“I don’t want to think about 2012 anymore!”These are words that have been said many times as we begin to look forward to the 2013 season. However, what we know about the most successful farms is that they take the time to learn from the past – even if it wasn’t fun.

The most effective way to learn from the past is to use good questions. Consider the “after action review” popularized by the U.S. Army. The approach uses three key questions and forces us to compare our results to our original goal and dissect what went right or what went wrong.  Here are the questions:

What were our intended results?

What were our actual results?

What caused our results?

We all do some sort of after-action review – unfortunately we usually do it alone, and we only focus on the gap between what we got and what we now know we could have gotten! Effective reviews require that we involve outside perspectives to keep us from only looking at one side of the issue. Bringing others in also helps us to manage the emotion of the review – making sure we can take the right lessons and apply them to next year’s planning.

The best seed dealer I know does this consistently with his farmer clients. Before they start planning the upcoming year, they sit down and perform a gap analysis – similar to an after-action review – to look at the difference between what they were planning for and what they got. This ensures decisions focus on continually improving the practices that affect yield, like population, planter set up, fertility, drainage and the list goes on.

Since the farmer and the seed dealer have worked closely on decisions all year, doing the review together helps to get a 360-degree view of what’s occurred.  The lessons from the review then lead directly to decisions and actions that set the stage for improving next year’s decisions.

Only reviewing based on what you got versus what you know you could have gotten leads to regret, frustration and a “chasing” mindset for next year. Effectively reviewing your goals, your results and the factors affecting the results will lead to improved decision-making and energy to make each year better – regardless of factors out of your control.

Assignment:  Pick an important 2012 decision that turned out well and another that didn’t. Identify one or two people who can help with each review. Let them know that you want to take some time to learn more about “why” things turned out this way, so you can make improvements for next year. Go through the three questions: What were our intended results? What were our actual results? What caused our results? When you are working through the questions – be sure to ask “why?” and “how do we know?” often.