It’s that time of year… to review whether you have reached your goals!
As a business owner, you may feel ready to leave last year behind and move forward—especially if you’ve experienced failure: Disappointing sales, high staff turnover, unpaid invoices, frustrating delays, or negative outcomes.
But we shouldn’t avoid talking about failure. It may be easier to talk about happy things, but there are just as many (if not more) reasons to review the unpleasant ones.
In this post, I’ll explain the benefits of using a Year In Review, and how to start.
What is a Year In Review?
A Year In Review is a strategy tool that can help you clearly see “the good, the bad, & the ugly” of how the past year has affected your business, professional life, or personal life. You can use it to isolate key events, identify where things went wrong, reflect on what you’ve learned, and decide what to change in the coming year.
I first heard about the Year In Review concept from Chris Guillebeau (author of The $100 Startup). Every year, Chris transparently shares the details of his business growth, product launches, and travels.
When I worked as a compliance and privacy professional, I used Post-Mortem Evaluations to determine root causes. Since risk management can be very tricky, we rely on objective tools to keep our thinking process logical and impartial.
A Post-Mortem evaluates:
- what happened
- what went well
- what didn’t go well, and
- how to adjust for the future.
The resulting insights help us determine whether to Control (avoid or eliminate), Mitigate (reduce), Accept (retain), and/or Control (transfer or insure) the risk.
I recommend using Post-Mortem questions as you look back to the previous year. This “zoom out” process can allow you to see your company from a big-picture point of view. You will be able to recognize patterns, determine which actions move the needle toward success, and make risk intelligent decisions.
What Should a Year In Review Include?
Here are the steps you can take when conducting a Year In Review:
Step 1: Look back
- reflect on the events that occurred (What happened overall?)
- celebrate wins and successes (What went well?)
- evaluate failures and disappointments (What didn’t go well?)
Step 2: Analyze
Review the data (What happened—in quantitative and qualitative terms?):
- How many customers did you serve?
- Which months produced the most profit, and which produced the least?
- Which services or products created the highest and lowest profit margins?
- How did your services or products benefit customers?
- Which customers are Ideal, and which gave you agita (the Italian word for “aggravation”)?
- How much progress did you made in reaching your key objectives?
- Which conferences did you attend, books you read, podcasts you listened to, and movies & TV shows you watched?
- Where did you travel, and who did you meet?
Step 3: Look forward
Decide how to course-correct (How do we adjust for the future?):
- select what to continue in the next year
- decide what to get rid of in the next year
- imagine an ideal future (also called your Vision)
- set and schedule priorities (what needs done first, second, third)
On a day-to-day basis, it is very difficult to see how decisions will impact our organization down the road. But once the year is over, you have a chance to evaluate what happened objectively, and to see patterns in the data. This information, combined with an empathetic awareness of one’s bias and blind spots, makes it possible to decide how to achieve even better results.
What Should I Evaluate?
A Year In Review can be done in a number of ways, using a variety of data. Here are some ideas for the type of information you may want to include:
- Strategic objectives. What goals have we achieved, and how close did we get? Did our initiatives all align with the Vision, Mission, and Values?
- Customer data. How many customers did we serve? Who benefited and received the most value from our services? Are we focusing on our Ideal Customers and prioritizing their needs?
- Sales, expenses, profit, & loss. Where did we earn the most and the least profit margins? How did this compare to last year? What are the reasons for the negative outcomes?
- Processes. How efficient were our workflows and communication methods? Where are we experiencing bottlenecks? What can we adjust to make our processes more effective?
It may take a while to finish your Year In Review. For some people, this process will take one day; others might spend a week. If you need more time to let the questions “stew,” it’s fine to work through your analysis for 2 or 3 weeks. Rather than rushing to get it done, this slow-burn method is likely to yield the most insights.
A Note About “Good” and “Bad”
“This year was awful! Thank goodness it’s over.”
“I’m so glad we get to start over. I never want a repeat of the past year.”
These statements may feel true, but in my opinion it is dangerous to label a year as “good” or “bad.”
Admit it: even when lots of things go wrong, you can still name a few dozen positive events in 365 days. There are always reasons to celebrate and things to be grateful for. On the flip side, we all experience disappointments, pain, frustration, and barriers that keep us from reaching our goals.
An “all-or-nothing” mentality reduces an entire year to a binary “either-or” decision. This way of thinking is harmful, because it keeps us from understanding WHY events occurred and what part we played in the outcome.
Using a yes/no label is like putting the entire year into a filing cabinet and slamming the door shut. We can’t apply a new awareness to decisions that impact the future unless we’re willing to remember the experiences, good and bad.
By quickly glancing over the entire year, we miss the tremendous gift of self-awareness.
How Do I Get Started?
Here are my suggestions for how to get the most out of a year-end evaluation:
- Schedule several hours of focused, uninterrupted time.
- Gather your financials, scheduling software, planner, and reports.
- Slow down and breathe deeply as you think about the past year’s events.
- Evaluate your data in a variety of ways: by month, by customer type, by service or product, by major event, by priorities and goals.
- Single out specific events rather than seeing the year as one big jumble.
- Find the root causes for outcomes. Ask “why did this happen?”
- Understand how your bias and blind spots may influence your perception.
- Impartially review all outcomes, both positive and negative, and sift out the important lessons.
- Compare memories with factual data of what actually occurred
- Identify overarching themes rather than simply calling it a “good year” or a “bad year.”
- Explore deeper meanings of why things happened
- Express gratitude for everything that happened, even if it wasn’t enjoyable
- Create a summary of your most significant findings (and consider sharing it publicly)
- Conclude with next steps: actionable ways to apply what you’ve learned.
And if you’re willing to be fully transparent—and inspire others—consider making your Year In Review public. Read more: 5 Reasons to Share a “Year In Review” of Your Business.
If you are a business owner who feels frustrated about planning for the future, find out how we can help.