Course Corrections

In my career, my only professional jaunt outside of dentistry and communications coaching was working for a local winery in my early 30’s as a marketing manager.  The job was overall a great experience and one that broadened me professionally.  The winery was owned by a huge international liquor giant so this was my first and only “corporate” job. It was also my first professional exposure to things like business-related travel, expense reports, annual budgets, people management, and my own regular annual employee review by my direct supervisor.

When I sat down with my boss for my first annual review, I remember being so surprised by the praise I received for something I didn’t even know was all that important to my job, or to him, as well as feeling blindsided when I received criticism for something I never knew I was supposed to be improving.

As a leadership communication coach, I now know this is commonplace in dental and healthcare practices, small businesses, and many other companies. We have been led to believe that the primary purpose of an annual review should be evaluating an employee’s performance over the past 12 months. At LionSpeak, we believe the primary purpose of an annual employee conversation should be focused on an employee’s progress relative to ongoing quarterly, monthly, or even weekly or daily conversations.  Shame on us if we are waiting for a whole year to tell our employees what they are doing well and/or to ask for improvements.

There is a boatload of data available which shows that the current workforce does not dread regular and frequent feedback but rather desires it from their managers. In my experience, short weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one sessions are the best tool for building and elevating employee performance because they are much more “real time.” These shorter but more timely and frequent conversations give you the chance to “course correct” with your team about what is of greatest importance now as well as allowing for your praise to feel more real and relevant. You have the chance to reinforce good behavior and outcomes and redirect negative ones in a more meaningful and useful way.

When I first learned to ride a horse, I remember being taught to guide the animal with my knees and thighs as if I was steering water, flowing down a riverbed. This is what short, frequent feedback mechanisms are like—constant course correction. And as long as you provide both reinforcement and redirection, it won’t feel like you are running your employee through a battering ram every week. This system allows your annual reviews to be more focused on overall performance and progress over the past 12 months instead the surprising annual revelations that they have done things right or wrong for an entire year.

This week, give some thought to how you could provide quick and consistent feedback to your team with weekly, bi-weekly, or (at the most) monthly check-ins which are then supported long term with quarterly reviews and annual performance evaluations.

“In the absence of feedback, people will fill in the blanks with a negative. They will assume you don’t care about them or don’t like them.”

~ Pat Summitt

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