The Performance Effects of Narrative Feedback
This paper investigates the performance effects of narrative feedback. We build on cognitive self-regulation theory to predict how two important characteristics of narrative feedback (i.e., specificity and causal language use) influence self-regulation and thereby affect performance when used in feedback on strengths and weaknesses. We test our predictions using field data from a European e-commerce firm, and we find that higher specificity in feedback on strengths can positively affect performance, consistent with an increased likelihood of systematic exploration and effective self-regulation. In contrast, higher specificity can adversely affect performance when used in feedback on weaknesses. Furthermore, we find that higher causal language use in feedback on weaknesses can have positive performance effects, consistent with an improved self-regulation though increased understanding and sensemaking. In contrast, causal language use can also have adverse effects when used in feedback on strengths. In additional analyses, we show that narrative feedback effects depend on the gap between the employee’s and the firm’s performance standard and further show that narrative feedback characteristics can lead to improvement in the performance dimensions that are the focus of the feedback. In sum, our findings advance our understanding of whether and how narrative feedback can be valuable for employee development. Coauthored with my supervisors Utz Schäffer and Daniel Schaupp.
Working paper version available at SSRN.