Why Giving Feedback Is So Much Harder Than You Think


A while ago I went to a lecture with Simon Elvnäs, a Swedish KTH researcher in leadership behavior, who shared some really interesting findings from his study that made me question a lot of things that I thought I knew about leadership.

One of the most outstanding findings from his study is that leaders are not capable of rating their own work effort and performance. One example is that the study participants thought that they spent about 40 % of their time at work giving feedback to their employees.

If we just pause here for a moment and take a guess on how much feedback leaders actually give to employees on a daily basis.

How many percent do you think it is?

Well, the study showed that leaders only spend as little as 0-2% of their time giving feedback to the employees. This includes feedback responses such as “Aha”, “Yes” or “Okay” on performed tasks.

Consequently, this means that leaders are unaware of how much feedback they really give to their employees, believing that they give far more than they actually turn out to do.

How are people supposed to grow and develop if nobody guides them accurately?

The sad part of this is that the top one thing that employees say they want more of from leaders is, ironically, what they get the least of – feedback. Earlier studies has shown that one of the most important factors to affect employee performance is feedback, such as giving attention, validation and follow up on completed work tasks. How are you supposed to know if you are doing the right things if you almost never get feedback on completed tasks?

What does this study mean for leaders out there? It is indeed a gap that needs to be bridged in order to improve leadership as well as team and employee performance.

It is important to understand this challenge and how it affects performance levels in our organizations. But if not being able to rate yourself as a leader and how you act, how can you improve?

The answer might be closer than we think. In the study, it was by measuring leadership behavior that the researcher found out how much feedback they actually give. In fact, we need to measure this on a more regular basis so that leaders don’t falsely believe that they do something they actually don’t.

This would be measured more accurately from the employee’s point of view. After all, the most important thing is that the employees perceive that they receive feedback regularly, not whether or not the leader thinks he or she does it regularly.

When you have the data from the measurements, it is easier to act and form activities where you systematically give each other feedback in the team. It could be as easy as adding five extra minutes of feedback time to your weekly meetings. Make sure to talk to your team members to understand how and when they want to get feedback. Remember that receiving feedback on your leadership is as important for your leadership performance as it is for your employee’s performance.

What are your best tips for giving feedback to employees?

/Johanna Tömmervik, CMO @ Prindit

2 thoughts on “Why Giving Feedback Is So Much Harder Than You Think

  1. Johannes Wretljung Persson June 21, 2017 / 10:05 pm

    This is very interesting! Thanks.


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