Course Corrections Assist in Reaching the Destination Safely

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There is a great deal of attention given to the terms “formative assessments” and “summative assessments” in education circles. “Feedback” is sometimes substituted for “assessment,” but the principle doesn’t change.

Let me illustrate with something familiar to most of us. When we fly from airport A to airport B, we note that the pilot gets us there safely and mostly on time, which we appreciate. Our recognition of the pilot’s achievement is the summative feedback: we are grading his overall performance based on the end result.

We are not frequently aware that even on the short flights, the pilot is continually changing course: adjusting the altitude or the direction of the plane. The plane commonly veers off course due to atmospheric conditions, but based on feedback from instruments, the co-pilot and air traffic control, the pilot brings the plane back on course and lands it safely.

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We don’t berate the pilot because he deviated from his planned course a dozen times or more; we praise him because he made corrections and got us to our collective destination. This is formative feedback: the intermediate evaluations that individually are low-stakes evaluations, but together, they produce a significant result.

 

In many organizations, an annual review is customary. In some of those organizations, this may be the only assessment that an employee receives from his leader. What a shock it can be to feel that one is on course all year, only to find that a five-degree course deviation eight months ago led to being significantly off course. Now a major correction is needed (unless a crash has already occurred) in order to return back to the planned path. Had intermediate feedback been given early on, the correction would have been more comfortable and less noticeable.

How can a leader give a beneficial formative assessment?

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The core of formative feedback for the employee consists of three elements, which can be expressed in three questions:

  1. Where are you right now?

The employee must have a sense of his destination. Expectations should be clarified, as well as checkpoints.

  1. Where do you need to be right now?

As above, if clear expectations are given, the employee should already know if he or she is off course.

  1. How can you (or we) close the gap between the two?

Very often an individual readily recognizes that he or she is off course, but has no idea how to return to the planned path, or must be encouraged to make the correction. This may be the good leader’s most important task!

 

The desired assessment should occur at three levels:

  1. Self-assessment

The leader should empower the employee with the necessary tools and training to self-evaluate. I previously wrote about the Dunning Kruger Effect, which describes the need for an individual to reach a certain level of knowledge and skill in order to properly evaluate their own performance (or others’ performance).

If the leader doesn’t recognize this, then he is failing as a leader. We cannot expect excellence if we do not train for it.

  1. Peer assessment

In team efforts, the employee should be able to turn to a colleague for a meaningful formative assessment. Again, this requires that both individuals have the necessary tools. Empowering the team is particularly critical to the success of peer assessments. They must know that this is acceptable. In a sense, this empowerment is a delegation of authority to all involved, and relieves the leader/manager of a portion of his burden.

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  1. Leader (manager) assessment

Finally, the leader assesses. If the team has a proper understanding of the tasks being evaluated and the intended results, this assessment will confirm the judgment of the individual and their peers. This can be a powerful morale builder for everyone. It also becomes a checkpoint for the leader to assess his efficacy in directing the project.

 

Of course, all of this necessitates that the leader have a presence among his team. The principle of MBWA (management by walking around) lends itself well to providing formative feedback. If a leader remains isolated and doesn’t offer correction until disaster strikes, then trust, confidence and morale will be undermined.

I am not suggesting that the leader micromanage. This is not desirable. But the leader should train, empower and monitor personally in order to see that his team reaches their desired destination; that they achieve their individual, team and organizational goals.

 

A good leader will provide frequent navigational assistance to his team because he wants to see them reach their destination safely.

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Take the Lead in Preparing

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Disasters, either natural or man-made, pose a year-round threat to most of us. A good leader will prepare for the unexpected in order to be ready to guide his team through a disaster.

Potential disasters will vary from one region to another. In my area, the greatest threat is posed by earthquakes or human-caused disasters. Wildfires and flash flooding are also potential threats. Hurricanes and ice storms are highly unlikely for us. While we can’t adequately prepare for every possible disaster, we can take basic steps to ensure that we are ready.

There a several steps a good leader can take to help his team be prepared.

  1. Plan

A leader must have a general emergency plan in place. In 30 years, I have experienced two significant earthquakes while at work. This taught me what I need to do if it happens again. Risk assessment is important. I have surveyed each office I have worked in so that I knew the best exit routes and how far from the building I needed to be in order to be safe. This included surveying for overhead power lines and other potential hazards. You don’t want to walk from one hazard into another one. I have rehearsed the process in my mind, but I didn’t stop there.

2. Train

It is important to make sure that your team understands expectations and how to act in an emergency. There will also be concerns specific to each type of team or business.

You will all need to keep your cool and be of assistance to visitors and others who are onsite. Knowing evacuation routes and meeting places is critical. It is also important to know when not to evacuate.

One example: I work next to a major railway freight line. One of our possible concerns is a derailment with hazardous materials. We cannot evacuate if there is a hazardous material concern outside, unless the building itself is in danger.

3. Delegate assignments

Each team member should have a responsibility. For example, someone can take charge of inspecting your facility for potential hazards. Someone can monitor expiration dates on emergency supplies. Someone has to take the lead during an evacuation. Someone could grab the first-aid kit or a “go-bag” on their way out. And someone needs to be designated as the last one out. And don’t forget those who will need assistance.

These responsibilities as well as others that you may identify should be assigned and understood. Even as a dentist and a faculty member, I have a specific emergency responsibility in our clinic. And people respect this uniform!

The managing partner, hard at work.

4. Prepare supplies

When we think about supplies, first aid supplies come to mind first. But other items will assist our team as well. A supply of emergency food and water may be beneficial. A set of clothing and sturdy walking shoes in a small duffel bag can be beneficial if you and your team dress professionally.

5. Regularly update information and training

The prepared leader will have contact information for his or her entire team, and for their family members or significant others. Contact information should include various media types, e.g. email addresses, cell numbers, even social media info. In a pinch, you want to have all the possibilities covered. Communication during and after the emergency is critical.

Think about this: some disasters will occur while we are not at work. It may become important to contact your team to tell them not to come to work in some situations.

Remember also that training is not a one-time event. A good leader will set aside time to retrain and refresh skills, as well as to bring new team members up to speed.

A good leader will ensure that he and his team are ready to face a disaster. And we should think about more than just the human element. What about data backups and important documents? If you plan ahead and make use of available resources, you will be able to face an emergency with confidence.Emergency_Preparedness

Please note that this is meant to be an overview only. Due the variations in leadership situations, businesses, geographic locations and potential disasters, I cannot cover all the possibilities. You must make relevant preparations for your own situation. For more information, checklists, and training materials, see ready.gov, or websites for your state, province, or local disaster agencies or the Red Cross. British Columbia has an outstanding website for my Canadian friends. There are also many commercial entities who can provide helpful resources for your preparedness needs.

A Culture of Negativity?

What kind of culture do you intend to create as a leader? This is a pivotal question, not just for the new leader, but for all leaders to ponder. As a part of the strategizing process, it is a question that should be carefully considered.

Do you just want to let nature take its course? It’s your call.

Do you want to create a culture of collaboration and friendly competition? Great!

Do you want to ramp it up beyond that? Fine.

It is up to you to determine the course. If you do not, it could easily go in the wrong direction.

Can you accurately describe to your team why this is important to them? And to you?

What will you do to nurture that kind of culture?

Will your attitudes and actions not just reflect but model your plans?

The pilot who files a flight plan does not simply fly from point A to point B. Frequent course corrections are required to compensate for wind, weather and natural obstacles. In a large plane, a copilot and frequently a navigator assist in these corrections.

In the same way, a good leader must also consistently make course corrections with his team.

How will you make these corrections?

Do you want a culture of negativity in your organization?

Look to the pilot and his team as they navigate along their flight path.

Except in notably rare occasions, they function well as a team in keeping the plane on course. The co-pilot points out potential obstacles or weather formations that should be avoided. They assist each other in making decisions to keep on course. When the plane drifts off course, as it will, they do not berate each other; they simply identify and execute the needed corrections and get back on the intended course.

In a culture of negativity, the focus changes. The vision of the destination becomes obscured as everyone looks at what was done instead of what will be done. It is impossible to stay on course while focusing on where you’ve been.

Negativity always impedes forward progress.

Leaders, are you encouraging a negative or a positive culture?

Is a course correction needed to get you to your intended destination?

You are the pilot; take the stick.