccessible
competencies will be sufficient to overcome the difficulties associated with
seeking feedback about these competencies.
In conclusion, although an important aspect of feedback-seeking is the
decision about which performance dimensions to ask feedback, past research
has paid little attention to the characteristics of performance dimensions that
drive seeking behavior. This study demonstrated that two aspects of
someone’s lay theory of performance affect the likelihood of seeking
92 CHAPTER 2
feedback, namely the beliefs about the importance and modifiability of the
various performance dimensions. By communicating an explicit theory of
performance, these individual beliefs and subsequent feedback-seeking
decisions can be influenced. These findings can assist organizations in
designing strategies that direct employee feedback-seeking towards the
specific performance dimensions that are valued in the organization.
FEEDBACK-SEEKING TOWARDS PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS 93
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