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6 Pack To-Go: Better performance

You've heard the stat: Thomas Edison executed approximately 1500 different attempts before successfully inventing the light bulb.  I am betting my mountain bike on the fact that he never repeated the same mistake.  In fact, he said that each "failure" brought him closer to the solution he sought.  Brilliant?  Yes. The consummate "Learner"?  You bet.  You can be, too.  Whether you are a Director preparing for your big, new product launch or a fresh new Team Leader helping your team load delivery trucks on graveyard shift, you and your team will learn best by doing.and reviewing after completing a task.  In the Army we called them After Action Reviews.  I've lead them in a minute under a tree in the woods and in a three-hour meeting in a fancy office building and everything in between.  You can make anything work if you follow the steps.  Want better-than-ever results in a minute? Well, leap to it.  Try facilitating these simple leaps after your team executes a task:

  1. State what was supposed to happen.  Simply said: what was the intent of our action?  Launch the new product to 50 distributors by Wednesday?  Safely load 12 delivery trucks by 5 a.m.?  The more clearly the task is defined (remember "SMART" goals?) the better you can measure your results.  Review the big question: "what is success in terms of this task?"  Help your team define what was supposed to happen.
  2. Summarize what actually happened.  Facts work well here.  Ask your team what they saw, felt, did.  Remember that you viewed the execution of the task from one vantage point.  Many others watched the same task unfold from many other, equally valid vantage points.  The customer solutions specialist who was fielding live calls from your distributors saw the product roll out from a whole different seat than your engineer team did, right?  Call out these differences using your great facilitation skills and paint the "real deal" picture of what took place.
  3. Cull out what worked well.  Ask your team what aspects of the execution phase worked well.  Then, take it another powerful step forward and ask "why?"  Why was it good that all 12 delivery trucks were inspected and prepped (washed, gassed up, etc.) and parked in the loading docks at the start of your graveyard shift?  How did that contribute to the potential success of the mission?  The key here is to ensure your team understands how specific behaviors enable success.  As the leader, you will want to recognize these successful behaviors and reward them, however simply, so they will be repeated.
  4. Identify what did not work so well.  Here I like mine straight-up, no-blame. Your task: enable an objective review of the event that allows for fierce conversation in a space where your team can learn and grow together.  Only 40 distributors had the new product by the deadline?  Ask the team where the breakdown was. Then ask "why?"  Then ask 4 more "why?"s. Get to the root cause not so you can nail blame on that person, team, or unit but so you can clearly target the juncture where execution got off track.  That is the sweet spot for performance improvement. By the way, awesome leader, this step can be tricky so practice often and bring your best game to the table every time.  Your team will grow like kudzu if you lead this process well.  
  5. Name the lessons learned.  As a result of this event, what did the team learn?  Name the key learning in simple language.  For example, using one of the examples above your team may have learned that new product kits for out of state customers need to be shipped with a 4 day lead time instead of a 3 day lead time in order to meet prescribed deadlines.  Cool.  Highlight the key take aways from the event that can help your team perform better in the future.
  6. Define follow up actions.  Skip this step and you might as well call it a day and go bowling.  Learning without application is worthless to your organization.  Ask your team what specific ACTION must be taken to apply what was learned to future work.  What procedures need to be modified?  What communication streams must be improved? What skills need to be developed? Who else needs to be involved?  Who is accountable?  This step separates great leaders from good leaders.  Apply what you and your team learned and you will be well on your way to delivering the results you want for every mission you undertake.  Good or great.  Your choice.