How to get better at your job: The After Action Review


Disclaimer:  So I completed my first podcast and I was awful.  My guest was great, he was articulate, had great points and he passed along some great lessons that will benefit the listener.  The awfulness certainly did not come from him but rather his interviewer, me.  I talk with talented people everyday but I’ve never conducted a podcast so I was nervous and when someone is under pressure or stress they tend to resort to bad habits. Read my post before you listen to it.  The link to the podcast is at the bottom.


Prior to listening to the first podcast I conducted I had grandiose visions of my little podcasts going viral and having NPR and the BBC reaching out to me so I could interview industrial captains, entertainment moguls and an occasional local politician who was caught accepting bribes.  It might happen but it’s going to be a while because I have significant room to improve.  I knew it was awful because I took my guest’s advice of conducting an After Action Report.

My first interview was with Jeff Boss.  Jeff was a Navy SEAL and made it to DEVGRU, which is the All Star Team of the SEALs, and typically responsible for missions movies are made of.  He was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor 4 times along with two Purple Hearts.  He is smart, focused and a super high achiever.  The road to making it to DEVGRU is both physically and mentally challenging and a very small number make it there. It is a very impressive achievement and after retiring from the Navy he joined The McChrystal Group where they help organizations bring Special Operations organizational effectiveness, leadership and management lessons to businesses.

The one piece of advice Jeff had in our conversation was to get in the habit of conducting an After Action Report.  An After Action Report (AAR) is the process in which his SEAL team would meet after a major training exercise or mission to have an open forum of what they did right, what they did wrong and what could have been improved upon. I‘d encourage you to read an article he wrote about it on his blog: and

I took his advice and conducted an AAR on my podcast and it was painful.  It was painful because my vision of my performance did not match the reality. The vision I had of myself was one of speaking eloquence and a natural curiosity which led to interesting questions.  The eloquence needs significant improvement and the only way I would have known about it was the painful process of listening to it and critiquing my performance.


My bad habits and areas of improvement:

Bad habit:  I think as I talk which leads to “Uh’s”, “Um’s” and “So’s” and it comes across sounding non-professional, not preparing and definitely not eloquent. We gain habits in our mannerisms of speech and body language and bad habits can creep into those if we don’t see or hear ourselves as we do it.  Most of the time our habits occur without us ever realizing we’re doing them.

Solution:  Think then speak.  Our brains like and perform at its peak doing one thing at a time.  A pause before speaking is much better than “Uhhh” or “Ummmm” in the middle of a sentence as you try to let your thoughts catch up to your speech.  PRACTICE this!!  Bad habits don’t fix themselves and they need a focused plan to correct them.  I now have a piece of paper on my desk I look at when speaking and I make an X if I hear myself falling back into bad habits.  I’m on my second page of X marks but I am now aware and focused on correcting them.

Bad habit: Assuming you can perform “On the Fly” or “Make it up as you go along”.  I felt I was prepared for the interview.  I did my research on Jeff, well what little research could be accomplished during his time as a SEAL, his current position and the articles he has written. The majority of his career was literally Top Secret and I certainly did not want to question him about things he couldn’t and wouldn’t talk about.   I also felt I could come up with questions as we began talking.  I was able to do that in some cases but there were times when I couldn’t think of the next question and I’d panic then resort to the coping mechanism of “Uhhh” or “Umm” to allow myself some time to think.

Solution:  I need to determine the overall objective and a plan to fall back on when I wasn’t able to come up with the next step in the process, which in this case was the next question.  I will write down the objective and the questions needed to gain my stated objective so I can evaluate it afterwards. Most importantly nothing ever goes according to plan so having a go to list or contingency plan is a good idea.

Bad habit:  I did not test the technology but assumed it would work the first time.  I decided to conduct a video interview with Jeff.  It was the first time I’ve tried recording a video interview and I didn’t have time to properly test the setup and most importantly review the results of how the software recorded the video.  The audio did not match the video but I was able to strip out the audio and convert it to a podcast.

Solution:  Test technology before it is utilized in a real world situation.


I could continue writing additional points in my own AAR but I hope you get the picture.  The key take away is to record your performance, whatever it is, conduct an AAR, then focus on improving on those areas which need it. It’s painful but necessary for getting better in whatever you do.  My future podcasts may not be perfect but with an AAR at least I now have a process to improve them.

My ego told me to toss this podcast out the window but Jeff invested his own time to participate in it and he had some really great points and lessons that most of us can benefit from.  I certainly did.

You can listen to the podcast here: