What are you going to stop doing this week?

This rather unusual question was sparked by this excellent article in HBR exploring the virtues of making business decisions reversible and overpowering the fear of letting go of failing projects. A willingness to change course also sits at the heart of After Action Review (AAR) and is what makes it such a powerful performance-boosting tool.

It made me think about a conversation I had with a new iTS AAR client recently, a European Business Director I shall call Veronique, in which I asked the question, “Why is After Action Review  needed in your business?” It was a truly genuine question; despite all my years of experience with AAR, I really wanted to understand her context.

Why stop?

Undertaking regular AARs in any safety-critical industry makes perfect sense. In a nuclear power station or in the oil and gas sector, the ability to learn quickly and easily from near misses and incidents is paramount, or else the risk of catastrophic accidents becomes unacceptable. AAR makes even more sense in a fast-paced, high-risk environment like an acute hospital where there are multiple opportunities for harm. It’s no surprise that there is a strong and growing AAR ethos in the NHS. Yet the motivation to bring AAR into a corporate business isn’t as obvious, because the consequences of failure, delay and poor decision making are unlikely to be as immediately visible, nor are the consequences as likely to affect individuals’ health or wellbeing in quite the same way. I was delighted to hear from Veronique that she knew exactly why AAR was needed: because she knew they had to learn how to stop doing things that are not working. She said projects initiated with great intentions would continue, months after they should stop because a) no one felt accountable or brave enough to point out the limitations which had become apparent and b) they didn’t have a mechanism in which to honestly review actions and progress.

Five things to stop doing

We have identified five key habits to stop doing in our day-to-day working lives, some big, some small, but all can make an enormous difference:

  1. Stop walking away from the recurring problems that impact on your commercial and cultural wellbeing (or Profit and Smiles as we call it) and instead take some time to review what’s behind them.
  2. Stop thinking you can solve all the issues yourself (you rarely can): instead ask others to share their insights on the matter. Accessing the wisdom of others is at the heart of the AAR approach.
  3. Stop spending large amounts of time in front of your screen. The quality of your work and decision making will be impaired without regular breaks.
  4. Stop doing the same thing in your screen break time: really mix up the activities to stimulate your senses and your brain.
  5. Stop doing things you were doing six months ago because “we’ve always done them that way”.  Instead re-evaluate what may work today, because now is a great time to change.

Let go of the status quo

In this  VUCA world we are now living in, many businesses recognise that there is no longer a status quo, so behaviours and actions need to reflect this and become more adaptable.  One of our greatest shifts at iTS Leadership has been to stop focusing on a narrow area of expertise, the embedding of the iTS AAR approach in organisations.  Instead we have responded to the very pressing need for business to have AARs facilitated for them by one of our expert conductors. As the pace of change has increased, so has the pressure for teams to get the rapid actionable learning that comes through AARs and it has been a good lesson for us as well in how to let go of the status quo.

In fact, we’ve recently stopped doing quite a few things as a result of our own internal AARs. For example, we have migrated a lot of our shared work documents to MS Teams and stopped using the unloved shared drive. It’s been quite liberating to decide on what not to do and it’s freed us up to work with what is unfolding in today’s more changeable climate. So, what are you going to stop doing this week?