Optimising financial processes

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BAR and AAR Strategies for Transformation & Superior Outcomes

I had a great discussion yesterday with Steve Fox in a webcast addressing 3 “Horror Stories”, case studies that are sadly all too common in digital transformation.

Steve shared 6 strategies for success to avoid the root causes of these horrors (which were all VERY similar).

This got me thinking . . . (Dangerous, I know! 😉)

Many years ago, I read a great HBR article, which I still have as a pdf and printed out on my desk, entitled “Firing Up The Front Line”.

Sport and military metaphors are overused, but this article describes the highly effective route to motivation AND superior performance demonstrated by the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines’ approach to motivation follows the “mission, values, and pride” path, which research and evidence suggests is practical and relevant for the business world.

The US Military also developed the “After Action Review” (AAR) process, to involve EVERY soldier in learning and improving the effectiveness of their unit. The AAR method goes deeper than typical “lessons learned” reviews with four simple (but powerful) questions;

  1. What was our intended result?
  2. What were our actual results?
  3. What caused our results?
  4. What lessons should we take forward for next time?

The value of a “Post Implementation Review” is well accepted, and should be run at the end of every change initiative, for sure.

However, the “Aha Moments” at this point are too late for maximum impact.

Research (and common sense) shows that it is even more effective to assess strategy at the calendar midpoint of any initiative, when course corrections are still possible.

Even better, is the “Before Action Review” (BAR)held in advance of any commitment to a course of action, a business case, an implementation plan et al.

Ideally, several BARs, to include planned participants and subject matter experts, AS-IS and TO-BE process operators, beneficial and enabling stakeholders . . . to genuinely assess and refine the strategy, approach and tools for maximum success.

The five key BAR questions are:

  1. What is our intended result?
  2. What are our success measures?
  3. What challenges will we face?
  4. What did we learn from last time?
  5. What do we think will make us successful this time?

Firing Up The Front Line” by Jon R. Katzenbach and Jason A. Santamaria, based on research by McKinsey and The Conference Board, also describes how top performing organizations follow five practices.


  • Over-invest in cultivating core values
  • Prepare every person to lead
  • Learn when to create teams and when to create single-leader work groups  
  • Attend to all employees
  • Encourage self-discipline, and a bias for action, as a way of building pride.

The HBR article is so vintage that you have to pay 11.95 USD for it, and you can get a summary and access here . . .

The authors admit there are critical differences between the Marines and most businesses. But they illustrate how the  approach can be translated for corporate use. Sometimes, even apparently minor changes in standard operating procedure can have a powerful effect on the confidence and pride of all particiapnts and stakeholders, and can result in substantial payoffs in operational performance.

Thanks for reading . . .