The Annual Business Review: Questions Every Leader Should Reflect On


No matter what kind of year you’ve had, one of the most valuable things you can do is strategically look back, learn from it, and use the results to spring you forward into next year. This blog describes why an annual business review is vital for every business leader and offers some powerful questions to include.

Why Do an Annual Business Review?

We’re often so busy running around and putting out fires that we don’t take the time to step back, take a breath, and notice the changes that have taken place in the business. We are not usually mindful about finding things to be proud and grateful for or discovering the things holding us back. 

The annual business review process is a lot like what we do in quarterly retrospectives, but if you’re wise, you’ll take it a step further by not only doing this review for your business but also yourself as a leader. 

You need to be growing and developing just as much as your business because your business only grows as fast as you do. Taking the time to do an annual review helps you figure out why things are going as they are and exactly where you want to go next. There are two exercises you can do to accomplish this.

How to Do an Annual Business Review: 2 Exercises to Try This Year

Warning: the following exercises have the power to give you invaluable insights that will likely lead to a huge improvement in clarity and focus as you head into the next year. Proceed with caution!

These two exercises are designed to be done on different days with a fresh mindset. They require contemplation and shouldn’t be rushed through. The questions are designed to tease out things you have likely been processing in your subconscious throughout the year, so it’s important not to force the answers. You’ll want to record your intuitive responses rather than try to use logic, otherwise, you will miss the vital emotional element of this exercise.

Finally, be sure to write down the answers to each of these questions. The physical act of writing it down makes it real and helps you process thoughts. Plus, it gives you a record of your reflection that you can look back on and see how far you’ve progressed.

Exercise 1: Looking Back at the Past Year

For this part of the annual business review, you will reflect on the last year. You should answer most of these questions (where relevant) in three columns: as a business, for you personally, and for your family. With these three columns in mind, here are the questions to consider:

What were your big wins? 

Include anything that happened in the past year that is to be celebrated. For your business and team that may include hitting your revenue goals or nailing 100 percent of their rocks. For your family, maybe that’s something like buying a house or other significant milestone. It can be something as simple as taking a vacation. Qualitative is just as important (often more so) than quantitative wins.  Whatever it is, pat yourself on the back for doing an awesome job this year.

What am I most proud of? 

This is closely related to the previous question, with a sharper focus on pride. Pride is one of the strongest levers. Intentionally recognizing what you’re proud of and sharing that with others can be transformational for those around you.

What am I grateful for?

This is definitely a question that you should fill all three columns out for. For the business, this may be feeling grateful for [insert wonderful team member] who does an amazing job at [insert what they’re great at or what they helped you with]. Perhaps you’re grateful to your team for sharing your vision and helping drive the business forward.

On a personal level, maybe you’re grateful you made more time to exercise and feel better this year. Did you kick a habit that you wanted to give up, or accomplish that goal of reading one new book a month? An example for the family column is listing why you’re grateful for your partner or a relative.

Pro tip: Share these answers with the people you’re grateful to WHY you’re grateful for them! Wouldn’t you love to know who is grateful for you and why?

What did I not accomplish that I wish I did?

Now that you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy after starting with the positives, it’s time to turn to our misses. This may seem like a negative question, but in reality, it’s important to drive you forward and help you make the changes you need to keep improving.

For example, maybe you missed a revenue goal, didn’t hire the new staff you needed, or didn’t get the three weeks of vacation you hoped for. Having these down on paper might be just the thing you need to trigger the changes you need to make to accomplish these.

What beliefs held me back?

This is a particularly transformational question. Growth in business (and in life) is all about mindset. We all have a myriad of beliefs that hold us back from accomplishing the great things we’re capable of. These keep us stuck in the drudgery of tasks that don’t drive us forward. Understanding what those are is the first step to cracking open that door to changing those beliefs.

What else is holding me back?

This question provides insight into things you need to prioritize. By filling in the blanks of the following sentence, it’s clearer what exactly is preventing you from doing what you want, whether it’s in your business or your family: I want to be doing _____________ but ____________ is preventing me from doing so.

What are the big freaking issues that I (or we) need to deal with?

This one is pretty self-explanatory. We all have issues. But when you write them all out, it’s easier to start tackling them one by one.

What can we learn from this year, and based on this, what do you need to change going forward?

This question invites you to consider the wins, misses, and beliefs you already identified, but now you’re looking at them in the context of moving forward and deciding what needs to happen. 

For example, if you didn’t have time to achieve a goal, you learned that you need to do better at time management. Maybe what you need to do to change this is to religiously schedule things into your calendar and hold them sacred to ensure they get done.

Exercise 2: Future Me Looking Back

Now it’s time to visualize that it’s one year in the future. Imagine you’re sitting down to do this annual business review process and you’ve been very successful at doing everything you wanted to do. There are fewer questions for this exercise, but each one is very valuable.

What did I accomplish?

List all the things that you in the future have gotten done during a successful year.

What did I need to learn to get these things done?

Think about what enabling factors allowed you to do what you listed above.

What habits and beliefs needed to change to achieve this?

List what mindset issues and other things you needed to change in order to see the results you got.

Who did I need to have in my network, on my team, or around me to accomplish this?

Identify and list out the people who pitched in to help you succeed during this successful year.

We cover some of these questions in annual planning sessions done in a corporate context, but these exercises are not just for leaders. Reflecting on these questions provides crucial groundwork for goal setting and is a powerful tool for personal growth for anyone.

These exercises are best done with an experienced facilitator guiding you through them. Please contact us to learn how we can help you get the most out of your annual business review.

Mike Knapp


Mike has been helping businesses achieve their goals for more than 20 years. He believes there is a better way for business owners and leaders to build their businesses and achieve their big goals. As a Gravitas Impact Premium coach, he leverages the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ to simplify the art of strategy and discipline of execution.

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