While the end of the year presents an opportunity to reflect on the previous twelve months, such reflection is for naught if it is not applied to the vision and strategy for the year ahead. The key is to identify the lessons learned throughout the year, and to contextualize them into categories that are tied to specific actions; placing experiences and lessons into three action “buckets” helps to not only create a clear understanding of what happened, but to create a framework for strategic thinking for planning activities in the New Year. The action “buckets” look something like this:
- Keep – The items that are placed in this category provide the answer to the question, “What worked?” Decisions, plans, and actions that led to successful outcomes are noted and analyzed to determine the “Why?” behind such events. It just as important to analyze the root cause of success as it is to analyze the root cause of failure, so tackle the good with the same analytical rigor
as the bad to determine why something was successful.
- Change – This will likely end up being the biggest bucket when all is said and done. The question that the items in this category answer is not necessarily black and white; the question is more
along the lines of, “What was good that we can make great with the appropriate adjustments?” What initiatives showed the greatest potential, but didn’t get the attention required to succeed? What could provide substantial return with a revised strategy and focused execution? What opportunities were not fully seized but still have significant upside potential? It is important to approach the “Change” category with objectivity and pragmatism, because overly optimistic analysis can lead to resuscitating items that should be left for dead, and overly pessimistic analysis can prematurely relegate items to the next category…
- Abandon – There are many explanations as to why this category seems to get ignored during analysis and planning exercises, but the bottom line is that not everything is going to work out despite high hopes and best intentions. The decision to abandon something needs to be made objectively and with limited emotional influence, which is easier said than done when an item has a significant amount of the organization’s sweat, blood, and tears invested in it. This is the type of decision that requires resolve and strong leadership, as the emotional ties to the items
that face the chopping block have a tendency to lead to compromise at times when the realities of limited time, energy, and resources make it impossible to keep every initiative on life support.
Once the reflection exercise is completed, it is highly likely that not every lesson, initiative, or event that has been identified and analyzed fits neatly into one of the three buckets above. It is also highly likely that the strategy and objectives for the upcoming year will require some additional shuffling of initiatives and priorities. This is where reflection and projection come together: New requirements for the coming year will influence the categorization and prioritization of ongoing efforts; “Keep” and “Change” items will create requirements in and of themselves; and in the end, the old and the new need to be aligned to create a single, cohesive vision and strategy to govern the efforts of the organization for the next twelve months – when the process starts all over again.