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Feedback Processes in Organizations

Vincent R. Waldron

Subject Communication Studies » Organizational Communication

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Engineers have linked the concepts of feedback and enhanced performance since the time of the industrial revolution, but the term “feedback” was coined only in 1948 by cybernetic theorist Norbert Weiner. In this early work, feedback was a signal which indicated a discrepancy between the goal of a system and its current state (→  Cybernetics ). Based on feedback, systems could recalibrate and improve performance. Research on the concept expanded rapidly as managers came to believe that effectively communicated feedback could increase the motivation and performance of individual employees. Given this understanding, researchers worked to understand the psychological mechanisms people used to encode performance signals and adjust their work output. However, by the 1980s, it became obvious that the cybernetic model was only modestly successful in accounting for the complexity of human feedback processes. Further progress would come when researchers addressed such neglected factors as the linguistic qualities of feedback messages, relational and cultural context, interactivity, and the construction of meaning ( Cusella 1987 ; Fairhurst 2001 ). Discussion of feedback often begins with its context. Interpersonal contexts such as performance evaluation interviews have received much of the attention from communication researchers and practitioners. However, system contexts are of ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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