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Rachel Lewis

Kingston Business School

Associate Professor

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Are your managers really applying what they learn?


This article was written by Rachel Lewis and Emma Donaldson-Feilder.

The holy grail of learning and development programmes is to guarantee that the skills individuals develop are applied in the workplace. Change is difficult and simply running a half-day (or longer) workshop may not result in developing skills and ensuring that they are subsequently used in the participants’ day jobs.

Research conducted by Affinity Health at Work, looking at how best to support the transfer of learning in management development programmes, has identified a number of key success factors. One factor that emerged from the research evidence through a study by De La Rue et al (2012) is the application of After Event Reviews.

Originating as a learning methodology used in the 1970s by the US Army, and proven useful in management development settings in recent years, After Event Reviews (AERs) are a simple option for facilitating continuous assessment of performance.

They are defined as a systematic examination of the thinking and actions that contributed to an outcome and consist of three components:

  • self explanation, where the individual analyses their behaviour and considers how their behaviour contributes to their performance
  • data verification, where the individual imagines other ways they could have behaved and what the outcome of this would have been on performance
  • feedback where the individual generates their own feedback and concludes what they have learned and what they would do differently next time.

An AER allows individuals to discuss a task, event, activity or project with a facilitator. It attempts to unpick and dissect the thoughts and decisions that led to an outcome in order to expose errors that caused problems and identify successes that led to positive results.

The aim is that this in-depth reflection allows individuals, when facing similar situations in future, to apply successful thinking and decisions to lead to more positive outcomes.

AERs encourage individuals to turn unconscious learning into application and overcome their fear of making mistakes. Research has shown that AERs are successful where facilitated feedback was not. AERs are different to feedback as they encourage self-reflection and growth.

The application of AERs across an organisation can help build a culture of accountability and help drive organisational change.

There are many different ways to conduct an AER but here are some tips to get you started:

  • Make sure they are conducted as close to the event as possible.
  • Ensure you have facilitators on board to help support one-to-one or group sessions.
  • Create an open and non-blaming climate, free from fear.
  • Record any learning to promote commitment to action.
  • Ask the right questions at the right stage, being mindful of the objectives.
  • Encourage learners to notice an event and gain an understanding of it, ensuring you encourage and promote discussion. Example Questions – What happened? What was supposed to happen?
  • Ask learners to interpret the experienced event in terms of success or failure. Failures have traditionally been considered as better motivators than successes for learning from experience. However, some argue that there is a benefit in asking ‘why’ questions after successful events. Example Questions– What worked? What didn’t? Why?
  • Facilitate learners in trying to find the best explanation for the experienced event. Ask learners to consider their role and the role of others in making it successful. Example Questions- What do you think best explains the event’s outcome? What did you contribute? What about the contribution of others?
  • Encourage learners to test their explanation against available evidence. Ask learners to consider alternative ways that they could have reacted and the impact on success. Example Questions- What evidence have you got to support that explanation? What alternative ways could you or others have reacted? What impact would this have had? What could you or others do if faced with the same situation in the future?

After Event Reviews are just one of ways Affinity Health at Work’s research found that organisations can support learners following a management development programme. The research gathered insights from a combination of sources in an ‘evidence-based approach’ which took into account both academic and practitioner literature, as well as consulting with those who develop and embed manager development programmes in practice.

Drawing upon varied sources, this work has provided valuable insight into not only the considerations for transferring learning but also designing the format of the programme, the characteristics of managers and features of the organizational environment that support programme success.

This research, although rigorous in its approach, is in its infancy. Affinity Health at Work are keen to hear from individuals who are responsible (or partly responsible) for a development programme that is designed to instill manager behaviours that enhance employee engagement, health and wellbeing. We would value contributions to this research: please complete our online questionnaire at

For more information about the Affinity Health at Work research and its findings see: 

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Rachel Lewis

Associate Professor

Read more from Rachel Lewis