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  • Writer's pictureLacy Starling

#133: The After-Action Report

I grew up in a military household (my dad and both my brothers served in the Army.) Now, I own a company that's intensely veteran-friendly. A quarter of my employees are veterans (which is impressive, considering only 7% of the US population are veterans), my business partner is a veteran, and my management staff is entirely made up of veterans or military spouses. In other words, we speak military.

The benefit of this military friendliness is that we can pull the best parts of the military out and use them, while leaving behind the less-awesome stuff. (Like the threat of death.) One of my favorite military tools is incredibly useful this time of year, as we reflect on the past 12 months and prepare for the year ahead. It's called the After-Action Report, and you can start using it in your business today, too.

An After-Action Report is a military exercise done after any type event that warrants analysis. Sometimes, it's done after a combat situation. Sometimes, it's done after a training exercise. It's a detailed report of the situation and outcomes, and it's used to re-assess the decisions that were made in the moment and to analyze possible alternatives for the future.

In my companies, we usually use the AAR when we've screwed up. Maybe a load we were shipping went sideways. Maybe we lost a customer deal that we thought we had in the bag. Maybe a marketing campaign missed the mark. In those situations, we sit down, get all the details and decisions that went into the event, and figure out how we could have done it better in the future.

This type of reflective activity keeps us from making the same mistakes twice, it helps us get better at what we do, and it allows us to put a bow on the situation, so we aren't tormented by our past mistakes. We acknowledge what happened, we figure out how to make it better in the future, and we move on.

It's a powerful exercise for any company or organization, and I suggest it to all my clients, whether they are military-minded or not.

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