With publishing changing so quickly, we are constantly trying new things. While I’m a big fan of always moving forward, we also have to look at what we’ve already done and decide if it worked or didn’t work.
Once you’ve implemented your plan, it’s time to use another Special Forces tool—the After Action Review (AAR). This is used by Special Forces to objectively determine if a mission’s goal has been achieved. In fact, whenever you think you’ve finished doing something significant, you should conduct an AAR.
A person that won’t look closely at themselves is someone who is doomed to keep doing the same things wrong again and again.
Because simulated combat exercises are so difficult to observe and judge, the military designed the AAR to help the participants figure out what happened. It was only in the late ‘90s that the business world began picking up the concept, most likely a result of Army officers filtering into the civilian world and bringing what they had learned with them. A Harvard Business School professor wrote an article about it in the Harvard Business Review in 1993, which I suppose made it more highbrow than a squad of grunts sitting around trying to figure out what just happened. The most critical aspect of having an effective AAR is honesty. The first, and most important, question to be answered is, was the goal or mission accomplished? Given that your goal or mission was originally stated clearly in one sentence, the answer should be clear.
I have read several business books where it is said an AAR should not judge success or failure. I disagree with that. Why not? The theory is that focusing on success or failure will cause emotional conflict—if that’s the case, then so be it. We succeed. We fail. We learn, adjust and move on. Successful people have to break through the conflict that comes with not succeeding all the time.
Remember the stages of change: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. If failure at a goal is a conflict for you, it’s one of your blind spots. Work through these changes until you’ve conquered the associated fear.
If the answer is yes, you achieved your goal, then pat yourself on the back, then see what fine-tuning needs to be done. If the answer is no, hunker down until the smoke clears—until you have solid answers from your AAR and know what changes need to be made to your plan.
With both my writing career and Who Dares Wins Publishing, I periodically conduct After Action Reviews. I always find better and more efficient ways to accomplish my goals.
Steps for an effective AAR.
- Did you achieve your goal
- Review your plan. Did you follow your plan? If not, note the exceptions and variations you made
- Review the preparation for the activity—which means once more go through all the Forces listed in this book, and now that the plan has been executed, determine if each Tool was effectively applied to your plan
- Summarize the events as they occurred, using a detailed timeline, with no commentary. Just the facts. Build a complete timeline of action
- Focus on why each specific action was taken. Whether each step of the plan was followed, or deviated from (which is not necessarily a bad thing)
- Give particular focus to when fear played a role in your actions—this is the most difficult part of the AAR, but the most critical—fear is most likely where your actions diverged from your plan
- Summarize areas of plan improvement and refinement, as well as alternative actions you could have taken to achieve a more successful result