Where has all that feedback gone?

von Marion Ehmann

A team of researchers at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology has studied how much time leaders spend on actually giving feedback as compared to how much time they think they are giving feedback. The researchers followed about 100 managers at various work places in Sweden from different industry sectors to ensure a wide spread of data. The researchers also videotaped and analysed what the managers actually did. Beforehand, the managers were asked to state how much time they spent on giving feedback to others. The results are quite staggering: Most leaders spent only about 0 to 2 % of their time with telling their staff what they are doing well and what they can do better and there was hardly a leader in this study who spent more than 10 % of her or his time giving feedback. On the other hand, the leaders themselves thought that they had spent up to 40 % of their time giving feedback! Which for me raises the question: Where did all the feedback go that the leaders thought they were giving?? My guess is that many leaders wrap their feedback up in so many layers of verbal cotton wool that it becomes unrecognizable as feedback or at least extremely hard to understand for the recipient. I have had younger law firm colleagues who told me about their yearly feedback talks with their supervising partner: “He said a lot and I understand that he was not happy with my performance, but, for the life of me, I cannot tell you what it is.” That is of course devastating for a dedicated young lawyer who wants to improve her performance and develop in her professional role. And it is very ineffective from the point of view of the law firm ...

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