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How Looking Backward Can Help Companies Move Forward

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The end of the year is a good time to reflect upon where you are as a company compared to where you intended to be. In other words, did you meet your yearly objectives? If the answer is yes, then give yourself a pat on the back before asking the next key question: "How do we sustain success?"

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Conversely, if the answer is no, then there are number of questions to ask yourself and your team that will reveal why, and fortunately, there is good news and bad news here. The good news is this that there are lessons to be learned from both successes and failures. The bad news is that failures can be painful. They can be financially impactful, emotionally taxing and physically exhausting -- sometimes all at once.

Not fun. If you're in the middle of startup survivability, pose the following three questions to yourself and your team -- and ideally, answer them -- to find your company's hidden improvement opportunities.

1. Where was the inflection point?

This is the point at which the entrepreneurial tides turned -- sometimes for the better, sometimes not. An inflection is a bend or change in direction. In business, an inflection point is a series of events over time (rarely is there one single point) that influence the way people think, and subsequently, behave. A good example is Netflix. The entertainment giant foresaw the appetite for video streaming and beat their competition, Blockbuster, to the punch by offering in-home video subscriptions.

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2. Were our assumptions correct?

Forecasting revenue is important for obvious reasons, but to have accurate forecasts, you must first be able to forecast accurately. After all, as management consultant Peter Drucker said -- "What gets measured gets improved." To become better at making predictions, look at what predictions you made, the criteria that served as the basis for those predictions and the results.

Here are a few questions to get the gears turning: What assumptions did you make this year that were accurate? Inaccurate? Why? On what criteria did you base your assumptions? This latter question is key, because when you identify the information upon which your assumptions were made, then you can retrace your steps to understand what led you there in the first place.

3. Who would we rehire?

If you would hire the same people again, then you know your selection process is fool-proof -- both literally and figuratively. However, if there's just one bad apple then the question becomes, "How did that person make it through?" Of course there are cracks in every system, but identifying where those fissures are that could inevitably morph into larger cracks is crucial to maintaining the workplace culture and climate that defines your brand.

Answering tough questions isn't easy, but failing to answer powerful questions is an exercise in procrastination simply because a symptom is the early sign of an ailment. However, doing so builds mental fortitude and resilience. The most successful people, teams and companies get ahead by looking rearward -- reflecting upon what worked, what didn't and why. By understanding how you arrived to where you are, you're better able to predict how you can get to where you want to be.

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