8 Key Questions to Ask During a Year-End Company Review

As another year winds down, many companies are already working on their forecasting and business plans for next year. It’s a time when many of us sift through reports and big data, analyzing the preceding months and our year-over-year results. We analyze our performance, set new goals, and figure out how we’re going to achieve them.

But one thing is often missing from the annual forecasting and business planning process. Many of us don’t take the opportunity to step outside the numbers and truly put our business performance in context. We don’t always ask the bigger-picture and more conceptual questions to help us make a more qualitative assessment of what’s been happening and where we need to go.

In this article, we take a look at eight questions companies and other organizations should ask to look beyond the data points and get to the real heart of your business and how to make meaningful progress in the next year.

Let’s take a look at the eight key questions.

1. What did we accomplish this year?

Start your year-end review by taking some time to assess what you really accomplished this year.

It’s more than just revenue and profits or measures of statistical output. What major projects did you complete? What strategic initiatives did you successfully launch? What did you accomplish that would be a true cause for celebration?

Did you penetrate a new and profitable market? Did you introduce a new product? Did you strengthen your organization by hiring better talent?

On a higher level, did you advance your mission? Did you take meaningful steps to realize your company vision? Did you live up to your values as an organization?

The things you would truly celebrate now can help you determine what should be an important focus moving forward. Take an opportunity to document and acknowledge these accomplishments, and use them as a source for inspiration and guidance as you develop your plans for the next year.

2. What went well and what didn’t?

Along with accomplishments and successes, you may have had failures. Ask yourself what went well this year and what didn’t.

If you set goals, which ones did you achieve? Which ones did you miss? Are there particular reasons why some things went well and others suffered?

What were the keys to your success in specific areas and activities? Was it the right strategy, the right resources, a lucky break, or something else?

Why did other things not go as well? Were some of your goals unrealistic or overly aggressive? Did unexpected changes in the market upset your original plans? Were you short on resources? Did some goals require more budget, focus or effort than you could provide?

Take some time to examine the good and the bad and apply the lessons learned from that examination to your future plans.

3. What really made a difference and how did it happen?

As you conduct your year-end review, you’ll inevitably discover that some of your business activities and initiatives made a real difference, while others didn’t move the needle.

Sometimes the biggest impact comes from unexpected places, and efforts with the most emphasis or perceived importance don’t generate anticipated results.

Did a new product succeed beyond your expectations and drive unexpected revenue? What enabled that success? Was there something different about how you developed and launched the product? Was the market need or demand higher than your projections?

Did a particular marketing channel drive a large portion of your new opportunities and growth? Why was the channel so successful? How does it differ from the other channels you used, and what might this mean for next year?

Learning what made a difference and how it happened will help you make better decisions in the future. It can inform your planning for next year and help you adjust your budget, resources and strategy accordingly. This way, you can build on your successes and focus more on the difference makers and less on lower-impact activities.

4. What’s our mission and vision, and what are our values?

When assessing your yearly performance, it’s also important to maintain a long-term, big-picture perspective. Toward that end, it’s helpful to revisit your organization’s mission, vision and values. It’s an opportunity to evaluate your year against these three pillars.

Your vision is typically the core purpose of your business. It’s the heart of what you do and the reason you’re doing it.

Your mission is usually a more strategic and time-oriented objective, which shapes your strategy and goals. Often you’ll be aiming to achieve that vision within a particular time period.

Your values are typically the statements that capture the way your organization engages the world and how you do business. In theory, your values should drive your key decisions, help you hire the right resources, and guide the work you’re doing every day.

Many companies establish a mission, vision and values, but they don’t really live by them. All too often, these aims get lost in the day-to-day grind to meet goals, drive metrics, and get work done.

When was the last time your organization revisited your mission, vision and values? Are you regularly evaluating your activities and initiatives against these guideposts?

Use your year-end review to get started and make this evaluation a regular part of your strategic planning and goal setting for the next year. It’s a good way to remind everyone in the organization what you’re striving to achieve and make sure your overarching goals and principles aren’t forgotten.

5. Who is the one person we’re serving?

At the center of many organizational missions is the ideal customer we’re trying to serve. It’s also the focal point for what many companies do, from sales and marketing to product development and customer service.

When reviewing your year, think about what the results mean for that ideal customer. Did we help that person? Did we solve her problems and address her pain points? Did we deliver what we promised?

Keeping your ideal customer in mind can help you get outside insular thinking and purely organizational concerns. You can evaluate your current and future performance against the real person you’re supposed to serve. This not only helps keep you grounded but is important in maintaining a customer-centric focus.

This, in turn, can help you make better decisions and plans, with a focus on solving your ideal customer’s problems and delivering better outcomes in the year ahead.

6. What should we do next year?

The preceding questions all feed into a qualitative analysis that will help you prioritize and choose the right strategies and actions for the coming year. You can combine the resulting insights with performance metrics and data analytics to develop both quantitative and qualitative guidance for the future.

This way, you’re not just crunching data to get to predetermined projections or numerical goals for the next year. You’re taking the time to reflect on the current year and really learn what happened, what mattered, what should matter, and how you can build on it.

As you turn this reflection toward a forward-looking plan, it helps to narrow things down to a few high-level strategic priorities for the year ahead. You should choose specific targets and goals for pursuing those priorities, and start sketching out a list of projects and ongoing work that will help you get there.

Along the way, it’s also important to evaluate your goals and objectives, and assess whether you’re being realistic or overly aggressive. Stretch goals are a popular way to encourage organizations to exceed their baseline goals, but too much of a stretch can be self-defeating and demoralizing. This is another area where a qualitative evaluation can be helpful in balancing a data-driven approach.

7. What can we do to start strong in the first quarter?

Once you begin planning for the next year, one of the most important decisions is to decide what should come first. In particular, what can we do during the first three months of the year to achieve some accomplishments and make a strong start toward achieving our annual goals?

Small wins create momentum, so it’s often best to start with projects and goals you can complete and achieve early on. Save the bigger projects for later in the year, or build toward them during the first quarter by creating smaller, related projects and goals you can accomplish now.

8. Who is going to help us do it?

Of course, if you’re developing a plan for the next year, you need the right team members, skill and tools to execute it.

As you set goals and identify the work and projects that need to be done, evaluate your organization to identify any knowledge gaps, shortcomings, or areas where you might need to scale up and improve.

At the end of the day, even with the best strategy and tools in the world, it takes the right people and the right team to execute your plan.

Do you have enough resources in place in the areas that matter most? Do you have the right people with the right skills to drive the key activities you’ll need to succeed? Are your current team members the right fit for your mission, vision and values?

Evaluate your organization and figure out who’s going to help you execute your plan. If you’re in need of more resources or help, you can always hire directly and grow your team from within, or you can even hire high-caliber business talent on-demand.

With thousands of top-tier consultants and business professionals now working independently through networks such as Graphite, it’s never been easier to add expertise and fill crucial roles in your organization. You can also do it without the high overhead costs of a direct employee.

Through Graphite, you can hire pre-vetted and highly qualified experts, with backgrounds at some of the worlds’ leading consulting firms and corporations, on a part-time, full-time, short-term or long-term basis.

To explore the possibilities, visit us now at www.graphite.com to explore our network and post a project now. Or contact our team directly for personalized assistance. Call us at 415-805-7047 or email us now.

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Greg Andrade

Greg Andrade handles Graphite's marketing and communication programs. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he worked in corporate marketing for 15 years before turning his focus to virtual marketing consulting for startups and global businesses.

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