“In the fast-moving New Economy, you need a new skill: reflection. . . the sort of reflection that’s gaining popularity aims at learning that results in increasingly effective action by individuals and groups. It requires facing reality within an individual psyche and in the outer world of markets and customers — and then thinking and communicating honestly about that understanding.” — Stratford Sherman, “Leaders Learn to Heed the Voice Within,” Fortune

Our performance results are determined by what we finish, not by what we start. But whether it’s diet and fitness, investments, leadership development, or organization change and improvement efforts, many people search for the quick and easy technique or approach. When the latest improvement fad doesn’t create a quick transformation, the next hot book, guru, theory, or change program beckons.

Improvement faddists are like the medieval alchemists who searched in vain for a formula to turn base metals into gold. But what’s most important to improvement isn’t what’s new. It’s what works. Ultimately, it’s our improvementaction that determines our performance results. The effectiveness of that action hinges upon our follow-through and “stick-to-it-iveness.”

Our learning and development is highly dependent on our habits of performance review, assessment, and reflection. Many individuals, teams, and organizations have a limited or faulty understanding of what’s working, what’s not, and why. Like the rooster who came to believe that his crowing produced the sunrise, cause and effect relationships get distorted. Learning and understanding is highly dependent on performance review, assessment, and reflection.

When we don’t know how we’re doing we can’t improve. Yet so many times we fail to periodically review and assess our progress. This makes about as much sense as setting off on the high seas for a far away destination and then ignoring instruments, stars, or maps to determine that our ship is still on course. Failing to periodically review and assess is one of the major reasons so many improvement efforts lose their way.

Reviewing and assessing progress is a critical daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly activity. But there’s a danger to constantly reviewing and assessing our personal, team, and organizational performance in the midst of hectic operations and performance pressure.

At least once per year, management teams need to get away from the daily flurry of activities, step back, and look at the bigger picture. We need to reassess if we’re on the right track or if we’re making good time — in the wrong direction. We need to look at our full improvement effort and discuss, debate, and decide, if it has the right focus, priorities, approaches, and the like. We need to celebrate progress and reenergize everyone to push forward even harder. And we need to set new plans and directions for the next stage of our improvement process.