Among the many great leadership precepts and techniques I learned in the Army was the “After Action Review,” or AAR. Following a significant exercise, the officers would gather and discuss what went right and wrong, in an attempt to recognize good decisions and to learn from mistakes that were made. The AAR’s were always conducted in a “non-attribution environment,” meaning that we got to take a break from the Army’s extremely formal & hierarchical structure and exchange constructive criticism freely (but professionally of course) up and down the chain of command.
Although this kind of criticism can at times be tough to take, the feedback is invaluable in the hands of a good leader, as it gives insight into the actions junior leaders take during contingency situations and, perhaps more importantly, it reveals how others perceive those actions and their execution. Was a bad decision merely a mistake, or does it reveal more about the capabilities of a particular team member? Was the misstep a result of tough circumstances, or can you perceive a pattern of similar behavior by this person? Do others in the work environment, although disappointed in a negative outcome, shrug off the error – or do their words, countenances and body language indicate cause for concern?
The AAR tool is one of many in a good manager’s toolkit to review positive and negative outcomes and collect lessons learned. More importantly, the use of the tool highlights the leader’s duty to constantly evaluate the talent on the Team in light of actual outcomes. When you think about it, it’s likely that a talent gap is one of if not the root cause of many of your organization’s failures. Therefore, you must constantly be on the alert for talent gaps, which generally fall into one of the following categories:
- Skills and/or Experience: One or more of the Team members lacked sufficient training, either formal or experiential, to effectively fulfill their responsibilities; or
- Understanding and/or Intellect: One or more of the Team members either did not or could not comprehend their tasking and the related subject matter; or
- Cultural Fit and/or Integrity: One or more of the Team members does not comply with the organization’s Core Values
This is serious business, no doubt, especially when you’re considering whether a Team member has a “fit” or – worse yet – an integrity issue. However, if you’re experiencing bad outcomes, you must analyze the causes, whether you conduct an AAR or employ some other technique. If you uncover a talent gap, as a leader you have a duty to remedy the situation immediately.
So, what do you do? The good news is that talent gaps can be transitory (e.g., the Team member lacking sufficient skills can be trained) and they can be non-detrimental to the Team member (e.g., “the right person in the wrong place” can be re-assigned). Maybe the graphic below can help you decide what to do:
Good leaders are constantly on the lookout for talent gaps. Hopefully, a bad outcome is just the result of a mistake or an environmental shift beyond the realm of the Team’s control. In any event, you must solicit frank feedback on the root causes of the bad outcome (if you can’t or won’t do that, you are at least a part of the talent gap). If you determine that a talent gap exists, you must then take action to prevent more bad outcomes from the Team. As one of my great mentors used to say when counseling me when I was a young, mistake-prone (but hopefully talented) manager, “When you realize you’re in a hole, stop digging.”
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