In The Trenches

Can we kill the “post mortem”?

Published on March 9, 2022 Back to blog

I’m always a fan of learning from experience. However, when I get invited to a “post-mortem” meeting (or even when someone just calls a meeting a “post-mortem”), my stomach turns. For one reason, we’re in the marketing business – generally speaking, we’re not saving lives. Second, just the words alone sound like we’re going to discuss something that ended in disaster. And, with very few exceptions, our work generates positive results (although, there’s always room to improve.)

So when my friend, Mano, shared an alternative perspective in a recent conversation, I quickly gravitated to the idea. To be clear, the conversation wasn’t about post-mortem meetings. It was related to something that caused a different type of disaster in New England: Tom Brady. 

Mano, who is a pilot with a major airline, shared that the airline industry promotes “The Tom Brady approach,” where after every game (or in his case, flight), the team meets to review the game. But, rather than dwelling on what went wrong, they focus more on what went right. At first, it may seem counter-intuitive as we are often programmed to “fix the problem.” But, clearly, Tom Brady was doing something right, so, let’s dig in:

  1. Everyone can use positive re-enforcement. By sharing what went right, we build confidence among our teammates. And, confidence can be a powerful tool for success. 
  2. The easiest way to replicate success is to repeat what you did. It seems so obvious. But, in order to replicate success, you must identify what you did to achieve it. Take a moment to identify the wins (as big or little as they may be).
  3. Perspective matters. Even when outcomes aren’t what you hoped for, it’s likely that more things went right along the way than went wrong. When you give them their fair share of attention, you’ll recognize that it was all still worth the effort. Stay positive and keep that momentum going.
  4. If you lose a battle, you can still win the war. Fortunately, we often have far more than one chance to accomplish a goal. There’s always another year, another game, another pitch, another project or another chance to succeed. This is important to remember.
  5. You must learn from your mistakes, too. While not the primary focus of the meeting, you must still acknowledge what went wrong, and be sure not to replicate that. (Insanity = expecting a different result from doing the same thing)

You may not be a Tom Brady fan (I’ll forgive you), but there is certainly logic (and merit) to his approach. So, next time you schedule a meeting to review a project, I recommend calling it a “Tom Brady Meeting.” Let’s kill the “post mortem.”

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners