Top Gun Debriefing – 3 Reasons to Get Started Today


(Part 1 in a series on implementing and supporting a Debriefing culture)

Has your organization struggled to accomplish sales objectives, continued to repeat mistakes, flattened its learning curve, lost touch with the marketplace or struggled to innovate?

In the moments following their very first simulator flights in flight school, young military aviators are immersed in a culture of debriefing. Students learn in short order that debriefing isn’t just a grading or pass/fail discussion related to training. It is a disciplined, mindful and learning-focused approach to continuous improvement, steepening the learning curve, and encouraging accountability.

Many who successfully transitioned as veterans to large and small U.S. businesses have been surprised to observe that debriefing is a mostly unfamiliar practice outside the military. While utilized in some firms as an element of training, it’s rarely employed with consistent discipline as a component of routine operations. Here are 3 strong reasons to consider adopting a debriefing practice and culture within your sales, marketing or broader organization.

  1. A Daily Reinforcement of Continuous Improvement and Raising the Bar. You’ve certainly heard the saying “If you’re not growing, you’re dying”. Effective debriefs, however tactical or strategic, offer learning opportunities and growth for everyone involved. They stimulate new ideas and solutions to root cause problems. Brown-nosing, finger-pointing and egos are out. Honest self-assessment, constructive adjustments and commitments to not repeating mistakes rule the day. Everyone should leave a well-run debrief excited about the opportunity to elevate future performance. Good debriefing sets the course for engaged teams to win more business and create greater value for customers.
  2. A Powerful Forum for Feedback. Sales activity debriefs at all levels provide a great learning opportunity for senior sales, marketing and product development managers to better understand the marketplace, customer insights, competition, differentiation, innovation, training and a host of other factors critical to organizational success. In today’s dynamic and competitive climate, management can’t afford to take its finger off the pulse of the marketplace. The entire organization can’t be present for all customer or prospect meetings or conversations. Well-organized and routine sales debriefs can be a great tool for sharing the knowledge being gleaned from the market.
  3. Improve Accountability and Mindful Execution. A successful organizational culture that includes disciplined debriefing often operates with greater consciousness and responsibility. Debriefing is not an Orwellian Big Brother form of accountability. It is a self-managed practice designed to confirm the effectiveness of successful actions and results, and identify, solve for and prevent avoidable mistakes in the future. The side effect of this approach is that team members tend to conduct themselves mindfully, conscious of their ongoing responsibilities and the accountability that comes with the debrief.

Debriefing can be conducted for events as small as individual sales calls, or for larger exercises such as year-end strategy reviews, marketing campaigns or strategic sales initiatives. Don’t just sweep results under the rug and take a CYA approach. A well-run business, like a fighter squadron, needs a 360-degree ongoing loop of feedback, constructive critiques and positive reinforcement to continuously improve and survive.

Adopt a practice and culture of debriefing, and reap the benefits of a more motivated team and satisfied customers.

(Debriefing is a loaded topic. In future posts I’ll discuss the attributes of good debriefs, establishing a new debriefing program and culture, Change Management approaches for leaders, and other elements related to adopting and benefitting from a successful debriefing culture.)

Jack Liles flew combat missions in the Navy F-14 Tomcat after graduating from The Citadel, and successfully transitioned into a sales and marketing career following his naval service. He’s held leadership roles at the ad agency Leo Burnett, Coca-Cola, UPS, several start-up tech and consulting companies, and is an occasional military analyst on CNN. Jack is a Partner at TechCXO, an executive professional services firm that provides C-level leadership and consulting services for clients seeking accelerated growth and revenue. Reach Jack at

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