In today’s complex and high-stakes world, it’s critical to learn quickly – or else risk getting passed up by someone who does.
Ever wonder how Special Ops units like Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Green Berets are so proficient at what they do? Well, there are lots of factors to explain this: How these warriors are selected, recruited, and trained is a big part of this high performance level. But, another key factor in what makes these guys total pros is how fast they learn…let’s face it, when life and death hangs in the balance, it’s a good idea to learn faster than the guy you’re up against. That’s what makes the “Hot Wash” such a powerful tool for learning.
The Hot Wash is a real-time, organizational learning tool. Sometimes referred to as a “de-brief” in the civilian world, or “After Action Review” in the military, this post-action approach lets you quickly and efficiently analyze events that just happened, learn from them, and then immediately integrate them into your next steps.
Spec Ops use the Hot Wash in amazingly effective ways…and you should too.
The process is very simple. Here is how it’s used in the military: After every training exercise, logistical movement, or combat mission, warriors gather around and review what just happened. The whole unit is involved. No one is left out.
The organizational leader runs the Hot Wash. There should also be a note take…and a damn good one. Capturing key lessons is the overall goal here.
The leader runs the Hot Wash by asking asks some key questions:
Question #1 -“What just happened?” This first question paints a picture of the event from multiple perspectives. It is a narrative description of events from start to finish. This is given in the words of various participants from high ranking to low ranking, and sets the tone for the rest of the Hot Wash.
Question #2 -“What went right?” Playing to our strengths is always a good thing. This question sets things off by focusing on the strengths of the recent activity. It’s always easier to talk about what went right and this will get the participants more involved. Going to the things that went well is a good baseline to start with.
Question #3 -“What went wrong?” This is hard to do sometimes, but it’s very important. Participants take an active roll in identifying all the things that didn’t go well. This is where things can get heated, but it’s important to get it out there. The leader needs to be able to manage this discussion so that it is honest and transparent, yet remains professional and doesn’t devolve into a name calling or “bitch session.”
Question #4 -“What should we do differently next time?” This is the most important question to ask. This identifies what needs to be done in order to improve individual and collective performance as an organization. This might include re-training or additional resources. This is the information “gold” you want to walk away with. You have to go through these other questions first, however, to arrive at this answer. But, once you have this, you are well on your way to learning and integrating relevant change in near real-time.
There are a few more Spec Ops Best Practices that distinguish their Hot Wash process apart from the rest:
– No one is exempt from the Hot Wash! The Hot Wash needs to be a priority. Great organizations don’t ever miss the Hot Wash. The tendency for most organizations is to make excuses for missing it. “I am tired.” or “I need to go turn my gear in.” These excuses don’t fly in the military and you can’t let similar excuses fly in our organizations. Other organizations send a few token participants and the leaders skip out.The Hot Wash involves everyone, including the leaders. If you are a leader, make sure you set that tone from the beginning and enforce it at all times.
– Include everyone. The tendency is for leaders to dominate the conversation during Hot Washes. They stand in front of their gals and guys, spouting off on how well everything went. Wrong-o! A real leader calls on everyone. She involves even the lowest ranking dudes and dudettes who are in the shadows. This broad, bottom-up perspective is key. Get them all involved and you’ll also demonstrate the level of empathy needed to get your people to buy into the learning effort, and more importantly, the steps needed to improve. This takes leader discipline and thick skin, but call on everyone to make the Hot Wash dynamic and informative.
–Put your lessons into practice right away. I see this all the time. Leaders run a great Hot Wash. Everyone contributes. Amazing lessons are learned…and then nothing is written down, everyone moves back to their respective work stations, and nothing is integrated for improved performance. Therefore, the whole thing was a big waste of time.
Leaders are key here. Retain the lessons from the Hot Wash, and more importantly, ensure they are integrated into next steps. If re-training is needed, do it…but get those lessons pushed out and implemented. This is how learning organizations win.
Regardless of your profession, a well-run Hot Wash can make all the difference in how your family, team, business, or volunteer groups learns, adapts, and wins in life and business. For my friends in the financial sector, try these Hot Washes immediately after your seminars, or after you’ve pitched potential investors.
Until next time, thanks for what you do, and keep leaving tracks.
Photo: KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Soldiers with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, conduct an “after action review” with the instructors from the 49th EOD Company, attached to the 4th BCT, 101st Abn. Div., after going through a counter improvised explosive device lane, June 20, 2013, Camp Parsa, Afghanistan. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Justin A. Moeller, 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs)