Misuse of feedback in the global organization

OD and change consultants who want to remain relevant would be wise to  stop drinking academia’s warmed over cool aid, check their western biases, step away from force feeding western values when inappropriate, and get real. Want an example? Let’s look at the feedback loop’s appropriateness to the global organization.

Feedback is one of the building blocks that OD introduced into organizations. Feedback consists of information about an organization, a group and an individual which is “recycled” to provide a basis for assessment, reflection and as a basis for corrective action.

OD’s toolkit and values froze over a long time ago, whilst organizations globalized their configuration.  The blanket misuse of feedback in global organizations is an example at hand. There is a need to align the feedback loop to the huge cultural variance that exists in the global workplace, which is what I will do in the post.

Let’s look at some cultural variance in the global workforce.

  1. In some cultures, it is easy to talk about the future, but if the past is discussed, there is/may be a  loss of face.
  2. In some cultures, corrective action may be more effective if positioned as adaptive change,without use of explicit lessons learned from the past.
  3. In some cultures, direct and authentic feedback of any kind is seen as extraordinarily rude.
  4. In some cultures, the essence of leadership is to “protect employees by assuming responsibility for their errors” and keeping it all hush hush.

Clearly, the existing feedback loop with all its western biases, must be retooled for the global organization.

As we align organizational design and development to a global configuration, here are a few components worth developing.

1. Develop and legitimize opaque communication tools that allude to the past in order to plan corrective action.

2. Develop and legitimize indirect and “back door” feedback so as not to cause any perceived discomfort whatsoever, yet enable change.

3.Develop a contingency feedback model that allows a legitimate trade off between the feedback and the perceived harmony of relationships.

4. Budget much longer time cycles for giving feedback so as to allow face saving.

Have you ever attended an OD conference that put this issue on the table? Have you read a text book that focuses on western OD’s irrelevance? Of course not, global organizations are side shows which challenge the dominant western bias of OD. And there is a power elite that keeps it this way.  

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5 thoughts on “Misuse of feedback in the global organization

  1. Allon, I think your view that there is an academic power elite with an intention to block any fundamental variation in the traditional OD values and processes gives way too much credit to this possibility. You may be right. I guess it is possible that there small groups of OD heavy hitters off somewhere plotting how to protect the traditional OD processes from change, but my experience is that what shows up as ‘blocking’ is simply the realities of how slow ANY discipline is in changing. I think of Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 ‘Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ that shows–me at least–conclusively how hard it is for existing paradigms to be replaced.
    The first to change are always seen as ‘outliers’ or ‘problems’ or ‘trouble-makers’ but eventually what was resisted becomes mainstream.
    My advice: Hang in there and don’t demonize those who are guardians of the way things are. It’s not personal. It’s their JOB, actually, if you can step back and see it. Win them over by persistent, respectful but STRONG presentations of the alternatives, along with lots of supporting data and testimonials, just like in any change initiative.
    I believe 2015 is going to be a ‘swing’ year in many ways in our field(s), and you are going to come out of the tunnel of transformation as one of the early pioneers, battered and bloody–but prescient. . .

  2. Hey John
    Wise advise with a few caveats.
    I think it is to some extent personal. I think that things like this are very personal.
    If you remember from the phlogiston case from Kuhn book, the data did not do the job.

  3. This is a thought provoking post, which was highlighted to me as very timely too with a new western calendar year upon us. I agree with the conceit of ‘first world’ western bias. Its an arrogance that is often overlooked/sublimated as a ‘given’ and too often follows the traits shown in global politics and international diplomatic circles where ‘our way (usually democracy) is the only way’. Surely its time to embrace diversity in all its manifestations and find a collective common ground and related point(s) of focus – continuous improvement as evidenced in what clear and unified global cultural measures would be my only question? Fascinating topic that I would love to see in a strategy forum too

  4. Hi Allon
    Thanks for the consistent delivery of thought provoking items. I assume your article is directed at western consultants, and those with a particular world view and approach, who drink a certain beverage, and where (as per another post) there is believed to be some ‘house of lords’ OD authority stuck in old ways. Indeed there are many relevant issues around working across and within cultures which you raise. My experience is that there are places, conferences, writings, gatherings where these things are faced and where ways of thinking are challenged, where OD is warm and unfrozen. There is interesting stuff happening in Mozambique, Peru, Hungary, Mexico, South Africa and elsewhere. And I am reading more and more from people who, although advanced in years and from ‘traditional OD’ roots, are continuing to review things and sometimes coming to different conclusions and changing their minds about OD. I am finding this a useful challenge to my own thinking and practices.

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