Reflecting on yet another year in business should be a strategic and enjoyable process. It's an opportunity to revisit your wins and pat yourself on the back. It's also a chance to look at your failures and mistakes and uncover insights and opportunities to turn things around. That's all fine in principle, but how do you actually go about an effective year in review process when time is short?

I use a quick, effective and enjoyable business exercise I call The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This ode to the Spaghetti Western exercise has four simple parts:

  1. List all the major experiences or events of the past year.
  2. Think about each of the three categories; The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; the experiences you had over the past year, and decide which bucket they fit in.
  3. Organize them accordingly, reflect upon them with your team, trusted mentors and peers and look for helpful insights.
  4. Use the insights to inform your strategic plan for the next year.

The governing attitude is to get you to identify and label your results and discern the true business wins, losses, or impulsive activity.

Categorizing your experiences creates a map, but it alone doesn't show you where the treasure is buried. It's how honestly you reflect and analyze those experiences that leads you to available, actionable insights.

Here's how the categories work.

The Good

The Good wins of the year need to be celebrated. Don't be deterred if you only have a few items in The Good category. Growing companies are constantly trying new things and refining their processes. This requires working through many failures. This is the required process to arrive at the actionable insights that will help you improve your performance in the next year.

Achievements that are the result of your systems, strategies, processes and intentions fall in this category. These are the true business efforts that brought abundance and opportunity.

The Bad

Failures you experienced that were the result of an ineffective system, or known, careless mistakes fall in this category. These are avoidable results if you had prepared or planned appropriately, or applied more time, energy and attention.

The Bad experiences usually reveal moments where you either have a broken system, or you knowingly defied your systems. Most often, these are the results of mismanaging time and resources even though you know better. Connect with The Bad moments to allow them to serve as reminders of where, why and how you need to stick to your guns; your systems and processes.

The Ugly

Victories of dumb luck or improvisation go in The Ugly category. These were not the result of a well designed business systems or careful thought. Ugly wins present opportunities to create systems and document strategies and processes.

The Ugly losses identify areas where you need to cultivate more discipline to avoid distractions. The distractions likely pulled needed time and attention away from efforts leading to their failure.

Initiatives and Efforts that were done impulsively and/or sloppily without strategy or tact fall in this category.

  • What were your wins and losses?
  • Which were the result of impulse?
  • Which were the result of strategic thought and business systems?

Your big take-away from this exercise no matter how your year went, is to connect with a simple truth: successful, sustainable business is the result of effective systems. This is why The Ugly category is so important.

Get your team involved.

Getting your team involved with these processes will improve your results. It will keep you honest and discerning about how your business is really doing. This is a great team exercise that can increase a culture of responsibility and ownership. If you don't have a team, talk to your peers and mentors and try to reflect on your practice honestly with them.

You can spend a one to two hours listing and categorizing your experiences. And you can make the experience a little more elaborate and colorful by getting the flip-charts, post-its and markers involved.

Once you've identified, categorized  and reflected on your big moments of the year, use your results to guide your planning for the next year.

  • What systems do you need to fix?

  • What processes do you need to tighten up?

  • What new systems and processes do you need to design to get more of that lucky but ugly win, on purpose?

If you complete the exercise, you had some fun and were hopefully more honest with yourself and about your company than you'd otherwise be. This honesty; the good, the bad, and the ugly truth can now find its way into your strategic plan for a brighter and better year moving forward.

Give it a try. Share your thoughts or personal twists on the exercise.