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1/1/2016 : Before and After

| January 5, 2016

by Jim Bruce

What did I do and learn?   What do I plan to do?

A few days ago, we turned over the last page of our 2015 calendars to find the first day of 2016.  And, for many of us, soon after our New Year’s celebrations were over, we began to think about our resolutions for 2016.  About half of us are in the practice of writing resolutions each year.  If we were to go back and review our past resolutions, very likely, we’d find that some of them had to do with learning, others about improving some aspect of our presence, and still others about building relationships.  Each of these three areas is important for becoming better leaders.  The bad news, in all this, is that we tend to be much better “planners” than we are “doers.”  As a result, many, really most, of the goals found in our resolutions go unfilled at the end of the year.
Before you begin to think about your resolutions for 2016, it might prove worthwhile to stop, step back to the start of 2015, review the year, and do an After Action Review for some of the major foci of your work, your life beyond work, and your development as a leader in 2015.  And, do look at both the successes and those where you didn’t reach your goal.
 The process we know as the After Action Review had its origin in the 1970s as a structured means to facilitate learning from U.S. Army training activities.  Formally, the AAR is defined as a “professional discussion of an event, focused on performance standards, that enables participants to discover for themselves what happened, why it happened, and how to sustain strengths and improve on weaknesses.”  After being found valuable for reviewing training exercises, the AAR was successfully applied to combat missions.  By the 1990s, the process was also being used in the commercial world, and more recently as a tool individuals can use to learn from their experiences and life events.

And, as an aside, the AAR is also being used in professional football.  If you watch the sideline shots, you’ll often see a coach with his tablet reviewing video from a recent play in a discussion with a player about that player’s performance on the field and how it can be improved the next time the play is run.
Ideally, AARs are conducted at the end of a project or upon reaching a goal, so that memories are more current.  The purpose of the AAR is to better understand what did actually happen, why it happened, and to discover new knowledge that can be applied in the future.  In this regard, it is a particularly good tool for use at the end of your work on a project or when you complete a personal development goal.  And, you could also use the AAR at the end of the day to review your work that day.
Patricia Wheeler, executive coach with the Levin Group, suggests (here), that each of us do a personal After Action Review at the end of each year.  Specifically, she recommends that you ask, and formally answer, three basic questions about each of the major foci in your 2015 life:
1.  What did you set out to do during 2015?  Did you create written milestones/targets to assist in accomplishing your goals?  Perhaps you might make a short list (say, seven to nine) of the major goals you had in your work responsibilities, your life outside of work, as well as from your personal leadership development goals and expend some time reflecting on each.
2.  What did you actually do on each goal?  Did you accomplish them?  If you didn’t have specific goals, what impact did that have on your success?
3.  What did you learn from your work on your goals this past year?  How did you incorporate what you learned into your work and life?
After you’ve reflected on your work for 2015, you will be in a better position to think about and set goals for 2016.  What are the most significant goals for your work, your life outside of work, and your personal development, that you anticipate having for 2016?  As you think about your goals, do remember that goal statements, in their fullest forms, are mini-project plans with four parts:
1.  What – specifically, what are your goals? 

2.  Why (so that) – what will accomplishing this goal result in?  (Being as specific as you can here, will be really helpful.)

3.  How – what are the specific steps you expect to take to deliver the expected result?

4.  When – when is the final result, and/or each intermediate deliverable, due?
The beginning of the New Year offers each of us an excellent opportunity to reflect on the coming year and to create a set of realistic goals and accompanying plans.*  And, we know that writing them down and being specific in a plan, really helps.  Don’t miss the opportunity.  And, do set aside adequate time to do a thorough job.  Then use the written statements of your goals, updating them along the way, to guide your work.
Make this a great year.  Happy New Year.  .  .  .    jim
*  A lot has been written over the past several weeks about writing goals and resolutions in such a way that the writer will be successful at meeting his or her objectives.  The best of this year’s group of such essays, in my opinion, is Art Markman’s “How to Keep Our New Year’s Resolutions” which appeared in Time Magazine’s New Year’s Day newsletter.  Markman is the Anabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at The University of Texas at Austin.  While Markman’s comments are focused specifically on New Year’s Resolutions, I believe that they are generally applicable to all our goals and resolutions..