RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

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Amah, O. E. (2008). Feedback Management Strategies in Perceived Good and Poor Performance: The Role of Source Attributes and Recipient’s Personality Disposition, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 16(1), 39-59.

Feedback Management Strategies in Perceived Good and Poor Performance: The Role of Source Attributes and Recipient’s Personality Disposition

Okechukwu E. Amah

Abstract

Employees seek feedback so as to gather or pass important information, which is required to enhance employees’ contribution to organisational productivity, and thus, likely to lead to improved benefits for the employees. These feedbacks may be sought in situations where performance outcome is known or unknown. The current study is aimed at determining how source attributes and recipients’ personality disposition effect the adoption of the various feedback strategies, when employee’s perceive their performance as either good or poor; an area of inquiry that has not been covered by past studies. Using 400 participants, drawn from two organisations in Lagos, Nigeria, and hierarchical multiple regression analyses, the study identified significant direct and interactive effects of source expertise, reward power, relationship with recipients, and recipients’ self esteem on the feedback strategies used in perceived good or poor performance. The study identified the strategic role of recipient’s self esteem, and his/her relationship with the feedback source in the identified relationships. The implications of these results and a proposed direction for future studies are discussed.

Introduction

Employees seek feedback when they are not sure of how well they are performing (Podsakoff & Sachriesheim 1985, Ashford & Tsui 1991, Carson, Carson & Roe 1993, Morrison 1993), and most recently it has been established that they also utilise various feedback strategies when they perceive they know how well or poorly they have performed (Moss, Valenzi & Taggart 2003). Information gathered during these feedback processes are valuable resources used in regulating behaviour, improving current and future performance (Podsakoff & Sachriesheim 1985, Tuckey, Brewer & Barnes 2006), for impression management, and conveying or highlighting performance, and to avoid or mitigate the effects of negative feedback (Moss, et al. 2003). All these domains have positive effects on individuals’ contributions to organisational goals, and the possible maximisation of desired rewards for employees. The fact that individuals actively solicit and even manipulate feedback when performance is perceived to be good or poor has been recognised (Larson 1989, Morrison & Bies 1991), and lately established empirically (Moss, et al. 2003). According to Moss, et al. (2003), in the former situation, employees adopt feedback seeking behaviour (FSB) to draw attention to the good performance, while in the latter, they can adopt either feedback avoidance behaviour (FAB), to avoid getting negative feedback completely, or feedback mitigating behaviour FMB), to short circuit the likely negative feedback. These strategies are described in the literature review.

When considered as a general communication process involving a source and a recipient, the flow and acceptance of information during the feedback process is affected by source attributes, and recipients’ personality disposition (Ilgen, Fisher & Taylor 1979, Tuckey, et al. 2006). There is the possibility that these effects will differ, depending on the strategy adopted when performance outcome is perceived to be known. The effects of these variables have been tested in past studies, under conditions of uncertain performance outcome, but the results were equivocal (Vancouver & Morrison 1995, Tuckey, et al. 2006). Since Moss, et al. (2003) developed the taxonomy of feedback management behaviours (FSB, FMB & FAB), no study was located that tested the effects of source attributes and personality disposition on these feedback behaviours. There is, therefore, the need for more studies, aimed at testing these effects during the enactment of the various feedback strategies in perceived good or poor performance, using actual survey data instead of scenario process (Pierce & Gardner 2004).

The first section of this study, the introductory part, is followed by the second section, containing the literature review and the hypotheses that were tested. The third section presents the research methodology, and the conceptual definitions of the study variables. The fourth section contains the results obtained, while the fifth section discusses the results. The last section states the conclusions drawn from the study, and the implications for Human Resources Management.

Literature Review and Hypotheses

The basis of this study is the taxonomy of the feedback management strategies developed by Moss, et al. (2003), which employees use to manage feedback in perceived good or poor performance situations. The authors postulated that employees are not passive recipients of feedback, but actively and proactively manage the type of feedback they get in perceived good and poor performance situations. Moss and colleagues identified three feedback management behaviours adopted by employees in such situations, namely, feedback seeking behaviour (FSB), feedback mitigating behaviour (FMB) and feedback avoiding behaviour (FAB).

When employees perceive they have performed very well in an assigned task, they utilise FSB to manage impression, by drawing the attention of their supervisor to the good performance.

The ultimate aim is to improve their rating, enhance self worth, and eventually create opportunity for the realisation of other desired benefits. According to Moss, et al. (2003), individuals enact this strategy by ensuring they are openly rewarded in perceived good performance, informing the supervisor of the performance by greeting, or using the grape vine that would eventually bring it to the supervisor’s notice. Moss, et al. (2003:490) define FSB “… as the extent to which employees use strategies designed to direct their supervisor’s attention to their successful performance in order to (a) elicit acknowledgement of the successful performance and (b) positive verbal feedback.”. Studies have identified that supervisors form a good impression of employees after giving positive feedback, and this affects their rating, and entitlements (Northcraft & Ashford 1990, Morrison & Bies 1991). Moss, et al. (2003), using real participants, identified that employees actually utilised this strategy to manage feedback in perceived good performance situations.

According to Moss, et al. (2003), when employees perform poorly, they adopt either FMB or FAB to manage the feedback that is expected. Employees utilise FMB to short circuit the effects of this feedback when it is eventually given, while at the same time creating a sound impression with the supervisor. The basis of this strategy is the realisation that in situations of poor performance, supervisors are reluctant to give negative feedback or delay giving it, until role demand makes it mandatory that feedback be given (Levy, Albright, Cawley & Williams 1995). Hence, there is a mandatory threshold at which supervisors’ overcome their reluctance to give negative feedback (Larson 1989), and this level is dictated by the relative strengths of the supervisors’ reluctance and role demand. The supervisor’s reluctance increases this threshold level, while role demand lowers the threshold level. When poor performance persists, and this threshold level is achieved, and feedback is eventually given, Larson (1989) postulates that it may be damaging to an employee’s ego. Consequently, employees utilise FMB to short circuit the supervisors’ negative feedback before this mandatory threshold level is reached. Indeed, FMB is achieved by employees making excuses, drawing attention to the poor performance, and offering excuses for it before their supervisor makes comments. According to Moss, et al. (2003:491) FMB is defined “… as the extent to which employees use seeking strategies designed to reduce the harshness of the negative verbal feedback they believed they will receive from their supervisors following poor performance.”.

Employees adopt FAB strategy in poor performance situations, to completely avoid feedback exchange between them and their supervisors. Northcraft and Ashford (1990) identified that employees refrain from seeking negative feedback in a poor performance situation. However, what is involved in FAB “… is active and imaginative behaviours that require energy on the part of the avoider, just as seeking requires energy on the part of the seeker.” (Moss, et al. 2003:492). This is achieved either by avoiding discussing the issues or diverting attention away from it when raised. Thus, Moss, et al. (2003:493) define FAB “… as the extent to which employees use strategies that are designed to either totally avoid their supervisors or divert their supervisor’s attention so that their poor performance is not acknowledged and they do not receive negative verbal feedback”.

Source Attributes and Recipient’s Personality Disposition

When feedback is considered as a communication process, the recipient’s perception and reactions to feedback will depend on the source characteristics and the recipient’s personality disposition (Leary, Tambor, Terdal & Downs 1995, Levy, et al. 1995, Tuckey, et al. 2006). Source attributes that have been found to affect the seeking and acceptance of feedback include, source expertise (EXPT ), reward power (REWD), relationship with the recipient (REL ) and accessibility (Ilgen, et al. 1979, Fedor, Davis, Maslyn & Mathieson 2001, Tuckey, et al. 2006) and leadership style (Vande Wall, Ganesan, Challagalla & Brown 2000, Madzar 2001).

Source expertise (EXPT) is represented by past studies as the level of technical knowledge and skill possessed by the source, that is relevant to the performance feedback sought or being given (Ilgen, et al. 1979, Klitch & Feldman 1992). According to Goleman (1998:3), the new yard stick for measuring expertise includes, “…not just how smart we are but also how well we handle ourselves and each other.”. How well others are handled is based on expertise in interpersonal and communication skills, which are very valuable expertise in the feedback process. Source reward power (REWD), is high when the feedback source is perceived to be in control of desirable outcomes sought by employees. Reward should be defined globally to include tangible returns (salary, benefits), and relational returns, such as recognition, status, employment security, challenging work and learning opportunities (Aguinis 2007). For example, a manager who is responsible for the yearly appraisal of an employee, and uses the appraisal outcome to effect salary and benefits administration, would be perceived by the employee to have high reward power.

Recipient’s personality dispositions tested by past studies include self esteem (SE) and self efficacy (Leary, et al. 1995, Levy, et al. 1995, Fedor, et al. 2001, Moss, et al. 2003), locus of control (Matsui, Okkada & Kakuyama 1982), self monitoring and need for approval (Moss, et al. 2003). SE is an individual’s overall self evaluation of his/her competence (Rosenberg 1986), which includes the extent to which an individual prizes, values, approves or likes self. An individual with high self esteem has high overall evaluation of his/her worth. Korman (1970) commenting on socially induced SE, stated that SE is affected by comments directed to individuals and the tasks assigned to them. Pierce and Gardner (2004) stated that organisational structure, interpersonal relationship, and individual’s personal organisational experience affect SE. Of importance to this study, is the role of the signals an employee receives from the organisation asserting that he/she is “…valuable, important, competent and capable part of the organisation.” (Pierce & Gardner 2004:603). These signals include trust, perceived organisational support, pay level, and fairness.

Source Attributes and Feedback Seeking Behaviours

Based on the work of Goleman (1998), if a source has good track record in giving feedback that gives valuable information to the recipient, there may be strong motivation to always seek feedback from the source. Past studies have found a positive relationship between expertise and likelihood of seeking feedback (Trope 1975). The relationship between expertise (EXPT) and FSB has not been empirically tested. However, following the work of Fedor, Rensvold and Adams (1992), a supervisor who is known to acknowledge and complement good performance, will be perceived as having expertise desired, and this will motivate employees to adopt feedback seeking behaviour in perceived good performance. Consequently, a positive relationship is likely to exist between EXPT and FSB.

Hypothesis 1a: Source EXPT is positively related to FSB

Negative feedback is very diagnostic and highly valued by employees, since it provides information for behaviour adjustment (Ashford & Tsui 1991). Consequently, a supervisor who has expertise in giving feedback has a potential to provide negative feedback in perceived poor performance, which addresses all areas of the poor performance. Such feedback may be objective and accurate, and may also be damaging to an employee’s ego. In order to take advantage of the positive aspects of this feedback in enhancing personal productivity, or to mitigate the negative effects, employees would likely use FMB to short circuit such feedback before it is given, and if given the strategy will cushion the effect. Though no hypothesis involving FMB and EXPT was found in past studies, the fact that employees take actions to avoid reaching the threshold level at which an ego damaging negative feedback is given, as identified by Larson (1989), supports a likely positive relationship between FAB and EXPT.

Hypothesis 1b: Source EXPT is positively related to FMB

Employees who adopt FAB strategy in perceived poor performance situations avoid all contacts with the supervisor. This action may be harmful to the employee in the long run, since appraisal reviews between the source and recipients, has the potential for revealing any hidden poor performance, which may result in an employee obtaining a poor rating. Hence, there may be a negative relationship between EXPT and FAB . According to Ashford (1986); and Tuckey, Brewer and Williamson (2002), feedback should actually be greater in poor performance than in good performance. Hence, the following hypothesis is tendered.

Hypothesis 1c: Source EXPT is negatively related to FAB

Employees adopt FSB to convey and draw the attention of the supervisor to the employee’s good performance, with the ultimate aim of enhancing their rating and attracting some desired benefits. Consequently, a source that is perceived by the employee to have high reward power will attract the use of FSB in a good performance situation. This conclusion is supported by the work of Tuckey, et al. (2006). Supervisors form a good impression of employees after giving positive feedback, which will affect employees’ ratings and benefits obtained (Northcraft & Ashford 1990). These facts will support a potential positive relationship between REWD and FSB.

Hypothesis 2a: REWD is positively related to FSB

Employees adopt FMB to short circuit or minimise negative feedback in poor performance situations. Since individuals will always want to address poor performance with FMB, so as not to lose out in the distribution of important organisational benefits, reward power will relate positively with FMB, and negatively with FAB. When employees do not seek feedback after poor performance, they are excluded from obtaining important organisational benefits, which are under the control of supervisors (Wayne & Liden 1995). Furthermore, Ashford and Tsui (1991) stated that seeking negative feedback after poor performance may be perceived as an act of conscientiousness and integrity. Hence, seeking negative feedback will help maintain an employee’s rating and attract benefits. These facts jointly support source’s REWD positive relationship with FMB, and a negative relationship with FAB.

Hypothesis 2b: REWD is positively related to FMB Hypothesis 2c: REWD is negatively related to FAB

The likelihood of seeking feedback is associated with perceived social and personal cost (Vancouver & Morrison 1995). Favourable relationship with feedback source (REL) will reduce the perception of both costs, and enhance the seeking of feedback. For example, an employee who has a favourable relationship with his/her supervisor, would use the opportunity offered by good performance to adopt FSB, so as to draw the attention of the supervisor to the good performance, and improve his/her chances of getting desired rewards. Hence, a positive relationship between REL and FSB is forecasted.

Hypothesis 3a: REL is positively related to FSB

Poor performance will affect supervisors rating of employees, and so employees would adopt FMB to short circuit or reduce the effect of negative feedback, which when given may result in reducing the employee’s rating. In a favourable employee-supervisor relationship, FAB would be a dangerous strategy to adopt in poor performance, since it would send wrong message to the supervisor or be poorly understood (Fedor & Rowland 1989). This will imply that FMB and FAB may be positively and negatively related to REL, respectively.

Hypothesis 3b: REL is positively related to FMB Hypothesis 3c: REL is negatively related to FAB

Personality Disposition and Feedback Seeking Behaviours

Equivocal results have been obtained by past studies in the relationship between SE and feedback seeking behaviour when performance outcome is unknown (Van Dyne, Earley & Cummings 1990, Brockner 1998, Madzar 2001). However, the consistency hypothesis stated by Korman (1970), and Baumeister and Jones (1978), posits that in order to maintain self image, individuals perceive their behaviour to be consistent with their self esteem. This means that in situations where performance outcome is already known, individuals may seek for those issues, which when obtained, will help maintain this desired consistency; and conversely, avoid those cues that have the potential to diminish levels of self esteem. Based on this framework it is likely that in good performance, employees would adopt the FSB strategy, which will provide feedback that is consistent with high self rating in high SE. Hence, a positive relationship between SE and FSB is predicted. Conversely, in poor performance events, employees are likely to adopt FMB to give the impression that they can remedy poor performance, so as to maintain the high self rating. Thus, there may be a positive relationship between SE and FMB based on the consistency hypothesis. The adoption of FAB in poor performance would produce inconsistency, since avoiding the supervisor entails the individual’s implicit agreement that he/she is a poor performer that cannot change. Consequently, according to the consistency hypothesis, SE is likely to be negatively related to FAB . These relationships are presented as hypotheses 4(a, b and c).

Hypothesis 4a: SE is positively related to FSB Hypothesis 4b: SE is positively related to FMB. Hypothesis 4c: SE is negatively related to FAB

Interactive Role of SE

A difference in the behavioural plasticity of high and low SE individuals (Brockner 1988) does point to the fact that SE is likely to interact with organisational environments or inter personal relationships to predict feedback seeking behaviour. Indeed, Madzar (2001) established that SE interacted with leadership style to predict feedback seeking behaviour. And Vande Wall, et al. (2000) established that SE interacted with leadership styles of initiation and consideration to predict feedback-seeking behaviour, while Fedor, et al. (2001) established that SE interacted with expert and referent power to predict feedback seeking actions. All of these studies were in situations where the performance outcome is unknown. No past study was found that tested this interaction in perceived good and poor performance situations. Consequently, the following interactions: SE and source expertise, SE and source reward power, SE and source relationship with recipients are tested in this study without formal hypotheses.

There are two major aims of this study namely, to determine the direct effects of source attributes on feedback seeking behaviours in perceived good or poor performance situations, and to determine the interactive role of recipient’s personality disposition in such relationships. The results obtained in this study will be of benefit to employees, who utilise information obtained during feedback to manage behaviour and modify their performance, so as to obtain desired benefits accruable to high performing employees (Ilgen, et al. 1979, Tuckey, et al. 2006). Supervisors have been known to be reluctant in giving feedback, especially in poor performance situations, because of the lack of understanding of the effects of negative feedback (Larson 1984, 1989). Thus, the results obtained in this study will provide useful information on feedback processes, which may be helpful to supervisors as they perform the important role of giving feedback in the work setting.

Methodology

Participants and Site

Participants in this study were drawn from two organisations, a bank and an oil company, located in Lagos City, the commercial capital of Nigeria. The Bank operates commercial banking activities, and was established 20 years ago. It has staff strength of over 10,000, but the branches that participated have 500 employees. The oil company is involved in the exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. It has offices in Lagos and in the Niger Delta region. However, its Head Office, which is located in Lagos, participated in the survey. This bank has a staff strength of 1,500 employees. The Bank provided 190 participants, while the oil company provided 210 participants. The study participants are made up of 267 junior or senior employees (67 per cent), of which 240 were men (60 per cent). The study sample had an average age of 33.69 years, and the organisational tenure was between five and 10 years for 61 per cent of the cohorts.

Procedure

The study is based on a self report survey design, using cross sectional data, acquired through questionnaires. The Human Resources Manager nominated persons who coordinated the survey in each organisation. A total of 850 questionnaires were distributed to the organisations in the ratio of their respective staff strength. The questionnaires, with return envelopes, were distributed to each organisation’s contact person. A random sample of participants was generated using the phone list of each organisation. Participants placed their completed questionnaires in locked boxes kept in each organisation. The participants were advised not to answer any questions they did not feel like answering. A cover letter introduced the purpose of the survey and assured participants of confidentiality of information provided. A total of 450 completed questionnaires were received, and after removing the ones with missing data, 400 usable questionnaires emerged (47% return rate).

Measures

The questionnaire had two parts. First, there were five questions that captured the demographic data. These data were organisational type, gender, organisational tenure, age and job status. In the second part of the questionnaire, there were 37 items that collectively provided responses for the seven study variables. These study variables were: 1. Feedback seeking behaviour, 2. Feedback mitigating behaviour, 3. Feedback avoiding behaviour, 4. Source expertise, 5. Source reward power, 6. Source relationship with feedback recipient, and 7. Self esteem. All the study variables, excluding the demographic data, were measured with six point Likert scales that had ranges from strongly disagree to strongly agree.

Demographics

Self esteem is affected by work environment and individual work experiences (Pierce, Gardner, Cummings & Dunham 1989), such as organisational tenure and job status. Consequently, the study controlled for these variables and other individual demographic data. Organisation type is measured by 1 for Oil Company and 2 for Bank. Gender was measured as 1 for male and 2 for female. Organisational tenure (1. Less than 5 years; 2. 5-10 years; 3. 11 -15 years; 4. 16-20 years; 5. Above 20 years), age (1. under 30 years; 2. 31-40 years; 3. 41-50 years; 4. 51-60 years; 5. Above 60 years) and job status (1. Junior; 2. Senior; 3. Supervisor; 4. Manager; 5. Senior Manager).

Feedback Seeking Behaviour (FSB)

The feedback seeking behaviour construct is measured using a five item scale adapted from the work of Moss, et al. (2003). FSB measures the extent to which individuals draw the attention of the supervisor to their perceived good or excellent performance, so as to enhance self image, and obtain relevant organisational benefits. An example item is ‘I would indirectly make reference to an assignment completed successfully when I saw my boss’. The Cronbach’s alpha in the Moss, et al. (2003) study was 0.86, while the value in this study is 0.80.

Feedback Mitigating Behaviour (FMB)

Feedback mitigating behaviour was assessed with a six item scale adapted from the work of Moss, et al. (2003). FMB measures the extent to which employees attempt to short circuit feedback in situations of perceived poor performance, so as to mitigate the effects of negative feedback. An example item is ‘I would admit to my supervisor that I had performed poorly and tell him/her that I learned from my experience and would not repeat the incident’. The Cronbach’s alpha in the Moss, et al. (2003) study was 0.84, while the value in this study is 0.78.

Feedback Avoiding Behaviour (FAB)

Feedback avoiding behaviour was evaluated with a five item measure adapted from the study by Moss, et al. (2003). FAB measures the extent to which employees use strategies aimed at diverting the attention of their supervisors from poor performance, so that negative feedback would not be given. An example item is ‘I would hide from my supervisor if I had performed poorly or had failed to complete an assignment on time’. The Cronbach’s alpha in the Moss, et al. (2003) study was 0.88, while the value in this study is 0.86.

Source Expertise (EXPT)

Source expertise was scored with a four item measure in the study by Tuckey, et al. (2006). EXPT refers to the interpersonal skills, technical knowledge skill possessed by the supervisor in the particular area of performance under consideration. An example item is ‘I think my supervisor is an expert in my field of work’. The Cronbach’s alpha in the Tuckey, et al. (2006) study was 0.85, while the value in this study is 0.83.

Source Reward Power (REWD)

The measure for REWD was adapted from the work of Tuckey, et al. (2006). REWD measures the extent to which the source is perceived to be in position, to determine desirable and adverse consequences for the recipient of the feedback. It has four items and an example item is ‘My supervisor has the capacity to reward me for good performance’. The Cronbach’s alpha in the Tuckey, et al. (2006) study was 0.71, while the value in this study is 0.72.

Sources Relationship with Recipient (REL)

The measure for REL was adapted from the work of Tuckey, et al. (2006). This variable measures the extent to which an employee perceives he/she has quality relationship with his/her supervisor. It contains four items and an example item is ‘I feel that I get along well with my supervisor’. The Cronbach’s alpha in the Tuckey, et al. (2006) study was 0.84, while the value in the current study is 0.79.

Recipient Self esteem (SE)

Recipient self esteem measures the totality of the individual’s thoughts and feelings with reference to himself as an object. The scale for SE contains four items adapted from Rosenberg (1989) self esteem scale, which was also used by Amah and Okafor (2008) for a study in Nigeria. The items selected have highest loading in the Self esteem factor. An example items is ‘I take positive attitude towards myself’. A Cronbach’s alpha of 0.80 was obtained in the Amah and Okafor (2008) study, while the value in this study is 0.77.

Analyses

Multiple statistical analyses techniques were utilised in this study. These include correlation analyses, one-way ANOVA, multivariate statistical analyses using Structural Equation Modelling, and hierarchical multiple regression analyses.

Prior to combining the participants from the two organisations (oil and bank) for further analyses, a one-way ANO VA was carried out, to establish if there are significant differences in the means of the study variables in each organisation. The results in Table 1 show non significant F-statistics of between 0.107 and 3.131. Thus, none of the mean differences between the two companies (oil & bank) were significant. Consequently, the data from the two organisations were pooled together for analyses as recommended by Wang and Walumbwa (2007).

Table 1
Test of the Equality of Means of Variables Across Organisations
Factors Organisation Test Statistics
Oil Company Bank F-Statistics Significance
FSB 3.34 3.43 2.924 0.095
FMB 4.88 4.73 2.504 0.114
FAB 1.65 1.71 0.458 0.499
EXPT 4.82 4.79 0.107 0.744
REWD 4.43 4.52 0.680 0.410
REL 4.47 4.41 2.803 0.105
SE 5.53 5.40 3.131 0.078

Note: FSB = Feedback Seeking Behaviour, FAB = Feedback Avoiding Behaviour, FMB = Feedback Mitigating Behaviour, EXPT = Source Expertise, REWD = Source Reward Power, REL = Recipients’ Relationship with Source, and SE = Self esteem.

The feedback management strategies of FSB, FMB and FAB were developed and validated by Moss, et al. (2003) using participants drawn from employees in an American organisation. Thus, Confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) were done on the data for the study variables, so as to confirm the 3-factor structure validated by Moss, et al. (2003). Similarly, CFA analyses were done for the source attributes. Analysis of moments of structure (AMOS) software, was used in the CFA. The factor structures tested for the feedback strategies and source attributes include, a 1-factor, a 2-factor model (which reflects various combinations of two of the factors) and a 3-factor model. The model with the best fit was determined using chi-square significant test. Since this index is very sensitive to sample size (Bentler & Bonnet 1980), some other indices as stipulate by these authors were also utilised, to compare the fitness of the models tested. These include the Goodness-of-fit index (GFI), Comparative fit index (CFI), Normed fit index (NFI), and Root-mean-standard-error-of-approximation (RMSEA). The authors recommended that values of 0.9 or above for GFI, CFI and NFI are adequate, while RMSEA values between 0.05-0.08 are considered adequate.

The 12 hypotheses were tested with hierarchical multiple regression analyses. Prior to the regression, the measures for each study variable were averaged, to create a single value for each variable used in the regression analyses. Three regression equations were developed, one for each feedback management strategy. For each regression, the demographic data were put in step 1, followed by the source attributes in step 2, SE in step 3 and the interaction terms involving SE, and each of the source attributes were put in step 4. Prior to calculating the interaction terms, the variables were centred to minimise multicollinearity as recommended by Aiken and West (1991).

Results

The CFA indices in Table 2 show that a 3-factor model has best fit for the feedback seeking behaviours. The 3-factor model has best fit indices of GFI (0.94), CFI (0.95), NFI (0.91) and RMSEA (0.053). These compare favourably with the fit indices obtained by Moss, et al. (2003) for 3-factor model; 93, 0.90, 0.85, and 0.08; respectively.

Table 2
Confirmatory Factor Analyses for the Feedback Strategies (N = 400)
Model χ2 Df χ2/df GFI AGFI CFI NFI RMSEA
One factor 1520.78* 104 14.623 .60 .47 .33 .32 .185
Two factor
FAB/FSB + FMB 959.53* 103 9.316 .72 .63 .60 .57 .144
FSB/FMB + FAB 948.125* 103 9.205 .71 .62 .60 .56 .143
FAB/FMB + FSB 887.67* 103 8.618 .72 .64 .63 .60 .138
Three factor 201.63* 95 2.122 .94 .92 .95 .91 .053

Notes:
a. FSB = Feedback Seeking Behaviour, FAB = Feedback Avoiding Behaviour, and FMB = Feedback Mitigating Behaviour.
b. χ2 = Chi-Square Statistics, df = Degree of Freedom, GFI = Goodness-of-Fit-Index, AGFI = Adjusted Goodness-of-Fit-Index, CFI = Comparative Fit Index, and RMSEA = Root-Mean-Standard-Error-of Approximation.
c. *p < 0.05.

The indices in Table 3 show that a 3-factor model for source expertise, reward power and relationship with recipient has the best fit. This factor structure has best-fit indices of GFI (0.98), CFI (0.99), NFI (0.98) and RMSEA (0,044). To achieve acceptable CFA and Cronbach’s alpha for REL, one measurement variable (MV) of the REL scale, that cross loaded significantly on the other two factors was removed. This exercise left only three MV for REL.

Table 3
Confirmatory Factor Analyses for the Source Attributes (N = 400)
Model χ2 Df χ2/df GFI AGFI CFI NFI RMSEA
One factor 323.82* 20 16.191 .86 .75 .76 .75 .195
Two factor
REL/REWD + EXPT 244.00* 19 12.842 .89 .80 .82 .81 .172
EXPT/REWD + REL 217.66* 19 11.456 .88 .77 .85 .83 .162
EXPT/REL + REWD 110.330* 19 5.807 .84 .88 .83 .92 .110
Three factor 29.99 17 1.764 .98 .96 .99 .98 .044

Notes:
a. FSB = Feedback Seeking Behaviour, FAB = Feedback Avoiding Behaviour, and FMB = Feedback Mitigating Behaviour.
b. χ2 = Chi-Square Statistics, df = Degree of Freedom, GFI = Goodness-of-Fit-Index, AGFI = Adjusted Goodness-of-Fit-Index, CFI = Comparative Fit Index, and RMSEA = Root-Mean-Standard-Error-of Approximation.
c. *p < 0.05.

The Cronbach’s alpha for the study variables are all above the 0.7 cut off point recommended by Nunnally (1978). The mean for FAB is 1.68 (SD = 0.84) compared to 3.55 (SD = 0.89) and 4.80 (0.95) for FSB and FMB, respectively. The low mean for FAB is an indication that the use of this strategy, to manage the effects of negative feedback in perceived poor performance situations is very low. Other study variables have the following mean values: EXPT (4.80, SD = 0.98), REWD (4.48, SD = 1.08), REL (4.56, SD = 0.97) and SE (5.46, SD = 0.77). The correlations between the variables, which are shown in Table 4, support eight of the 12 hypothesised relationships. FSB is positively correlated with EXPT (.21, p < 0.05, hypothesis 1a), and REWD (.23, p < 0.05, hypothesis 2a). FMB is positively correlated with EXPT (.33, p < 0.05, hypothesis 1b), REWD (.25, p < 0.05, hypothesis 2b) and SE (.22, p < 0.05, hypothesis4b). FAB is negatively correlated with EXPT (-.17, p < 0.05, hypothesis 1c), REWD (-.14, p < 0.05, hypothesis 2c), REL (-.22, p < 0.05, hypothesis 3c) and SE (-.26, p < 0.05, hypothesis 4c).

Table 4
Descriptive Statistics and Correlations
Mean SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 FSB 3.55 .89 (.80)
2 FMB 4.80 .95 .09 (.78)
3 FAB 1.68 .84 .14** -.14** (.86)
4 EXPT 4.80 0.98 .21** .33** -.17** (.83)
5 REWD 4.48 1.08 .23** .25** -.14** .40** (.72)
6 REL 4.56 .97 -.08 .08 -.22** .23** .13** (.79)
7 SE 5.46 .77 .06 .22** -.26** .31** .23** .19** (.77)
8 Job status -.10 -.02 -.02 -.07 .01 .04 .04
9 Gender -.07 -.08 .06 -.07 -.08 -.05 -.07 -.11*
10 Age -.04 .03 -.03 -.03 -.05 .03 .04 .31** -.31**
11 Tenure -.10 -.04 -.08 -.15** -.10* -.02 .02 .35** -.10* .65**

Notes:
a. FSB = Feedback Seeking Behaviour, FMB = Feedback Mitigating Behaviour, FAB = Feedback Avoiding Behaviour, SE = Self esteem, and SD = Standard Deviation, EXPT = Source Expertise, REWD = Source Reward Power, and REL = Recipients’ Relationship with Source.
b. The values in parentheses on the diagonal are the Cronbach Alphas.
c. *p < 0.05, and **p < 0.01.

The interpretation of the regression analyses followed the approach by Cohen and Cohen (1983), in which the coefficients for the demographic variables were obtained in step 1, those of the source attributes in step 2, for SE in step 3 and those of the interaction terms in step 4 of all the regression equations. The results of the hierarchical regression analyses involving FSB are in Table 5. After controlling for the effects of the demographic variables, FSB had significant positive relationships with EXPT (.14, p < 0.05), REWD (.17, p < 0.05), and negative relationship with REL (-.14, p < 0.05), indicating support for hypotheses 1a, 2a, and partial support for 3a (relationship was negative instead of positive), respectively. Hypothesis 4a was not supported, since FSB and SE relationship did not attain significance (-.04, p > 0.05). The coefficients of the interaction terms between SE and the three source attributes to predict FSB were non significant.

Table 5
Hierarchical Regression Analyses with FSB as the Dependent Variable
Variables Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4
Organisation .05 .05 .05 .03
Job status -.08 -.08 -.08 -.08
Gender -.09 -.07 -.07 -.08
Age .01 .01 .01 .02
Tenure -.09 -.04 -.04 -.04
EXPT .14* .15* .18*
REWD .17* .17* .22*
REL -.14* -.14* -.18*
SE -.04 -.07
EXPT*SE .14
REWD*SE .11
REL*SE -.13
R2 0.028 0.098 0.098 0.117
ΔR2 0.028 0.071 0.00 0.019
F 2.122 10.227* 0.006 2.331

Notes
a. FSB = Feedback Seeking Behaviour, SE = Self esteem, EXPT = Source Expertise, REWD = Source Reward Power and REL = Recipients’ Relationship with Source.
b. *p < 0.05.

The results of the hierarchical regression involving FMB are contained in Table 6. After controlling for the effects of the demographic variables, FMB had significant positive relationships with EXPT (.27, p < 0.05), REWD (.15, p < 0.05), SE (.12 , p < 0.05), and non significant relationship with REL (.01, p > 0.05), indicating support for hypotheses 2a, 2b, 4b, and no support for 3b, respectively. The coefficients of the interaction terms SE*EXPT (.06, p > 0.05) and SE*REWD (-.10, p > 0.05) were non significant, while that of SE*REL (-.15, p < 0.05) was significant.

Table 6
Hierarchical Regression Analyses with FMB as the Dependent Variable
Variables Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4
Organisation -.03 -.08 -.08 -.08
Job status .04 .01 .01 -.01
Gender -.07 -.04 -.03 -.05
Age .07 .05 .05 .03
Tenure -.10 -.03 -.03 -.02
EXPT .27* .24* .27*
REWD .15* .13* .12*
REL .01 -.01 -.05
SE .12* .04
EXPT*SE .06
REWD*SE -.10
REL*SE -.15*
R2 0.013 0.132 0.143 0.159
ΔR2 0.013 0.118 0.012 0.017
F 1.039 16.721* 5.236* 2.930*

Notes:
a. FSB = Feedback Seeking Behaviour, SE = Self esteem, EXPT = Source Expertise, REWD = Source Reward Power, and REL = Recipients’ Relationship with Source.
b. *p < 0.05.

The results of the hierarchical regression involving FAB are contained in Table 7. After controlling for the effects of the demographic variables, FAB had negative significant relationships with EXPT (-.18, p < 0.05), REL (-.18, p < 0.05), SE (-.18, p < 0.05), and non significant relationship with REWD (-.08, p > 0.05), indicating support for hypotheses 1c, 3c, 4c, and no support for 2c, respectively. The coefficients of the interaction terms SE*EXPT (.15, p > 0.05) and SE*REWD (.02, p > 0.05) were non significant, while SE*REL (-.19, p < 0.05) was significant.

Table 7
Hierarchical Regression Analyses with FAB as the Dependent Variable
Variables Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4
Organisation .03 .01 .02 .04
Job status .03 .04 .04 .03
Gender .07 .04 .04 .02
Age .06 .08 .08 .08
Tenure -.12 -.18* -.16* -.16*
EXPT -.12* -.07 -.03
REWD -.08 -.05 -.03
REL -.18* -.16* -.22*
SE -.20* -.21*
EXPT*SE .15
REWD*SE .02
REL*SE -.19*
R2 0.016 0.092 0.128 0.144
ΔR2 0.016 0.075 0.036 0.016
F 1.289 10.825* 16.095* 2.919*

Notes:
a. FSB = Feedback Seeking Behaviour, SE = Self esteem, EXPT = Source Expertise, REWD = Source Reward Power and REL = Recipients’ Relationship with Source.
b. *p < 0.05.

In order to interpret the significant interaction terms, the participants were divided into three groups, namely, those with SE values of mean minus 1 standard deviation, those around the mean and those with SE of mean plus 1 standard deviation. The first and last groups were taken as low and high SE respectively based on Aiken and West (1991) recommendation. Two separate regression equations were estimated for the low and high SE participants, with FAB and FMB as the dependent variables, and REL the independent variable. As shown in Figure 1, the relationship between REL and FAB for low and high SE participants has a negative slope, indicating that as REL increases the adoption of FAB by participants reduces.

Figure 1
FAB and REL Relationship for High and Low SE
FAB and REL Relationship for High and Low SE

In Figure 2 the relationship between REL and FMB for high SE participants is relatively flat, indicating that the change in the adoption of FMB as REL changes is minimal. For low SE participants the relationship is positive and significant, which implies that as relationship with supervisor improves, more participants in the low SE range will adopt FMB as a feedback management strategy in perceived poor performance.

Figure 2
FMB and REL Relationship for High and Low SE
FMB and REL Relationship for High and Low SE

Discussion

The current study was undertaken to determine the main effects of feedback source attributes and recipient’s SE on three feedback seeking behaviours, utilised by employees in managing feedback in perceived good and poor performance situations. The study was also designed to test the interactive effect of SE on the source attribute and feedback seeking behaviour relationships. The patterns of significant relationships obtained in this study, are indications that source attributes and recipient’s personality disposition are very important in understanding employees’ adoption of feedback management strategies, in perceived good and poor performance situations. The study by Moss, et al. (2003) was the first to establish that employees utilise different strategies to manage feedback when they perceive their performance as good or bad. However, the current study appears to be the first investigation to test the direct and interactive effects of source attributes, and recipient’s personality disposition, on the use of these feedback seeking strategies.

The mean values for the three feedback strategies, indicate that in perceived good performance the participants adopt FSB; while in perceived poor performance most of the participants prefer the FMB strategy. The significant negative correlation between FMB and FAB is an indication that some participants tend to use FMB, while others prefer FAB . The number of participants with mean value of FAB equal to or less than two is 393 (98 per cent), while only seven (2 per cent) had mean values equal to or greater than four. These values indicate that majority of the participants strongly disagreed with the statements, which inferred that they tend to avoid supervisors and feedback in perceived poor performance. These facts, coupled with the high mean for FMB, strongly suggest that most of the participants prefer to utilise the FMB in managing negative feedback in perceived poor performance. This conclusion is further justified by the appraisal system in the participating organisations. In the organisations that participated in this study, appraisal process involves setting performance goals early in the year, performing mid year review and final review at the end of the year. The results of the performance review are used to determine salary raises, employees’ development plan and promotions. This process does not encourage the use of FAB . Consequently, participants knowing that eventually their supervisors would recall poor performances during the reviews may want to confront poor performance using FMB, to create an impression that they are capable, and thus, avoid eventual loss in desired benefits that may result from impression of poor performance (Morrison & Bies 1991). The significant and non significant relationships involving the study variables are discussed next.

EXPT was positively related to FSB (.14, p < 0.05) and FMB (.27, p < 0.05), and negatively related to FAB (-.12, p < 0.05). Though Klitch and Feldman (1992) defined expertise in terms of skills and knowledge, the concept was redefined in this study, to include psychological expertise possessed by supervisors by way of being good at giving positive and negative feedbacks. Both negative and positive feedbacks would benefit employees in their attempt to maintain current good performance or improve poor performance (Ashford & Tsui 1991). Consequently, when employees perceive their supervisors as having the track record of being accurate in giving these feedbacks, they are likely to be motivated to utilise FSB and FMB in perceived good and poor performance situations, respectively. Adopting FAB in poor performance involves avoiding contact with the supervisor completely. This will result in employee not taking advantage of the psychological expertise such contacts provide. Then employees may perceive the use of FAB as an ineffective way of managing feedback in perceived poor performance situations, hence, the negative relationship between EXPT and FAB . Trope (1975) found positive relationship between EXPT and likelihood of seeking feedback when performance outcome is unknown. REWD was significantly, positively related to both FSB (.17, p < 0.05) and FMB (.15, p < 0.05), but not significantly related to FAB (-.08, p > 0.05). REWD has been found to be positively related to performance (Podsakoff & Sachriesheim 1985, Carson, et al. 1993) and likelihood of seeking feedback (Tuckey, et al. 2006). Hence, creating a good impression before supervisors perceived to have high reward power is necessary for employees, since employees work with the hope of getting organisational benefits. FSB is a means of drawing the attention of the supervisor to any employees’ perception of their good performance, with the expectation that this would raise individual’s rating and attract greater reward (Northcraft & Ashford 1990, Morrison & Bies 1991). Similarly, in poor performance, employees utilise FMB to short circuit or reduce the effect of negative feedback, so as to give the impression that the individual is capable of rectifying poor performance in future, so as to avoid negative rating that may attract reduction in reward. Based on these, the positive relationship between REWD and FSB and FMB can be justified. In perceived poor performance situations, individuals can utilise FMB or FAB in managing negative feedbacks. For employees, there is usually a time in which overall performance will be reviewed and rewards given accordingly. During this review, the poor performance assumed to have been kept secret through the adoption of FAB will eventually surface. Employees may consider this strategy dangerous and unattractive, hence, the lack of relationship between REWD and FAB . REL was negatively related to FSB (-.14, p < 0.05) and FAB (-.18, p < 0.05), but not significantly related to FMB (-.01, p > 0.05). The negative relationship between REL and FSB is contrary to the positive relationship obtained by Vancouver and Morrison (1995), between REL and likelihood of seeking feedback, and also the lack of relationship obtained by Tuckey, et al. (2006). However, these studies were for situations in which performance outcome is unknown. There are two possible explanations for the relationship obtained in this study. The current results may have been affected by the small MV used in measuring REL, or is due to the difference in what is salient in unknown and known performance outcome situations. When performance outcome is unknown, social and personal cost will determine whether feedback is sought or not. High quality relationship reduces the high cost associated with seeking feedback (Vancouver & Morrison 1995), and this is the basis for the postulation of positive relationship between feedback seeking behaviour and REL in unknown performance outcome situation. From the results obtained in this study, it appears that when employees perceive they have performed well or poorly, the costs associated with seeking feedback are no more salient. The value of additional information to be gathered in the feedback process, and the need to maintain quality relationship with source, may dictate what strategy employees adopt in such situation. Three related findings in feedback management jointly combine to support this statement. The first is the finding by Fairhurst (1993) that high quality relationship manifests in open and congenial communication between the source and recipient. The second is the postulation by Duarte, Goodson and Klitch (1994) that irrespective of the recipients’ actual level of performance, source assigns high level of performance in high quality relationship, and low performance in low quality relationship, while the third is the finding of Fedor and Rowland (1989) that high quality relationship interacts with performance level such that the source “… tend to give credit to a liked actor for doing well, and the benefit of the doubt when he or she performs poorly.” (p. 407).

The open and congenial relationship between the source and recipient in high REL may likely lead to the source being aware of the perceived good performance, and since the source always attribute the good performance to the recipient, no valuable information is added when feedback seeks to highlight the good performance, hence, the negative relationship between REL and FSB. However, in perceived poor performance, the source gives the recipient the benefit of the doubt that some thing external may have influenced his/her performance. Consequently, the burden is on the recipient to justify this confidence, by showing that he/she can improve on the poor performance. The adoption of FAB may erode this confidence, by causing dissonance in the source, hence, the negative relationship between FAB and REL.

In perceived poor performance, the recipient may adopt FMB to reassure the source that his/her confidence is well placed or the recipient may not adopt the FMB, since the source already attributed the causes to other factors rather than the recipient (Fedor & Rowland 1989). It is likely the participants in this study adopted the latter option, hence, the lack of relationship between FMB and REL .

Receiver’s SE was positively related to FMB (.12, p < 0.05), negatively related to FAB (-.20, p < 0.05) and its relationship with FSB though negative (-.04, p > 0.05) was non significant. These results support the findings of Van Dyne, et al. (1990), but contrary to the findings of Moss, et al. (2003) and Madzar (2001). The negative relationship between SE and FAB can be justified by the theory of cognitive consistency. This theory, states that individuals are motivated to achieve outcomes that agree with their self concept. High SE individual perceives him/her self as capable of good performance, and adopting FAB in attempt to hide poor performance would not agree with this perceived self concept, hence, the negative relationship between SE and FAB . In the same argument, high SE individual will adopt FMB strategy in poor performance in order to show that he/she is capable of rectifying the poor performance, and thus, maintain consistency in perceived self concept, hence, the positive relationship with FMB. In perceived good performance situations, there may not be a motivation to maintain consistency, hence, the non significant relationship. These conclusions may be unique to the participants in this study, since the mean SE is very high (5.46, SD = .77).

SE interacted with REL to predict FMB (-.15, p < 0.05) and FAB (-.19, p < 0.05). The interactive role of SE has been based on the behavioural plasticity theory (Brockner 1988). This theory, stipulates that high SE individuals are less behaviourally plastic, and thus, likely to be less affected by external or social cues. Figure 1 indicates that for low SE participants, there was a non significant negative slope (-.20, p > 0.05), which shows a non significant relationship between REL and FAB. However, for high SE participants, there was a strong negative association between REL and FAB (-.16, p < 0.05), which indicates that some high SE employees who adopted the FAB strategy in perceived poor performance, would abandon them in high quality relationship with supervisors. The negative sign of the slopes of the trends for low and high SE indicates that as quality relationship between employees and supervisors increases, the adoption of FAB reduces for both categories, but the reduction is higher for high SE participants. This result should be interpreted with caution, since most of the participants would not adopt the FAB strategy in poor performance.

The plots in Figure 2 show that for high SE participants, there was a non significant negative relationship between REL and FMB (-.04, p > 0.05), indicating a fairly constant adoption of FMB for all levels of REL, result that agrees with the findings of Vancouver and Morrison (1995). However, for low SE employees, there was a strong positive relationship between REL and FMB (.34, p < 0.05), indicating that as REL quality improves, the number of low SE employees that adopt FMB increases. Realising that FMB has significant negatively relationship with FAB, this result would mean that the number of low SE employees that adopted FAB in perceived poor performance would decrease as REL quality increases. This result agrees with the low SE plot in Figure 1, and the reasoning of Madzar (2001), that low SE employees in need of approval and self affirmation would take advantage of the positive environment created by a transformational leader to search for self-diagnosticity. In this case, the positive environment is created by the high quality relationship between source and recipient.

Conclusion

The study by Moss, et al. (2003) drew attention to the fact that employees are not just passive receivers of feedback in an unknown performance outcome situation, but proactively seek feedback when performance outcome is known, by adopting various feedback strategies to manage the information obtained and passed. The current study has added to this knowledge in two important ways: by showing that employees in other cultures also adopt similar feedback management strategies in perceived good and poor performance situations, and the testing of the direct and interaction effects of source attributes and recipient’s personality disposition on the adoption of the feedback seeking strategies.

In Moss, et al. (2003) study, 84 per cent of the participants adopted FSB in good performance, and in the current study only 59 per cent of the participants strongly agreed with the adoption of the FSB strategy in good performance. The comparison in poor performance situation showed similar trend. A total of 95 per cent of the participants in Moss, et al. (2003) study adopted FMB while 34 per cent adopted FAB. The figures for the current study are 80 per cent and two per cent, respectively. The pertinent question arising from these results, but not covered in this study is: why the differences in the level of adoption of these feedback seeking strategies by employees in America and Nigeria? The finding by Offerman and Hellmann (1997), that the higher the cultural dimension of power distance the less approachable is a supervisor, and the less the communication with subordinates, may shed light into the above differences. The level of approachability and communication may likely play some role in the adoption of various feedback seeking strategies. Nigeria and most of the Asian Pacific regions have high power distance compared to America. An interesting avenue of study is to identify if these differences hold across other cultures with a high power distance orientation.

Source attributes and recipients’ personality disposition have been found to affect the seeking of feedback in situations when performance outcome is unknown (Madzar 2001, Tuckey, et al. 2006). The nature of the relationships was, however, equivocal. The current study takes this further, by testing the relationships in situations when performance outcome is perceived to be known, and employees adopt various strategies. The results obtained show that source attributes and recipients’ personality dispositions are critical variables in decisions to adopt the various feedback strategies, in perceived good and poor performance situations. The results of the interaction terms further highlight the importance of a recipient’s personality disposition and his/her relationship with the source. The pattern of the significance of the interaction term indicates that these effects are more pronounced in poor performance situations, and that employees’ relationships with their supervisor play a major role in the choice of feedback management strategy in such situations. The study also questioned the relevance of personal and social cost in feedback seeking in situations where performance outcome is perceived to be known. The findings of this study highlighted the role additional value of information plays in the adoption of FSB in perceived good performance, and that of maintenance of relationship quality in the choice of FMB and FAB in poor performance. The testing of this proposal is an important area of future study.

The study has important implication for human resources practitioners, who desire to ensure that employees obtain accurate feedback in perceived good or poor performance situations, to maintain or enhance future performance. Organisations would benefit by encouraging employees to adopt FSB and FMB in perceived good and poor performance conditions, respectively. Hence, organisations should ensure that supervisors have adequate reward power and also trained to acquire expertise necessary to deliver feedback accurately. Supervisors should also be encouraged to maintain quality relationship with their subordinates, so as to enhance quality interaction, and minimise fears that could lead to the adoption of FAB in poor performance. Trusting relationships and participatory leadership styles enhance SE (Pierce & Gardner 2004), which would lead to the adoption of FSB and FMB in perceived good and poor performance situations, respectively.

Author

Okechukwu Amah is an employee of Chevron Nigeria Limited and has worked for the organisation for 24 years. He obtained his PhD from the University of Benin, Benin City in Nigeria. He is a part time lecturer in Business Administration, at Lagos State University in Lagos, Nigeria. His research interests include work-family conflict, organisational behaviour and training.

Email: amahoe@chevron.com

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