“It’s wise to reflect upon the things we’ve learned. If we don’t, we’ll soon forget them.” ~ Joseph Lalonde
The end of a year or era as well as the start of a new year or era most often feels like the right time to reflect upon the things we’ve learned from the previous time frame. But this reflection isn’t just for warm nostalgia or to make ourselves feel better. Reflection can also help us learn, improve, and better prepare for the new season of growth and success in the coming year. As we get ready to gear up for a new year, here is part one of a two-part series on a few helpful prompts for preparing for the new year
Think about what happened
Take an honest inventory of what happened in 2022. Many times, as I have looked back over the years, I have a bent towards looking at the biggest events or those that generated the most joy, pain, or problems. While there are many positives that can be gleaned from looking at these items, and many optimizations and improvements that can be found in focusing first, or even exclusively, on them, looking at the biggest events, or even the most painful do not provide the full picture. Instead of looking at the biggest sources of joy, pain, or problems, try zooming into different perspectives to get a more complete picture of the past year.
Here are some things to consider as you look back at the past year:
● What were the defining moments of the year for the team? The business? Your customers?
● What were the largest customer-based engagements and activities?
● What were the biggest challenges and opportunities faced by the team? The business? Your customers?
● What went almost unnoticed during the year? (Think about daily routines and habits that seem almost imperceptible.)
● What local, regional, national, and world events shaped the year? How did those events impact your team? The business? Your customers?
● Where did you find your team providing the most value and benefit to one another? To the business? To your customers?
● What was the most trivial event or problem faced by your team? The business? Your customers?
● What event happened the most frequently during the past year?
● What were the most infrequent events that occurred during the past year?
● Where did most of your events take place? (Were your interactions mostly online, back in person, or hybrid?)
● Did your team, organization, or business participate in industry events and shows? Did you host any similar events?
These are often good starter questions to get the conversation going. As you dig into what happened you’ll also want to look at major milestones, scheduled events and meetings, and historical task boards. While no one is able to predict the future, looking at what happened in the year can be beneficial in several ways.
First, reflection builds strength. Looking back over the biggest accomplishments, hardest challenges, and greatest successes helps build strength within the team, organization, and business. When the team, organization, or entire business units can put together a picture of the key accomplishments, major milestones, events and incidents, along with their resolution and positive outcomes, it helps build strength. As VP of Customer Experience at SIOS when our team went through the largest deployment in company history, we learned a tremendous amount about ourselves; our character, commitment, and strength when it counts.
Second, reflection helps identify areas of improvement. In my experience, many times teams are feverishly working together to solve problems, put out fires, and get on with the next issue. In some cases, teams, organizations and companies take time to perform a root cause analysis. However, in most cases these are only performed when something goes horribly wrong. In other cases, these events are conducted at a case-by-case level. Looking over the entire year can help.
Third, it can identify new areas of business. Several years ago, our leadership team began looking back over the past year’s major events. In the process we began to see a pattern emerge within the larger organizations that we served. In each major event and engagement, the pattern rang true and our team made important adjustments to better address those needs. Looking back at what happened helps build new business and helps improve the value demonstrated and provided to customers.
Lastly, a review of what happened in the previous year may also identify an area of the business that needs a renewed focus or transition to a new phase of the life cycle. For example, if the small events and large events that you reviewed fail to include any activities in a particular arm of the business, this could be a sign that the business needs to change. That change could be to reinvest in marketing and sales resources, divest resources, or to transition the project or product to a new phase in the life cycle.
While looking at these questions from the team, organization, and company’s perspective are extremely important, be sure that each individual also looks at the questions personally. As a team, carve out time for each individual team member to reflect on the questions that are relatable to their personal lives. In a leadership roundtable, Pastor Derwin Gray, emphatically called upon leaders to remember that we are not able to, nor were we ever meant to, bifurcate our lives into compartments, work and home; personal and professional. What we do at work does not happen in a vacuum, free from what takes place in our personal lives. Before moving on to part two, be sure to map into the list of things that happened within the team, business, and customer the relatable personal events from the lives of the team.
In the early 2000’s one of our teams hit a low point in productivity. Several tasks were lingering, tests were failing, and customer responsiveness for critical escalations were being impacted. After some time looking back over what had happened, we were able to identify that several new team members were simultaneously experiencing some really hard personal events. These events were impacting their work and the work of the team. Analyzing the personal and professional events of the year allowed the team to make a number of process and culture improvements.
By understanding what the underlying issues were, we helped that team member turn things around.
Remember, the goal isn’t to badger, berate, or to punish the team. The goal is to identify the good, improve the bad, and avoid the ugly so that in the end you have built a healthy team and continue generating amazing customer experiences. Check back next month when I share part two.