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5 Simple Steps to Document Lessons Learnt to Sustain and Build Performance

POSTED BY: Penny.Ward

 “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey.

Most of us want to do things right and we do! However, at times things simply do not go to plan for a variety of reasons. Don’t I know it!

By looking back on my actions and outcomes in a certain context or a specific task, I can measure how successful or not the results were and make improvements and adjustments for next time. Importantly, I can answer the question ‘What can I do differently to achieve a different or improved result in the future?’

The value of this thinking is that positive and negative experiences resulting from actions, judgements, decisions or emotional responses are rich with information for improvement, understanding of what went well and what did not go so well. Over time (and it has taken a while!)  I have learnt to apply purposeful and structured reflection and inquiry allowing me to gain insight and appreciation of a challenge of issue at hand which has led to improved understanding and better outcomes when lessons learnt are applied in the future.

In this article, I share insight into learning from reflection and a simple five step process (tried and tested on myself and during supervisory, mentoring and coaching conversations) to get you started.

Regardless of your learning style, reflective learning is for everyone. Learning from experience is great, but when coupled with intentional reflection you can uncover and articulate the key lessons learnt during the experience. Reflection and insight helps to build the ability to achieve a goal through self-leadership, self-confidence and self-efficacy.

BUT, reflective learning is one of the most underutilised and overlooked learning mechanism largely attributed to a range of reasons, including:

  • Events have already occurred and we simply want to get things done and move onto the next task.
  • Lack of structure to frame reflection and garner lessons learnt.
  • Time, time, time!

The truth is, reflecting on lessons learnt is incredibly powerful, and the time spent now on reflection is time well spent and time saved in the future.

A simple approach and template to understand and document lessons learnt

Enjoy this quick and easy way to process your lessons learnt. First, think back to the experience you want to reflect on and complete the following steps:

Step 1 Set the scene – document the event

Think about the following questions about the event, challenge or issue. Be sure to be factual, objective and non-judgmental:

  • Why was there a challenge or issue?
  • How did this arise or become apparent?
  • When did it happen? Where did it happen?
  • Who was involved?
  • What happened?
  • How did you react emotionally? (including before and after the experience).
  • How do you feel about things now?
  • What emotions influenced a negative or positive experience?

Step 2 – Detail what you think should have happened 

Consider the following questions:

  • What goal, objective or outcome were you aiming to achieve?
  • What is the generally accepted best practice approach to this situation (if any)?
  • Based on this, what would you be feeling before, during and after the experience?

Step 3 – Compare and contrast

Reflect on steps 1 and 2, detail what you have learned about:

  • Yourself
  • Your occupation/profession/role
  • Other people
  • The topic, issue or challenge.

Step 4 – Detail your lessons learnt Based on your key learning points from Step 3, think about the following:

  • What could you have done differently?
  • How could you have acted differently?
  • What do you need to sustain and not change? That is, what worked really well?

Step 5 – Detail an action plan Review what you have written and document your plans and actions.

Detail what you can do to sustain, change or improve performance or the approach in the future across the following themes:

  • Knowledge – what additional information do you need for a similar event, challenge or issue in the future?
  • Skills – what additional skills or support do you need for a similar event, challenge or issue in the future?
  • Behaviour – what behaviours and attitudes would be useful to apply when you encounter similar event, challenge or issue in the future?

So how do you encourage reflective learning for yourself or when working with others? 

I use the following simple approaches:

Make time for it:

  • When working with others – factor into the start of your conversation such as mentoring or coaching - particular when following up from previous meetings.
  • For self – make a deliberate time to sit and reflect.

Make it feel as natural as possible:

Ensure the thought process is natural, not forced and flexible to allow you to stray from the questions or script, particularly if you are developing insight and you are heading off on a tangent. This should be encouraged!

Record or journal your thinking

  • When working with others – simple note taking and to-do lists are great to record outcomes.
  • For self – a journal is a great idea to document your thoughts and come back to from time to time.

Access your Lessons Learnt Cheat Sheet, sign by signing up to the Mentoring Mindset Free Resource Guide to access this tool along with a collection of resources to guide you along your learning journey.

Do you want to take your mentoring or coaching to the next level? Are you seeking a mentor or would like to become a mentor? Contact me for a Strategy Session to discuss how I can help you!

Penny Ward is a coach, mentor and consultant working with women to create genuine learning alliances to develop their skills and self-leadership capabilities enabling them to lead with intention and authenticity to influence and achieve their goals and aspirations. She specialises in female self-leadership, women’s mentoring and strategic organisational development initiatives. Working collaboratively with individuals, entrepreneurs and organisations Penny empowers women through their own journey of professional and personal discovery, transformation and growth.