Military organizations understand the difficulty and maintaining of quality in their operations. After all, in Afghanistan, how do you ensure that a simultaneous raid on two objectives at 3 AM on a snowy night succeeds? Likewise, how do you consistently train junior officers, some with only 2-3 years of service, how to conduct effective village meetings while maintaining the respect of tribal elders?
The keys for the military to address quality problems are two simple tools: (1) the performance counseling session for individuals and (2) the After Action Review (AAR) for larger groups.
Military Performance Counseling: Standards + Assessment = Higher Quality. The purpose of the military performance counseling session is for a leader to conduct an informal review on how a service member performs their job responsibilities. The review should be in a relaxed, informal setting with the immediate leader and the employee. To conduct the meeting, the leader should have 3-4 examples of the most important items that the employee performed well and did not perform well. The leader must have a clear, well-understood description of who, what, when, where, and why (veterans will recognize this as the five parts of the mission statement) the performance occurred and the corresponding work task standard. The direct comparison of a well-documented work event to a work task yields a straight forward and fact based discussion of where and how the employee did and did not do well. The final and most important part of the military performance counseling review is to develop a clear and time based personal improvement plan for the employee. The employee’s improvement plan must both challenge their strengths and improve their weaknesses. Finally, a minimum of two follow up sessions should be set to check back to ensure the improvement plan is working and the goals of the improvement plan are met. The military performance counseling session is an integral component to build employee quality.
After Action Review: Making Processes Better. The purpose of the military After Action Review (AAR) is to conduct a fact based and intensive review of an operation to determine what went well, what did not go well, and how to improve the operation in the future. The military employs the AAR process to improve the results of everything from supply convoys to data processing procedures to small-unit attacks. The conduct of the AAR brings together all parties involved in the operation. The first step of this process is to gain a complete understanding of what happened. The use of time lines, operational and financial metrics, employee survey data, and customer feedback is especially helpful in this process. Once consensus has been reached on what occurred, then the group needs to identify that top 3-4 items that need to be maintained and 3-4 items that need to be improved. The use of weighted voting and brainstorming are useful tools to identify the top 3-4 items in each category. The final step is to create a defined, understood, and time based organizational improvement plan to improve the operation. Just as in the employee improvement plan, follow up sessions and working groups must be set and defined to ensure the organizational improvement plan meets its goals.
Military quality is based upon the continuous improvement of both individuals and groups. The performance counseling session and the organizational AAR are two, simple useful tools that a commercial organization can employ to help maintain and improve quality within their organizations.
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