One multinational company’s experience of the online AAR Conductor Development Programme

For many organisations, remote working is the norm, so we deliver AAR Conductor Development Programme (AAR CDP) training online for many international clients, with 11 hours of tuition taking place over five sessions in three weeks. This cases study describes the experience of one client.

The Challenge

A multinational research business with an ambitious programme to completely transform the way it operates and expand the volume of research it undertakes, recognised that the scale and complexity of its technical strategy needed a new approach to smooth the path to a successful outcome.

The team of experts brought together to lead the two-year transformation programme of work on three continents have rarely met face-to-face. Under such circumstances, with a demanding pace of change scheduled, their greatest need was to be able to learn quickly and effectively from each stage of the technical changes to smooth the way for the next and to “course correct” before molehills grow into mountains. They all needed to be confident in using a universal and adaptable framework to guide the rapid actionable learning required and selected the After Action Review and Before Action Review (BAR) models to do this.

The Solution

Twenty eight of the senior technical strategy team participated in the AAR CDP at the end of 2021 and were deeply engaged by the workshops. Initial concerns about what to do “if someone was actually to blame” were converted to an understanding of the systems based approach of AAR and the value of learning about the things that prevent people doing what they are expected to do, because these will be repeated. Learning came thick and fast during the workshops with comments such as these shared at the end.

  • Surprised by the emphasis on the uniqueness of a person’s individual experience, expected something rigid.  A warmth and emotional component – I like it
  • Like that the AAR doesn’t rely on the report, the learning is in the group and you can run an AAR and get value quickly from it as it is in the dialogue
  • Found the CDP workshops really engaging and run really well.  All participants have been good at speaking our minds and giving input.

93% learnt more than they expected on the course (75% agreed strongly)

After the training the team set up a platform to share AAR requests and reports, and undertook to spread the word within their networks to help people understand the process and outcomes of AAR.

The Result

The hierarchical nature of this business and its wide geographical foot print slowed down the adoption of the AAR and BAR approaches. Staff began to lead BARs and AARs within their own teams and enjoyed the shift in understanding that occurred as a result but for many of the bigger knottier issues that needed learning from, it was a slower integration process. There was initially a feeling that everyone at the senior level had to agree that the AAR was a good use of peoples’ time, rather than any one or two senior individuals calling the AAR and having the confidence in their authority to prioritise learning. This began to change by the end of 2022 because of two things. Strong leadership from the top that AARs are valuable and important – with several AARs called by the Speciality head. Experience of participating in AARs has been teaching people of their value directly so more are being called.

Topics for AARS have included learning from the initial roll outs of new processes, the integration of new people and products, understanding of resourcing ability and timing, and governance of mergers and acquisitions, amongst many others.

The AAR Conductors participated in three AAR Conductor Learning Sets during 2022 giving valuable post-training support as they get to grips with the reality of using AAR and BAR in such a complex operating environment. As they shared their own experiences of leading AARs they have been able to acknowledge their own achievements as well as the challenges they encountered; for example, “As we run AARs for areas we have no knowledge of, it can feel daunting as we are used to only working in areas where we are competent. I have reminded myself that, as an AAR Conductor, my competency is in using the four questions and creating psychological safety.”

The sentiment conveyed in this statement was echoed by many “ I’m really enjoying the stretch and challenge of conducting AARs”.

The Next Steps

There remains a need to increase familiarity with the reasons for AARs to be used and when and how to call one, so some  “AAR champions” are being supported in making AAR more visible through social media and Town Hall events.

The periodic staff surveys will include questions to assess psychological safety and learning behaviours within the business and this should be able to track differences between those areas using AAR routinely and those not. More AAR Conductors are about to be trained in new divisions so the survey will be able to monitor changes over time in these areas.

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