The timing problem of performance feedback

Project: Research

Project Details


Performance feedback is an important mechanism of adaptation in learning theories, as it provides one of the motivations for organizations to learn (Pettit, Crossan, and Vera 2017). Embedded in the behavioral theory of the firm, organizational learning from performance feedback predicts the probability for organizations to change with an emphasis on organizational aspirations, which serve as a threshold against which absolute performance is evaluated (Cyert and March 1963; Greve 2003). It postulates that performance becomes a ‘problem’, or the trigger to search for alternative procedures, strategies, products and behaviors, when performance is below that threshold. This search is known as problemistic search. Missing from this body of research, is empirically grounded understanding if the characteristics of performance feedback over time matter for the triggering function of the feedback. I explore this gap.
This investigation adds temporality as a dimension of the performance feedback concept guided by a worldview of ongoing change and flux where conditions and choices are not given, but made relevant by actors and enacted upon (Tsoukas and Chia 2002). The general aim of the study is to complement the current knowledge of performance feedback as a trigger for problemistic search with an explicit process temporal approach. The main question guiding this project is how temporal patterns of performance feedback influence organizational change, which I answer in four chapters, each zooming into one sub-question.
First, I focus on the temporal order of performance feedback by examining performance feedback and change sequences organizations go through. In this section time is under study and the goal is to explore how feedback patterns have evolved over time, just as the change states organizations pass through. Second, I focus on the plurality of performance feedback by investigating performance feedback from multiple aspiration levels (i.e. multiple qualitatively different metrics and multiple reference points) and how over time clusters of performance feedback sequences have evolved. Next, I look into the rate and scope of change relative to performance feedback sequences and add an element of signal strength to the feedback. In the last chapter, time is a predictor (in the sequences), and, it is under study (in the timing of responses). I focus on the timing of organizational responses in relation to performance feedback sequences of multiple metrics and reference points.
In sum, all chapters are guided by the timing problem of performance feedback, meaning that performance feedback does not come ‘available’ at a single point in time. Similarly to stones with unequal weight dropped in the river, performance feedback with different strength comes available at multiple points in time and it is plausible that sometimes it is considered by decision-makers as problematic and sometimes it is not, because of the sequence it is part of. Overall, the investigation is grounded in the general principles of organizational learning from performance feedback, and the concept of time as duration, sequences and timing, with a focus on specification of when things happen. The context of the study is universities of applied sciences and hotels in The Netherlands.

Project partner: Tilburg University, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Department of Organization Studies
Effective start/end date19/01/1519/01/24


  • NWO (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek)


  • organizational performance
  • organizational learning
  • change
  • performance feedback theory
  • temporal models


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