An After Action Review Helps Your Business Continue
The impact of COVID-19 on our country affects not only the health of our citizens but also the strength and well-being of our business community. The results of our survey last month coupled with continued conversations with colleagues reveal that most organizations are concerned with how to move toward recovery.
After the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted and business activities resume, organizations will need to evaluate how well they responded to this emergency to determine if they were adequately prepared to continue their operations, support their employees, and service their clients and customers.
One essential tool that helps companies of all types and sizes, across all industries, assess their preparedness, response, and recovery to COVID-19 and all emergencies is the after action review (AAR) process. We’ll show you how to use this process to improve the performance of your entire organization regarding not only emergency incidents but also events and projects.
The AAR process provides an opportunity for you as part of your organization’s leadership to assess what worked, what didn’t, and why, the current resource capabilities in place and those you lack, what you need to change, and how you can move toward improvement. Simply put, this learning-focused process is designed to help you discover what went well and what could be done differently. The nature and size of an incident determine the amount of time you need to complete the AAR process and move toward recovery.
The AAR process generates improved communication and feedback between departments within an organization as well as with external stakeholders such as first responders and specialists including subject matter experts. Because the focus is on lessons learned, the process leads to an improved understanding of organizational performance and helps decision-makers think about how best to work together to produce better results. While the AAR process does not seek to find fault, it emphasizes learning and review to achieve maximum involvement, openness, honesty, and improvement as it renews the cycle—test, review, evaluate, modify, implement, repeat.
So, when do you begin your after action review? You can implement it as soon as possible, even during an emergency or an event, so that your team’s observations and feedback are fresh and accurately describe what happened and how you responded.
And how do you get started? Your review process will produce an after action report that summarizes what took place during the event, analyzes the actions taken by participants, and identifies areas of improvement. The after action report can follow this suggested framework and you can improve data collection and analysis by distributing a questionnaire to each department so that you receive pertinent information uniformly:
- When the review was completed (during an incident, after it, or both)
- Who participated in the review including job title and department. You’ll need to get feedback through interviews of key personnel from all departments of your organization, such as HR, IT, facilities, security, sales, marketing, operations, and finance.
- How the incident impacted the organization with a summary from each department that includes a timeline of events, the response procedures that the department took, who did what in each department so you can identify roles and responsibilities, the recovery measures each person rolled out, and the effects of the incident on continuity operations.
- Identify what went well and why, specifically the successful steps each department took in response to the incident.
- Identify what could have been done better and the deficiencies that you must address to ensure an improved scenario in the future. What advice would you give to future AAR process stakeholders?
- Determine your improvement plan and how you will implement corrective actions and the responsible parties and estimated completion dates.
- Prepare to repeat the cycle with this incident and the others that you will inevitably face.
I have participated in a number of AAR meetings, and one of the most memorable occurred after the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. As you can imagine, it was quite an extensive process and we reviewed an exhaustive list that covered a multitude of security measures including equipment requirements, air space restrictions, badging procedures, and security post positions. The bottom line is you can use the AAR process as an invaluable resource to prepare for any emergency or evaluate any event or project because the fundamentals are the same no matter how large or small the incident is—identify what worked and what didn’t and continue with what worked and fix what didn’t.
Many organizations have found that an outside professional with an AAR process background can facilitate the process more effectively because they can be objective and focus on best practices from their previous experiences. Because you lived through your incident, you are more influenced by emotion, personal connections with your co-workers, and the potential trauma of the incident itself. Your goal is to evaluate effectively and learn—so you are prepared.