by Donovan Ray Hardenbrook

It’s that time of the year again to reflect on the last year and plan for the next. As John Maxwell, one of my favorite mentors, is known to say “Experience teaches nothing, but evaluated experience teaches everything.”

So was this year a good or bad year? Regardless, there are many things we learn over the course of a year that can help us improve ourselves and our businesses. Rather than “should” all over you, I propose a little exercise using a wonderful problem solving technique called the 5 whys to help you not only reflect more clearly on the year but also understand how to apply a years’ worth of experience into planning for the next year. I am going to use a business oriented example. Five Whys is also extremely valuable for personal goal setting as well.

Why #1 – Why wasn’t business better this year?

You can look at your business from many perspectives to answer this question. Did you not make enough sales or profit? Are you losing customers to competitors? Did you work harder for the same or less income? Let’s assume you didn’t make enough sales.

Why #2 – Why didn’t we have enough sales?

Maybe you didn’t have enough traffic to your website or brick and mortar store. Maybe you didn’t invest enough in marketing. Maybe you didn’t have the right product mix. Maybe your product or service doesn’t have the right features and benefits. I don’t know your specific situation but I’m sure you understand the gist. Whatever the reason, you will need it for the next question. Let’s assume that you didn’t spend enough in marketing.

Why #3 – Why didn’t we invest more in marketing?

When you get to Question #3 things may begin to get interesting. Did you not invest because you don’t believe marketing really works? Did you not create a marketing budget? Were you over optimistic in estimating how much business you would get from referrals? Again your reason is going to be unique, but let’s assume you don’t believe marketing works.

Why #4 – Why don’t I believe marketing works?

Answering Question #4 may be difficult for you regardless of what your specific why question is. We are often taken to a dark place. Have we been systematic about our marketing or haphazard? Did we try and give up too soon? Did we not do enough due diligence to understand our product/market fit? Let’s assume we haven’t put marketing systems in place.

Why #5 – Why did we not put marketing systems in place?

Things may be really deep and dark at this point in our exercise. Maybe we aren’t marketing experts and we didn’t go into business to be one. Maybe there wasn’t enough time in the day to do any marketing do to all the effort required just to run the business each day.

Connect the 5 Why’s to Next Years’ Goals

You can learn a lot from using the 5 Whys process. Based on what you’ve learned, you can start to explore solutions and make plans for the upcoming year. See if you can identify a plan and goal for each why question you came up with.

I hope you found this structured problem solving exercise useful. I encourage you to try it for your specific situation. Let me know how it worked for you!