Military and business best practices have a lot in common:
- Commitment to teamwork
- Focus on adapting to change
- Seeming obsession of the top to meet the needs of those on the front lines
- Focus on values and service
But many business leaders are missing out on one particular best practice in the military that would offer huge benefits—the after-action report process, a retrospective project evaluation used to determine effectiveness and efficiency, and propose adjustments and recommendations. It answers one question: What can we learn from the past that will help us be better in the future? In my work with Chiefs with and without titles, I encourage the adoption of this practice in business. In my view, it’s more important now than ever.
With the current “fail fast”/agile focus of many businesses today, managers are encouraged to move quickly forward. And while I am a fan of speed, experience has shown me that too much speed also has a downside—you don’t learn all you can from your mistakes.
I work with business leaders to integrate this valuable practice.
In fact, my counsel to business leaders at all levels often includes many lessons that may seem obvious, but part of my job is to help them retain and apply lessons that will help them succeed. Founder Tom Watson famously used a single word to guide managers at IBM to “Think.”
I often use the statement, “There are two ways to catch a bus: either leave early or run like hell,” toward the same goal. The understated message is, start early whenever you can. (At several client offices, managers distribute small buses as a reminder to employees to start early whenever possible.)
My clients also hold “bus reviews” to retrospectively discuss lessons learned after a project is completed. When did we run like hell, and could we have started out earlier to catch the bus? Growth and wisdom come from learning. And learning takes time.
When could you or your team benefit from a bus review?
There’s no doubt that there are times when running like hell is the only way to catch the bus. Companies should be comfortable failing fast and using speed as an asset. But there are also times when leaving early—and reviewing when leaving early could have made sense—is the best option.