Don’t Forget the Debrief!

Sometimes I think the most useful service I perform as a consultant has nothing to do with conducting stakeholder interviews or running focus groups or digging through background materials or doing secondary research or creating kick-ass strategies or even more kick-ass campaigns or teaching staff what’s involved in conducting a campaign so they can go forth and fish themselves, rather than just eating the fish sandwich I handed them.

Not that all that stuff isn’t great, of course, but I think maybe the most helpful thing I do for clients is get them to sit down for an hour or two after we finish whatever the main focus of the engagement was, discuss what we learned, talk about what we’d do differently the next time, and document the whole thing. In order to do this, we also have to actually figure out what happened. We go through questions like:

  • In concrete and specific terms, how did we do against what we wanted to do? Did we achieve the revenue (or number of attendees or number of new members or renewal percentage etc….) we were aiming at? Why or why not?
  • What went well? How can we tweak it to make it go even better next time?
  • What didn’t go well? Why? Should we try to fix it next time, and if so, how, or should we just write it off as an experiment that didn’t work?
  • Is there anything we wanted to do we didn’t get to or couldn’t make happen, and what did we learn that would get us there next time?

It’s hard, I know. When there’s a lot going on and not quite as many people as you wish you had to get it all done, it’s tempting to finish a project and just move on the next thing on the “To Do” list.

The problem with that is that we want our associations to be learning organisms. But if you never take the time to assess what happened and capture and share what you learned, your association will never get smarter as an organization – you’ll never get to the point where you’re increasing organizational capacity.