By Ethan Penland, Director of Admissions Services
4 minute read
I distinctly remember reading Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups for the first time, and I recall focusing on a chapter that involved the Navy SEALs. What grabbed my attention was an action that they performed after every training mission. This action, from their perspective, was the most important action that they needed to perform. Ironically, this action was never during their training; it was after.
I’m referring to the action of conducting an “After Action Review” or “AAR”.
Perhaps, you’ve heard it be referred to as a “hotwash” or a “debriefing,” but regardless of the name an AAR is an occurrence that happens after an event or task takes place. During this time, it gives everyone an equal opportunity to share and answer the following key questions:
- What was supposed to happen?
- What actually happened?
- Why were there differences?
- What can we learn/adjust moving forward?
My first taste of an AAR was in my early years at the University of North Georgia where an AAR was expected to be conducted after every major event. To me, I gained tremendous insight and growth through these conversations, and when I began to lead recruitment initiatives and oversee events, this was my favorite part. There is plenty to be proud of, but there is always room for growth, and you find that information in your AARs.
But how can you make them successful and meaningful?
Today I want to share with you what I have found to be key components of a fruitful After Action Review, and hopefully, if you are not already doing these things, or you feel you can improve upon the AARs you are conducting, you’ll be able to utilize them in a way that advances your efforts and provides a better experience for prospective students and guests.
- Time is critical. An AAR isn’t supposed to occur multiple days or weeks after your event. Much insight is lost or forgotten during that time period. An AAR needs to happen immediately following or within a few days. To make this a priority, schedule your AAR time along with the planning of your event so that it doesn’t become an afterthought. For example, once Open House wrapped up at noon, we spent a period of time, immediately after, discussing aspects that worked, didn’t work, and what adjustments could be made for next time.
- Gather everyone’s input. Most admissions and enrollment management teams rely on the support of the faculty, staff, and students around the institution to provide a great experience for visitors during their events. Just like we rely on them for support, we need to value their input. If they are vital to the success of the event, they deserve the opportunity to contribute to an AAR. Of course, it may be difficult to meet with everyone, so, at the very least, have a survey form they can submit to capture their perspectives. You can even use or tailor the four questions from above as a way to collect the necessary information.
- AARs occur after, not during. The greatest NFL coach I’ve ever witnessed is Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. He is elite for many reasons, but one notable reason is his ability to make in-game adjustments when things aren’t quite right or something looks off. But he doesn’t stop at making in-game adjustments. No, he is religious about watching game tapes to see where things occurred and how to adjust for next time. The same goes for us with events. Sure, we make in-the-moment adjustments, but we need to bring those up in an AAR because maybe those adjustments have been caused by something much larger than what we adjusted.
- Prioritize your future adjustments. Without fail, you will always have a longer list of things to improve that others share with you than things that went swimmingly. That is just how we are as humans. There is plenty to appreciate there, but it is most important to prioritize what adjustments are critical to the overall success of your event(s). That is something that I, along with many others, have had to learn from the hard way, unfortunately. If you try to adjust everything, you lose sight of what is most critical to the overall experience. For example, if someone says there wasn’t enough variety of balloons at the entrance of the doorway, is that critical? Maybe. But maybe you need to put more attention to the fact that the balloons in the doorway were preventing people from entering the gym and causing a human traffic jam. Now, which is more of a priority?
- Ask for solutions. Much like we as humans are guilty of only presenting the negative aspects of things, we are equally guilty of not providing solutions to the “problems” we address. When you are getting feedback, verbally or written, in your AAR, I highly recommend asking the question, “How do you think you would fix it?” Personally, I have never believed that it is solely the responsibility of one person–the person in charge of an event–they have all of the solutions. It’s the team’s responsibility to seek out improvements and solutions. To set this kind of expectation, coordinate with your leadership on getting their support. I mention that because becoming solutions-driven starts with leadership setting that expectation, and the more they support, the more solutions you will discover in your AAR for your next successful event.
I believe these are great points to address in regard to conducting a successful AAR, but there are plenty more aspects to discuss. If you would like to chat about how to put this into practice or expound on some of these points, let’s have that conversation. I truly want you to not only have amazing events, but I would love to see you and your team grow in the process.
Send a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get the conversation started!