Saturday, October 23, 2010

After Action Reviews

I spent yesterday at the US Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. During a series of seminars, I had the opportunity to discuss a range of leadership topics with some of the best officers in each branch of our military. One topic involved After Action Reviews and examinations of near-misses. We discussed why they are so effective in the military, and why it's been difficult for companies to emulate this practice successfully. A number of issues arose. First, the military handles the lesson learned exercise separate from any examination if potential wrongdoing. Second, leaders are taught from their first days in the military how to examine themselves critically and how to accept a critique of their actions. Third, they don't rest on success. They don't let a successful outcome reduce the level of scrutiny applied to processes and decisions. The outcome is almost irrelevant in terms of how they go about evaluating a mission with a critical set of eyes. Finally, they never avoid doing a review simply because "they are busy" - something business managers say all the time. Those are just a few of the key ideas that emerged. I'm quite sure many firms would benefit if they made lessons learned as high of a priority as these soldiers do. What a pleasure to learn from these fine men and women who defend our freedoms. May God bless them and keep them out if harm's way.


Elco Jol said...

Dear Mr. Roberto,

I agree with the idea that managers should be more critical of themselves and take more time to asses their actions. However, i find it difficult to compare self reflection of officers with that of managers.

It is relatively easy to determine whether a military action was successful (e.g. number of casualties, civilians, etc) which is a direct result of the action that an officer took. On the contrary, the results of a manager actions cannot be observed easily. What you will try to observe (e.g. sales, customer satisfaction) is dependent on many other factors besides the managers actions.

Therefore, I would be hesitant in saying that managers should take officers as an example in assessing themselves. Simply because the criteria on which they asses themselves are far more dynamic than the static criteria of officers. Or is there still much common ground?

Elco Jol

Terry said...

I agree with Dr. Roberto's assessment and suggestion that business leaders (and teams) would benefit from continual self-assessment. To address Elco Joi's concern, rather than focusing on "did it work or not", leaders and teams should focus on "what did we do that seemed to work well?" and "what did we do that didn't seem to help" and "what might have we done that we didn't do." There's always room for improvement, but many opportunities are squandered because of busy-ness, or because examination may be embarassing.