A business loss or misstep can either drag down team morale or lead to creative new approaches. The difference is often in how you manage the initial reaction to loss. Do you start guessing at the possible reasons and end up preferring the ones that find fault in either the potential client or your team?

Research shows that there is a better chance of improving your performance if you truly understand what failed and then quickly transition to focusing on what you will do differently next time. But in the emotional disappointment of the loss it can be hard to formulate questions that dig into the truth and then spur creative thinking.

Here are a few of the questions we’ve helped our clients fashion. Notice that each tries to encourage a look past obvious conclusions. Any one might lead you to a new insight or perhaps asking a few that are fractionally different from each other will uncover a nuance that is important.

  • What caused this client to not choose us? Or what did the other company offer that we didn’t? Don’t accept the first few reasons until you’ve looked at a range of possible explanations.
  • What did we allow to slide that might have made a difference? Where did we show a lack of commitment? What might have happened that we simply gave less than was required?
  • What would we do differently in a similar situation next time? Start from the positive future moves you might try.
  • Did we identify the potential risk points ahead of time? Did we fool ourselves about a crucial aspect?
  • What can we learn from our tendency to spend time affixing blame to the potential client or ourselves? Blame is different from discovering what went wrong and quickly switching to how to improve.

The wording of the questions is important and the attitude with which you ask them is crucial. Any blame or hostility will anchor the conversation in the past. You want to focus on how to move forward. You want to encourage both yourself and your team. False praise or phony affirmations just make things worse. The key is to keep people’s attention on the changes, the improvements.

This postmortem, aka After Action Review, should be short and end with the expectation that people are able to move forward, to be ready and eager for another shot at the next opportunity. But even here be thoughtful—it’s better to ask the team if they’re ready than to tell them.

If you want greater performance, higher morale and more creative approaches, we can help. Whether you’re looking to craft the “right” questions, think through how to help your team learn from their mistakes, or gain additional insights, give us a call or email.

Oops. Maybe we should start that again! Are you ready to make a change? Is there a way we can be of help as you look ahead?