Where It All Started…
AAR sessions are “let’s compare notes” session in search of causes for problems and windows for improvement. There is no witch hunt.
By contrast, the typical corporate debrief process is the proverbial execution: Find out what went wrong, blame some pre-arranged mid- or low-level managers for it and, figuratively speaking, chop his head off.
The reason for the difference is that the military lives and breathes teamwork but corporations merely talk about it.
Why To Perform AARs?
Companies, large and small, are infested with performance evaluation programs, not to mention the more and more sophisticated performance-enhancing tools (CRM, etc.), but human performance in general hasn’t really been growing.
Yes, technology can leverage both human competency and human idiocy as well. Between…
- 1858 and 1958, human productivity increased by 2% per year
- 1858 and 1973, human productivity increased by 1.7% per year
- 1873 and 1988, human productivity increased by 1% per year
Don’t look at the numbers per se, but look at fact that within a span of mere 130 years, human performance has dropped by 50%, while the amount of information has been doubling every 1.7 years.
The beauty of AAR is that it evaluates overall missions, not individual soldiers’ performance.
Now some people may ask that if AARs are so good, why do so many managers stick with standard performance evaluation?
It’s very simple. Most managers get their kicks out of ruthlessly trashing their people whenever they can because they think that makes them look tough in their bosses’ eyes.
The other reason to do AARs is because that’s how the brain works.
In the brain there is a primacy effect and as recency effect.
They refer to the brain’s ability to recall information, and were extensively researched and coined by German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus.
As we can see on the figure above, the brain can excellently recall information from the beginning of an event, and fairly well from the end. But it forgets a lot from the middle.
So, it’s one thing that you start your projects with a big bang, but you also have to create another big bang at the end of projects to make them memorable.
And the more memorable you make project completion, the more excited and enthusiastic your people will be at the commencement of the next project.
Now you may say that your people are top-notch professionals and they don’t give a hoot about how projects are completed, but rest assured they do. They know the celebration of project victory or the lack thereof, and they know that every celebration is all about their team-wide and individual greatness.
The AAR is the very last part of the project, and, if facilitated well, it can turn the project into a helluva experience for team members.
Case in point…
Many moons ago, Tony Robbins was hired by the US Army to conduct some personal development programs.
Later, the organizing general lamented that many soldiers regard their military services as the best years of their lives and the highlight of their careers.
After leaving the military, most of them, in spite of their special training and capabilities to do amazing things, they fall back into insignificance, and live their lives in quiet mediocrity.
Then Tony told the general that this happens because soldiers no longer operate in an environment that holds them up to a higher standard and supports them on their journeys to be the best they can be.
And here is one more proof that talented people love challenge and whatever they do, they don’t do it for the money.
And one more thing. Talented people don’t need mollycoddling. They need honesty. They can take honest feedback if it’s given to them in a respectful way.
So that’s why you need close every project with a big bang not with a dull hum.
Where To Run AAR Meetings?
Ideally, hold AARs in a common area. One big mistake is when the highest-ranking manager calls everyone into his office and, as the “rules/owner” of the office, he starts acting as some kind of boss.
In a common area, like conference room, ranks can vanish and the facilitator can maintain an honest conversation.
The Phases of AAR?
- Following up (using AAR results)
- Select a qualified facilitator
- Select a date and time for the AAR
- Determine who will attend the AAR meeting
- Select the location for the AAR
- Choose the required equipment (projector, audio, video, etc.)
- Review your AAR plan to make sure everything is in place.
- Review educational objectives based on the project’s objectives
- Identify key points that the facilitator has to pay extra attention to
- Collect observations from project team leaders and members
- Organise observations based on key teaching points
- Evaluate the selected AAR location and change it if necessary
- Prepare the location for the AAR
- Require active participation
- Lay down the ground rules of participation (No personal attacks, not cutting into each other’s words, etc.)
- Focus on both educational objectives and the value derived from the project
- Record key points
4 Following Up (Using AAR Results)
- Identify areas for further skill development
- Remedy all occurred problems and document all procedural improvements in the appropriate procedure manuals
- Compile and send out post AAR summaries to all participants
How To Run AARs?
To make AARs more effective, always appoint a skilled facilitator who is somewhat familiar with the project.
AARs for short projects can be facilitated by project leaders, but AARs for larger projects have to be facilitated by an objective outsider who is not a team member.
There are some basic ground rules for AARs.
- The AAR’s primary role is learning and the secondary is performance evaluation.
- Participants are to show up on time.
- Organisational hierarchy and job positions vanish.
- Three separate people: Facilitator, scribe and recorder (audio or video).
- Keep the meeting high level.
- Its goal is to integrate the lessons learnt from projects into a learning objective.
- It establishes the root causes of both successes and failures.
- It assists to establish common perceptions for the whole project team.
- It acts as a platform for conflict resolution between team members.
- It provides a forum to place, establish and reinforce group norms.
Confidentiality at AAR Sessions
The idea behind the whole AAR process is that people must be bone-honest about their feelings and experiences during the project.
So, to assure 100% honesty, people have to know that everything they do and say stays top secret and 100% confidential. Yes, the overall summary of the AAR meeting is available to others too, but the details, leading to the summary, are not.
It’s like Coke. It’s available for the public. You can buy it and drink it, but the ingredients and the ratios of the ingredients are not available for the public.
The other part of confidentiality is to destroy any evidence that has led to the AAR summary. AAR is a process and it ends in the crescendo of a summary. And all trace of the process itself must be destroyed.
If it’s absolutely necessary, and if ALL designated participants agree, a very limited number of non-designated people can attend AAR sessions but only in observer mode, quietly sitting in the corner on some beer crates (They can’t touch the beer though! 🙂 )
They also have to agree to be hanged, drawn and quartered if they spill the beans to the outside world on what they’ve just experienced.
And if confidential information leaks, then find the source of the leak and fire the person right away in a rather nasty fashion, including force-feeding them with grossly overboiled vegetables, forcing them to listen to old communist military march songs and, for good measure, even calling the Spanish Inquisition on them.
One of the best ways of creating a wow experience for clients is the AAR process.
In an internal project like an inbound marketing campaign, your “clients” are your people who can decide whether they stay with your company or don their hats and quit.
To that, many business owners say, “If they quit, they quit. I don’t care.”
And that’s a problem. Maybe we should listen to Peter Drucker’s wisdom on the issue.
“Knowledge workers (as opposed to manual laborers) are volunteers who own the means of their performance, and whether or not they remain with any one company is totally volitional. Just like most investors, they will go where they can earn a fair economic return-measured in wages, fringe benefits, and other pecuniary rewards-as well as where they are well treated and respected, the psychological return. In the knowledge society, the most probable assumption for organisations – and certainly the assumption on which they have to conduct their affairs – is that they need knowledge workers far more than knowledge workers need them.”
So, every internal project has to impress your people. And the AAR process can do that very nicely.
I know it’s not easy to introduce and implement AARs. It’s easier if you are so lucky that you have some military vets on your payroll, so they can help you a lot.
But if not, we’ve prepared a AAR Cheat Sheet for you that helps you to get started, and based on that you can develop your own After Action Reviews.