What bankers can learn from the military

The U.S. Army’s Opposing Force (OPFOR) is always the enemy.

Based in the California desert and created by the Army’s National Training Center, its specific purpose is to simulate battle situations as practice runs for U.S. troops. OPFOR poses as terrorists, insurgents, rebels, or whatever threat requires training against. The opposing side—those preparing to face the real thing—always go into the simulation with advantages, be them better data and intel, to more highly trained soldiers, to advanced technology, yet OPFOR nearly always wins.

OPFOR’s success has been attributed to its strict implementation of an after-action review (AAR). It’s a process for internally regrouping after every event or project—successful or otherwise—to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and to extract lessons for future application.

After learning about the success of AARs in the military, the corporate world began to adopt the approach, notably Shell Oil in 1998. The practice has since spread to companies such as Harley Davidson, Colgate-Palmolive, and DTE Energy.

OPFOR finds such great success with AARs because it is disciplined in its application of them, holding an AAR after every single training exercise or field event, focusing on what can be extracted to make the next iteration just a little bit better. Conversely, in the corporate world, AARs are viewed as a luxury; implemented only after big projects, as part of board meetings, or as a post-mortem in the event of project failure. As such AARs have morphed into a project wrap-up or debrief, shortchanging the opportunities to extract learnings for the next project.

When I consider the number of pitches and meetings I was involved with as an investment banker, I can think of multiple occasions that would have benefited from an AAR review. I know if it isn’t life-threatening, an AAR after every pitch seems like a luxury as it’s tough to carve out time with so many other pressing demands. But in reality, if immediate time can be spent considering what needs to be improved, repeated errors are reduced, and more meetings will lead to revenue and subsequently more fruitful relationships for you and your bank.

For these reasons, banks should implement a post-pitch AAR process after every meeting. It needs to include everyone involved, and hierarchy should be left at the door. The general discussion flow should look something like this:


If this process is followed after every client meeting then the pitch processes is transformed from something to get through, to a continual learning process. As a banker, if you know your area of weakness and in each pitch can focus on honing that to a strength, the likelihood of your pitch becoming a mandate increases with each pitchbook.

Try implementing this process after your next beauty parade and see what you discover. Let me know how it goes, email me at adrian.s.crockett@gmail.com.