1. What did we do well?
Lead with your strengths. This is where you can congratulate yourself over the year’s accomplishments. Be thorough, start from the very beginning of the year, and write it down. This is not only a great way to build morale and recognize hard work; it’s also a chance to identify unique capabilities and areas of competitive advantage. Be clear about how you measure your success. When you’ve finished writing all the ways you’ve done well, circle 2-3 areas where you performed better than your competitors. Make a plan to continue improving those areas, think of ways to showcase them, and make sure your value proposition addresses these competitive strengths.
2. What did we do poorly?
Write a comprehensive list and be specific about how you measure underperformance. If you improved or fixed issues throughout the year, revisit your efforts and make sure your fixes include documented processes that will continue to support the business. As you think about how to allocate resources to improve in the next year, consider your competitors. If they all perform roughly at the same level in a particular area but it brings them no competitive advantages, then plan to bring your performance up to that level but no more. These are hygiene issues. If one or more of your competitors far excel in an issue, be cautious about committing many resources to match that level. Those might be losing battles. If your competitors also underperform across the board, that area may be an opportunity to leapfrog the competition and give your company a competitive edge.
3. What caused anger, fear, or stress?
Why address emotions in a business environment? Because they influence decision making. Because they create the culture and morale of a team. Because they affect health and wellbeing. Because they change productivity. Emotions are crucial but often get overlooked in business analysis because they don’t fit a 2 x 2 matrix and can’t be (and shouldn’t be) “solved.” But they’re insightful. Free write 1-2 pages and see what comes up. Are there sources of negative emotion that happen again and again? Are there opportunities for improving process, for building psychological safety, or for mitigating risk? Ask colleagues or customers the same question and actively listen to their experiences. Keep shares confidential and prompt them to think of tools and ideas for the new year.
4. What are our secrets?
Organizations have secrets just like people, both positive and negative: proprietary technology, processes, unique skills, data, forward-looking strategies, or potential liabilities. Free write 1-2 pages and consider the following issues. Are we taking full advantage of proprietary resources and communicating them appropriately to potential customers? Do current processes adequately protect data and other sensitive information? Are there liabilities that might threaten next year’s performance? Marketers guide a brand’s story, so understanding and reinforcing best practices will protect proprietary advantages.
5. What are we grateful for?
End on a positive note. Generate your own list but ask others to contribute their own as well. Make it long and all encompassing, both inside and outside the organization. By doing this, you can discover the company resources and benefits that make a difference, the people who deserve recognition, the values of your colleagues, and aspects of your own life that motivate and inspire.
This exercise isn’t about completing a form or reducing your company to a grid. What you write down or discuss may be messy, overlapping, or ambiguous. That’s a sign that something’s worth pursuing. If you are making budgetary priorities for next year, choose 3-5 projects that make the largest impact across these five questions. Once you’ve extracted actionable items from this exercise, destroy it and start making concrete plans.