Tasks that should be easy often fail to accomplish the desired results or outcomes, leaving organizations wondering what happened. Can’t we learn from our mistakes or the mistakes of others to avoid problems that impact productivity, effectiveness, profitability and employee morale? When something does go well, how do we capture the details of the accomplishment and apply them to a similar event or project in the future? If you look at the impact of Hurricane Katrina as an example, you can imagine the lessons that need to be learned in order to prevent a repeat of the same problems.
Part of the challenge for those involved in Katrina, as well as for anyone in an organization today, is that the same people may not be there the next time an event or problem occurs. Thus, their knowledge, expertise or hard-learned lessons may be lost. The answer to avoiding the constant repetition of the same troubles comes in two parts.
The first is to implement an After Action Review (AAR) of the event, and apply it to both bad and good outcomes. People seldom like to admit that they have made mistakes, failed to plan effectively, or didn’t manage the action or event in a proper manner. A well-conducted AAR consists of getting together all parties involved in an event or action so they can lay out clear ground rules and really focus on seeking understanding, clarity and constructive solutions.
The military has been conducting AARs for years. When conducted properly, people are open about their own actions and the AAR becomes not only a review of the outcome of an action or event, but an important learning opportunity. An AAR is not about assigning blame or finding a scapegoat, but rather taking a hard look at three things.
The first is to identify what went well; success needs to be recognized and shared among all those involved, as this helps to solidify the positive benefits of the AAR. Second, uncover the aspects of the project that didn’t go well. This is a chance to research the breakdowns, disconnects or missed opportunities that should be identified in order to avoid repeating the same errors in the future. The third aspect, and probably the most important of the three, is finding ways to make the event or action turn out better next time.
A critical aspect of a successful AAR is documenting the findings and keeping them available for review when a similar project or event is planned. If communication during the process or event was poor, unclear or non-existent among the players, as it appears to have been during Hurricane Katrina, steps should be taken to immediately ensure that this does not continue to be a problem in future situations.
The military will definitely be conducting AARs on its responses and effectiveness during Hurricane Katrina, enabling participants to learn from both their successes and failures so they can do a better job the next time they are called. The military has found out the hard way that mistakes often mean lives lost. A well-run AAR, and the actions taken as a result of conducting it, have saved lives, money and time, and made the military a more effectively run organization. The question we should all be asking is, can we afford not to incorporate our own version of an AAR in our organizations as we deal with an increasingly competitive global economy?