These 7 Questions Could Make or Break 2024

This is an ideal time to take stock of the past six months and adjust course, where needed.

Lisa planning on a flip chart
Lisa planning on a flip chart

Greetings from steamy Virginia!

Thanks to record-breaking temperatures, I’m expecting a record-breaking energy bill next month.

Something else is heating up: board pressure to deliver strong earnings and new logos during the second half of 2024.

It is tempting to dust off our desktop after summer holidays, dive into July, and plan new marketing promotions.

Let me suggest an alternative. Slow down to move fast by launching an After Action Review (AAR).

This is an ideal time to take stock of the past six months and adjust course, where needed. In my work with my Stakeholder Centered Coaching™, I have discovered a modified After Action Review (AAR) process that works well.

AARs, launched by the U.S. Army in the 1970s, has sparked debates over the decades. Many have called them useless and too process heavy.

Under the right conditions—such as using an outside, impartial facilitator and collecting personal stories during the reviews–AARs can galvanize teams, prevent costly disasters, build trust and transparency, set clearer priorities, and shorten learning cycles.

Don’t we all need more of these attributes right now?

Recently I used this approach with the Head of Growth for a $2.3B client. I was coaching them to help them increase team engagement and improve their influence across the global organization. Within minutes, the AAR helped us surface some significant roadblocks in their professional development plan.

We caught them early enough to remedy their habits and behavior. We distributed a mini-survey to assess their progress in two key development areas. On a seven-point scale, we witnessed a two-point improvement in their ability to “improve executive level influence to impact sales growth.”

Waiting 12 months to review someone’s performance is simply an archaic business process in today’s asynchronous work culture. When delaying important conversations, leaders cannot capture failures and early wins to build momentum or make mid-course adjustments. The focus leans too heavily towards pricey post-mortem reviews versus continuous learning.

Here’s the After-Action Review (AAR) framework.

1. What have we set out to do? Share specifics here in the form of SMART goals and project summaries–not lofty aspirations or 89-page slide decks.

2. What actually happened? Look for examples of wins, roadblocks or material business changes that moved the performance needle in either direction. Avoid blame or shame. Spend most of your time on this question and deconstruct the series of events as accurately as you can.

3. Why did those things happen? Seek out root cause, not symptoms. During this portion, the facilitator is listening for facts and minimizing the risk of martyrs or “fall guys and gals” to take one for the team.

Root cause takes some patience to uncover. For example, in 2021, I worked with a software company that invested heavily in building a global direct sales team. Marketing, which reported to a Chief Revenue Officer, did their best to keep up with the sales headcount growth. They were scrappy—and managed well despite a bare-bones demand gen team and an anemic brand budget. For two consecutive years, they experienced modest revenue growth.

When they missed lead generation targets during one quarter, the board blamed Marketing. Yet the core problem rested with a confusing product/market fit.

4. What will I do more next time to improve? A seasoned facilitator will help the teams identify 30-60-90-day action steps to mitigate the risk of repeating mistakes and miscommunications.

Make your action steps granular. Here are examples…

“I want to optimize cross-functional collaboration and trust. Here’s how I can achieve it…During our sales kickoff meeting, I will email the agenda in advance… I will ask regional sales leaders to present the key points and assign accountabilities…I will provide a summary before the meeting ends…I will end the meeting on time.”

5. What will we stop doing? Here’s a hint: if you juggle more than four goals, something is prime for the “Stop Doing” wastebasket.

If you find the era of efficiency is driving your teams to do more with less, and​ burnout and attrition feel imminent, you are not alone. I’m witnessing this across industries. I like the aphorism “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

Contact me if you need help defining and setting strategic priorities, and you want to avert costly attrition and worker’s compensation costs.

6. What will we start doing? I have clients who now challenge their teams to streamline mundane and back-office tasks using generative AI. When used ethically and responsibly, and supported by a cogent, written AI policy, AI can free them up to work on strategic thinking, scenario planning, and discovering future customers.

At future team meetings, consider asking: “Where can we use AI to streamline this initiative/program, help us brainstorm ideas and content, summarize large data sets, or streamline marketing tasks?”

7. What will we continue doing? AARs help us continuously learn. They instill a coaching culture. They cultivate a growth mindset.

How will you make the learning process part of your daily or monthly operations? How can you catch colleagues doing things right, and amplify their small victories?

If you want cool heads to prevail after a stressful launch, high-stakes executive coaching engagement, or failed project, turn up the A/C. Then team up with a solid facilitator to guide the AAR.

Need additional, practical AAR process tips? Check out this excellent Harvard Business Review article. (7-minute read).

Let’s reconnect after I return from Vermont swim camp. Let me know how this resonated.



This post was completely written by me — a human. I did not use generative AI.

© 2024, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

Comments open: True

Related Posts

Teams and leaders are simply exhausted. They need more than a summer sojourn and a mint julep to recuperate. And so do I. The first step towards recovery? Identify root causes of fatigue.

Read More

The Midlife Innovator cohort (our 9th) will harness corporate and personal wisdom to fuel reinvention and long-term growth.

Read More