Monday, October 6, 2014

The important part

Watching my two sons grow up has been a joy. One of the things I really enjoyed the most was coaching them both in youth basketball. We had our ups and our downs, and now that they are past the years for rec sports, my coaching days are pretty much over.

But, oh, that last season. We had an awesome team. Attentive players. They wanted to learn. They wanted to hustle. The results of our first nine games, though, were pretty bad. I think we entered the last game of the season 1 - 8, riding a two game losing streak. It's not that we were abysmal. Our first few games were bad, but after every loss, we gathered for practice. We learned to drive to the basket, not blindly jacking shots up from the outside. We tightened up our defense, getting better on denying passes to the other teams' star players. In other words, we learned from what we had seen, and had gotten better.

We were the champions, my friends.
How much better? We entered the playoffs as odds-on-favorites to lose early and go home. But, something happened... we started winning. Knocking off teams that dismissed us as soon as they got onto the court. By the end of the following week, we hadn't only made a statement - were the league champs. What a transformation.

And, how did that happen? The kids checked their egos at the door, payed attention to the coach and saw ways they could improve how they approached the game.

That's why I contend that the most important part of any event is the after-action analysis, also known as the hotwash. No matter how many times you practice something or run table top exercises, there is nothing that can take the place of actual real-world experience. The reporters aren't people from other departments or agencies 'playing' reporter - they are actually reporters with real world deadlines. They may even have an axe to grind with your agency, making things just that more difficult.

A meeting of the minds after the incident can help tremendously
So, make it a point to have that hotwash, even though everyone will be busy trying to get back to their regular duties. Just a few rules about the hotwash:
  • Hold it promptly. Memories are elastic things, and with time, we can underplay a huge deal, or make the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. People also tend to forget details after time, so plan for the hotwash within a day or two of the event.
  • Check your ego. Just like the kids on my team, nothing in the hotwash is directed at you. Besides. you learn more about yourself and your plans from what goes wrong that what goes right. 
  • Ask the tough questions. Did you have the right equipment? The right people?  Did you have all the phone numbers you needed? How were your procedures? Was everyone using the same playbook? This isn't an opportunity to embarrass anyone - it is an opportunity to improve what you do for the next event. 
  • Take notes. Don't rely on people telling you they will make improvements. Take notes. Assign steps to people in your organization and give deadlines for things to be done by.
  • Ask for the moon. After an event is the time to ask for what you need. Extra staff members. Equipment. You might not get what you need, but the lessons will be fresh in everyone's mind. You never know.
If you are unsure how to run a hotwash, there are plenty of online resources that can help. Even if you don't run yours 'by the book,' simply going through the steps with the right people at the table can help you build a winning public information team.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

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