The critical incident technique (CIT) is a methodology utilized in gathering facts or incidents from less experienced users or domain experts with the aim of acquiring knowledge that assists in the improvement of performance of the people involved. The critical incident technique is a well proven qualitative research approach that provides a practical step by step methodology of collecting and analyzing data and information regarding human activities and their significance to the individuals involved. As described by the creator of the critical incident technique, it relies on a set of processes utilized in the collection of direct human behavior observations in a manner that facilitates the potential usefulness of such behaviors in solving practical problems as well as assisting in developing broad psychological principles.
The chief purpose of the critical incident technique is as an interviewing tool. CIT is widely used in the business sector for organizational development through the identification of organizational problems. The CI technique is utilized as an interview methodology that encourages participants to talk about organizational incidents as opposed to answering predefined direct questions. From its inception, the critical incident technique has proved to be an efficient and practical method for interviewing participants so as to obtain first-hand reports on critical incidents that result in satisfactory or unsatisfactory executions of performance. Although the technique has been adapted for various fields of research, at its foundation, the CI technique incorporates specific elements of qualitative research, focuses on behavior, and the use of a stepwise participatory process that helps identify and interpret incidents from the perspective of the participants by collecting extensive information on incidents to identify coon issues that assist in explaining the incidents and helps develop solutions (Yona, et al., 2013).
A real-world use of the critical incident technique is a tool for performance appraisals through the identification and description of specific incidents or events that detail when employees did something efficiently or activities that require improvement. The CI technique is based on the exhaustive descriptive of the incidents and does not depend on the assignment of rankings or ratings. However, the technique is most often accompanied with a rating system while being used in performance appraisals (Bacal & Associates, 2015). The use of the critical incident technique in performance appraisals is more demanding on the managers as it requires more of writing incidents down as opposed to the conventional methods of simply ticking things off.
On the other hand, the detailed recording of incidents is exceedingly useful in assisting employees as well as the organization to improve as the information in the incident reports is specific and detailed than other employee rating methods. In the utilization of CIT, managers encourage their employees to record their events or critical incidents, such as the situations where the employees excelled, and where they did not perform. In this regard, the technique offers a variation from traditional methods by placing more responsibility on the employees as well as not requiring the managers to be present when the critical incident occurs.
While utilizing the critical incident technique in employee performance appraisal, it is critical that the critical incidents are recorded as they take place as opposed to recording them at or around annual performance reviews. Delaying the recording of critical incidents reports, either recording bad or good incidents will result in the loss of important details and accuracy (Bacal & Associates, 2015).
The critical incident technique is based on critical incidents. However, critical incidents do not need to remarkable, rather it is any incident that holds significance in an organization. Consequently, at the individual level, incidents or events that lead one to stop and think or prompt one to revisit previous assumptions or incidents that impact ones life either personally or professionally, are all critical incidents. Additionally, at the organizational level, critical incidents can be systematic problems resulting from differences among stakeholder or from organizational maladaptation. As the technique seeks to identify actions that are associated with acceptable performance in certain defined situations, the critical incidents need to be comprehensive enough to allow for predictions and inferences about the individuals performing the business activities under investigation (Serrat, 2010).
As such, the analysis of critical incidents describes the setting in which the incidents took place, the behavior of the people involved and the result of the behavior. As a result, the analysis of the critical incidents combines behavioral, cognitive and affective dimensions and touches on both the learning process and the content of what is learned. As CIT structures queries in an open-minded versatile data collections method, it assists in improving organization performance as the technique can be effectively utilized in varied organizational situations (Yona, et al., 2013). Furthermore, by managing problems internally, businesses are afforded the opportunity to collaboratively resolve organizational issues without heavily relying on consultants.
The critical incident technique has proved to be effective and it is quickly establishing itself as a reliable research tool. As its primary focus is behavior, it can be leveraged in various circumstances provided that the integral bias of retrospective judgment is considered and understood. There are various advantages that are associated with the critical incident technique. for instance, the CI technique assists in identifying and analyzing rare incidents or events that might not be apparent through methods of investigation that deal with daily episodes. Thus, its focus on critical incidents results in significant benefits. Additionally, the technique minimizes the negative while maximizing the positive characteristics of narratives, thus turning intricate experiences into rich information and data. in a situation where information is collected anonymously, a researcher can obtain in-depth information on feelings, emotions, and actions of people (Serrat, 2010).
Other advantages of the CI technique are that it helps to provide dramatic demonstrations of the impact of behavior by revealing the unknown cause and severity of certain behaviors. Also, the technique assists in gauging abstract concepts such as motivation via their revelation in behavior that has been reported. Such concepts are challenging to assess through other traditional methods, tools, and approaches. Ultimately, CIT delivers comprehensive information with greater ease and at a lower cost than methods such as observation.
However, the technique also does have its disadvantages. As the technique depends on individual viewpoint on organization issues, incident reports on behavior are subject to personal perception, bias, honesty, and memory, such reports may not be completely accurate. As such, the critical incident technique has to be used in association with other data collection, analysis, and interpretation methods so that businesses can get a comprehensive comprehension of organizational issues. Also, the assumption cannot be made that individuals can and will provide events or incidents that are critical to success in their tasks or that qualitative analysis is adequate to identify clearly the proficiencies resulting to success or failure (Yona, et al., 2013). Additionally, certain applications of the CI technique are time intensive and it might be difficult to convince individuals to share critical incidents if the approach requires them to record their own experiences or stories.
Bacal & Associates. (2015). What Is The Critical Incident Method of Performance Appraisal? Retrieved from The Performance Management and Appraisal Resource Center: http://performance-appraisals.org/faq/criticalincident.htm
Serrat, O. (2010). The critical incident technique. Washington DC: Asian Development Bank.
Yona, M. A., Aronson, R., Schaal, J., Eng, E., Hardy, C., & Jones, N. (2013). Critical incident technique: an innovative participatory approach to examine and document racial disparities in breast cancer healthcare services. Health Education Research, 748759.
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