How to Effectively Look Back and Plan Forward

by Alli Polin on December 16, 2014

look back plan forward

I’m looking forward to tomorrow when I sit down, thanks to G+, with my accountability partner for the past two years.  We’re going to do a year in review for our businesses and take a strategic look forward into the new year; It’s time for some vision fine-tuning, goals and planning.  Truthfully, we both have a lot of hopes and dreams that will require hard work and creativity to achieve.  We’re planning on a long discussion to look back and plan forward for our continued success in the new year.

Instead of putting in place a complex framework, we’re going to ask a lot of questions that look a lot like how my kids craft a story at school.  After all, we’re re-reading and re-writing the stories of our business which are, no surprise, intertwined with our lives.

Over the past few years, my children have learned the difference between writing a simple sentence and writing a wow sentence.  Wow sentences give you some color, interest and depth and tell you far more than just a simple fact.  There are a few techniques out there and one of the ones that we like in our house is also one of the most basic: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Whether you’re taking a look back to plan forward in your life, leadership or small business, there will never be a shortage of critical questions to ask from the six W’s. Grab your accountability partner, team or journal and use this as a resource to get you started as you look back and plan forward for the new year.

Six W’s to Look Back and Plan Forward


Who are your people?  (your customers)

Who do you want to deepen your relationships with?

Who are you being in your business?

Who are you being in your life as a result of your business performance?

Who is holding you back?


What worked?

What did you learn?

What was your proudest moment?

What eluded success?

What are you unwilling to give up on in the new year?

What do you most want?

What would wild success look and feel like?

What do you most want to create?

What’s holding you back?


When are your milestones?

When will you target major roll outs and lead ups to launch?

When will you let go of what’s not working for you?

When will you fully step into some new habits?

When does time management impact your ability to be successful?

When did you hold back that you wish you had unleashed?


Where are you accepting excuses as truth?

Where do you need to go with your business?

Where do you most want to spend your time?

Where are your people? (your customers)

Where are you resisting putting your time and effort?

Where did you find the most success?

Where did you encounter the most resistance?

Where did you find the most joy and fulfillment?


Why does your business matter?

Why does your message matter?

Why do you do what you do?

Why did people hire you last year?

Why will people engage you this year?


How did you stop short?

How did process impact your results?

How can you bring even more creativity?

How will you change your mindset?

How will you change your results?

How will you push yourself to go the distance?

You can use these questions as a part of your annual strategic process, but it also works as a part of a project post-mortem, team building workshop or quarterly planning.

Break the Frame Tip:

Don’t let yourself off the hook or accept your first easy answer.  Push yourself to go deeper, get personal and be vulnerable.

What is the one question that you most need to ask yourself about your life and business in this moment?

For coaching, consulting or speaking, Let’s Connect


{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Rhodes December 16, 2014 at 7:36 am

Questions are my favorite topic. The day I realized that the best leadership and parental tool in the world was asking questions was the day the world changed. It is truly amazing how much you can learn through the combination of great questions and great listening skills. The world is an open book to those willing to question.

Great post. Thank you for all you do and have a wonderful Christmas.



Alli Polin December 16, 2014 at 7:39 am

Thanks, Tom! I’m with you!

Questions truly are one of the most powerful tools in a leaders arsenal. The real trick is when you ask yourself, to not let yourself off the hook too easily. That’s why I love when someone else is there to be my accountability partner and push me past my comfort zone and not buy my BS.

Merry Christmas to you!




Blair December 16, 2014 at 8:19 am

What a beautiful and comprehensive list of questions, Alli! Why do some of them look familiar??? Thanks as always for another year of thought-provoking posts, which never fail to help keep our businesses and our lives on track. I’m looking forward to seeing what you create next year.


Alli Polin December 17, 2014 at 8:48 am

I’m one lucky woman to have connected with you! Thank you for being a part of my journey. Sincerely!!




Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ December 16, 2014 at 8:30 am

Wow Alli, this list is not only comprehensive. It is inspirational because it will definitely spur all to action.

I think my favorite category is “how.” It brings someone to “want” to kick it up a notch and it makes all the difference in the world!



Alli Polin December 17, 2014 at 8:49 am

Many thanks to you, Kate! In my coaching I know that I’m very much on the action oriented end of the spectrum and I too love the how because it’s what takes us from thinking about it into creating what we most want.

With gratitude,



Terri Klass December 16, 2014 at 11:02 am

How lucky for you to have such an incredible accountability partner! Working with someone can be so powerful as we have someone in our court working with us at all times.

Your questions are exceptional and yet phrased in a way that I can connect with. Love the who, what, where, when and how process and I can’t wait to give them a try as I prepare for 2015.

Thanks for your tremendous guidance this year!



Alli Polin December 17, 2014 at 8:51 am

I have an awesome accountability partner but I also have connected with people, like you, who have given me the space to ask hard questions and find my answers.

I’m still working through these on my own and with my clients too.

Here’s to a fantastic 2015 for you, Terri!

Big xoxo!!



Chery Gegelman December 17, 2014 at 3:01 am


I love the doors that social media have opened for us, with conversations, friendships, alliances and accountability-partners. So cool!

Your list of questions is powerful. I especially love the questions about who we want to deepen relationships with and where are we accepting excuses as truth.



Alli Polin December 17, 2014 at 8:53 am

Relationships are everything. When I first started on social media I was talking to myself… until I discovered a universe of caring, smart, dedicated, enthusiastic leaders like you.

Truly… everything happens through relationships. To ignore their importance is to deny our success.

With appreciation ~



Karin Hurt December 17, 2014 at 9:55 am

It’s funny, there’s a whole lot of this going on. I know Terri just went through a similar process, and I’m neck deep in it as well 😉 These are really helpful questions.


Alli Polin December 18, 2014 at 1:53 am

It’s that time of the year! I always do it annually but am going to do it more often in 2015. Here’s to 2015 – your first full year working in your own business, Karin! Wishing you much continued success.




LaRae Quy December 17, 2014 at 10:24 am

This post really inspired me, Alli!

The questions are extremely germane to what I’m experiencing myself…and they’ve helped me to clarify how I need to approach my vision for 2015.

Thank you so much for sharing!!!


Alli Polin December 18, 2014 at 1:54 am

A good question is better than a weak answer every day. I’ve found that the longer I sit with the question, the deeper I dig, the impact continues to grow.

Look forward to a great year ahead and more connection with you, LaRae!


Jon Mertz December 18, 2014 at 7:22 am

Wonderful questions, Alli, and it is so important to push deeper and not just give surface answers. In the depth of our answers, new ways to lead and build better business practices. Thanks for instigating the beginning of a great, new year ahead! Jon


Alli Polin December 19, 2014 at 4:40 am

I’m with you, Jon. I think the deeper we did, the more we learn. Besides, the only person being cheated in this case is the person asking the questions. Here’s to an amazing year ahead, Jon! Look forward to continued learning and engagement with you.


Cynthia Bazin December 18, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Fantastic questions for all of us to ask ourselves! I will be printing this out and answering these questions for myself as we move to a NEW year! Thank you my friend for another great post!


Alli Polin December 19, 2014 at 4:41 am

Many thanks!! I made a great start with my accountability partner and now the rest is up to me! Hope you get some good aha’s to start the new year too!



Kaarina Dillabough December 19, 2014 at 10:41 am

Excellent questions. I wish more business owners would take the time to regularly take stock…to sit back and really work ON their business not just IN their business (thanks Michael Gerber for that:) Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and New Year Alli, and thanks for your kind words on my post and on twitter. Cheers! Kaarina


Alli Polin December 22, 2014 at 4:10 am

I’m with you, Kaarina! Taking stock feels to many like slowing down while all they want to do is race for the finish line. However, it’s planning and honest reflection that drives inspired action – not constant motion.

Sincerely, I’m inspired that you’re living your commitment to write… even more… You are a writer. Thank you for spreading your inspiration my way.




David Pethick December 19, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Hi Alli

That’s a really impressive list of questions. As you dive into the answers I’m sure it will throw up a lot of new questions and some great opportunities.

I’m interested in learning what framework you use to set out your strategic priorities for the new year. The skill of prioritisation is one that eludes many leaders and it could perhaps be a great follow-up post.

Kind Regards.

David Pethick


Alli Polin December 22, 2014 at 4:08 am

Thanks for your comment, David! I’ve gone through many failed frameworks for strategic prioritization in years past. I think what tripped me up the most was the desire to DO too much and call action items and work plan goals strategic priorities. Thanks for giving me fuel for another post!

With appreciation ~



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