Reflecting on 2023 – looking back to look forward

Fay smiling next to a pile of books she has read in 2023

You can learn so much from taking a small amount of time to look back on the previous year and acknowledge the progress you’ve made. Human nature means it’s easy to slip into the habit of only ever looking forward. Although it’s good to look forward and plan for the future; looking back can help you to boost your confidence (by acknowledging what you have achieved), teach you important lessons (there’s so much to be learnt from our successes and challenges), and shape your goals.

Last year, inspired by my friend Joanna Lott (who publishes a review of her business every December), I decided to start sharing my annual reflections publicly. I started Bright Sky Career Coaching 7.5 years ago. Looking back, it’s hard to remember what happened at specific points, so I’m writing this partly to help ‘future me’ recollect the business journey she has been on. But I’m also writing this in the hope it helps encourage you to reflect on 2023 for yourself and that it’s a useful exercise for you.

I created a set of 10 reflection questions at the end of 2021 for the HR Planner. They’ve been in every edition of the HR Planner since then and now make up part of the ‘one-page career plan’ to help set you up for a successful year.

In the spirit of ‘walking the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’, here are my answers to them. I’ve also started to take my own advice from episode 63 of HR Coffee Time, ‘How to progress your HR career by measuring your impact at work’ by incorporating some metrics/measures into my reflections.

1. What did you achieve? – Small wins are just as noteworthy as big ones

Bright Sky Career Coaching Achievements

As I was writing down my reflections about this, I noticed that I can divide the achievements into two categories – ones that I had planned for (I’d set myself goals to achieve them), and others that were unexpected (I hadn’t planned for them at all). So, I’ve divided them up below:

Planned for (I had set goals for these)
  • A huge focus for me this year was making my group programme, Inspiring HR, as good as it could possibly be – I threw myself into additional training and research to learn how to make it the best possible experience for anyone attending. So, I was thrilled to receive 10/10 ratings from members of the latest cohort.
  • Launched the new website designed to show that the focus of the business had shifted to supporting HR/People professionals to have successful & fulfilling careers (before this, Bright Sky worked with all types of professionals). Huge thanks to my talented (and extremely patient) web designer sister Holly Christie for creating the website for me through her business This Demanding Life; Amy Newlands for the new visual branding; and Oliver Meech for his copywriting skills.
  • Added more to the HR Planner to make it as impactful as possible. I tested out various new tools and ideas for the HR Planner throughout the year and I’m proud of the final product that is now available for 2024. It’s been amazing to receive lots of positive feedback about it. But it was a huge amount of work to finalise it and promote it in the final quarter of 2023. I need to make sure I put things in place to maintain the high standard but make it a less exhausting project for next year.
  • Grew my email subscribers to my weekly HR Coffee Time newsletter (where I share tips and resources to help HR/People professionals have successful & fulfilling careers) to 7,500 people. I didn’t have this goal written down; it’s just something I have been focusing on for years now – trying to send entertaining and helpful emails that are helpful for anyone who signs up for them. For next year, I’d like to set an official goal for myself to make the experience of being a newsletter subscriber as good as possible by adding more to the sign-up experience and welcome emails that new subscribers receive.
Fay pointing at the XpertHR logo that is painted on the wall of their head office.
Unexpected/unplanned achievements (I hadn’t set goals for these)

HR Coffee Time (podcast) achievements (as of 28th December 2023)

Planned for (I had set goals for these)
  • Sponsors – one of my goals for 2023 was to secure sponsorship for the podcast: HR Coffee Time had its first official sponsors this year – Presentus and Penfold. The sponsorship money meant I finally had the budget available to take the plunge and hire podcast editor Chris Hall-Franzkowiak from Between Tracks, to edit the podcast for me (instead of spending hours each week doing the editing myself). It has been amazing to have his support and even though I won’t be actively pursuing sponsorship opportunities next year (because this can be so time-consuming and I’d prefer to focus my time on creating my next group programme for Chief People Officers), I will continue using Chris. Now I’ve had his brilliant support, it would be too hard to give it up!
  • Improved the podcast guest management process by putting more structure and automation in place. It’s now a better and faster experience for me and anyone who applies to be a guest on the show. Thanks to fellow podcasters Janet Hadley (guest on episode 55 of HR Coffee Time: Alcohol misuse & how to help – supporting wellbeing at work) and Aoife O’Brien (guest on episode 107 of HR Coffee Time: The impact of imposter syndrome & how to tackle it head-on) for encouraging me to create and use a podcast guest application form and a podcast guest information form. These two things (along with others I’ve put in place) have made an enormous difference to the smooth running of the process.
  • Released 51 episodes (29 of the episodes were guest episodes).
Unexpected/unplanned achievements (I hadn’t set goals for these)

2. What did you do to help others?

Fay sitting in a room with Kingston University Students

Outside of my usual work, I did the following work free of charge: delivered a talk for Human Resources Management Kingston University Master’s Degree students, ran a free workshop for a church, raised funds for Alzheimer’s Society by running HR Planner Workshops for free and asking for donations instead of payment.

3. What are you proudest of from 2023?

Hitting the number 2 spot in the podcast charts, releasing the 100th episode of HR Coffee Time, getting such positive feedback about Inspiring HR and the workshops and talks I have designed and delivered this year.

4. What did you do for your wellbeing during the past year?

Not enough! My stress levels have been a lot higher this year (especially towards the end of the year with all the work that went into the HR Planner). Although this ‘looking back to look forward’ exercise is positive in helping me acknowledge successes from the year, it has also helped me acknowledge I’ve probably done too much and risked burning myself out. Things I’ve had in place for my physical well-being (walking the dogs daily, going to pilates and tennis once a week) have completely fallen by the wayside in the final quarter of the year so I could stay on top of my workload.

I have put things in place to help recently which is making a positive difference – mainly getting more support instead of trying to do everything myself; in addition to Chris editing the podcast for me, I’ve had a wonderful PA, Helen Porter, join me recently and she has been fantastic; I have social media support for the first time, with the amazing Annabelle Nunnery keeping me on track with posting more regularly (and in a more focused way) on LinkedIn and generating ideas for different ways of promoting my products and services.

For next year’s goals, I definitely want to think carefully about what I can do to not feel so stressed by the end of the year.

4. What did you learn during 2023?

I really enjoyed learning a lot and upskilling this year. In addition to learning from my podcast guests, wonderful clients, and friends, I completed the following courses:

Non-fiction books read in 2023 (in alphabetical order)

Fay smiling next to a pile of books she has read in 2023

For anyone reading this who would like to know more about any of the books, I’ve included links to them and a very brief summary for the books I particularly enjoyed/would recommend. The links are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to purchase one of the books using one of them, I’ll receive a small commission from Amazon. 

  1. All That We Are: Uncovering the Hidden Truths Behind Our Behaviour at Work, by Gabriella Braun – it was a real inspiration meeting Gabriella this year. Reading how brilliant she is at helping groups and teams work together effectively inspired me to do more training around this. You can learn more about the book in episode 83 of HR Coffee Time, ‘Destructive team dynamics – how to spot them & get things back on track‘.
  1. Alphabet Soup: The Essential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion at Work, by Michael Bach – I read this after I saw it recommended by Dr Jonathan Ashong-Lamptey (guest on episode 42 of HR Coffee Time, Diversity & Inclusion at work – 7 mistakes to avoid & what to do instead ). Dr Jonathan is the most prolific reader in the DEI space I have ever met. I learnt a huge amount from the book and it’s written in a very engaging style.
  1. Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life, by Arnold Schwarzenegger – my dad was a huge fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger when I was growing up. I loved watching the Schwarzenegger movies with him and enjoyed listening to the audio version of this book. It’s inspiring to hear how having a clear vision and dedication to his work helped him become the bodybuilding world champion, a movie star, and then a governor.
  1. Business Growth: Lessons learned from divorce, dating and falling in love again, by Niraj Kapur – my sister recommended this book to me after saying she couldn’t put it down (and she isn’t usually a fan of non-fiction books). I found myself reading extracts of it out loud to my husband because some of the stories in it are so entertaining. A fun read, with sound business insights, for anyone who has their own business.
  1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport – I’ve had this on my bookshelf for years and was pleased to finally read it. The book has become so famous and is referenced by so many other authors that I was already familiar with most of the concepts in it. But I’m still pleased to have ticked it off my reading list.
  1. Don’t Silence Your Talent: Unleash the value of your deaf employees, by Victoria Williams – a brilliant book; Victoria will be appearing as a guest on HR Coffee Time in 2024 so she can share her insights into creating inclusive workplaces for deaf people.
  1. Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint, by Russell Davies – I loved this book & mentioned it in episode 74 of HR Coffee Time, ‘How to get better at presenting & feel more confident about it‘.
  1. Exploratory Writing: Everyday magic for life and work, by Alison Jones – a great read, I recommend it to all the participants of my group programme, Inspiring HR, during the final week of the programme.
  1. Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown & James Macanufo – good ideas and activities that use design thinking to overcome workplace challenges and help groups work together effectively.
  1. Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The difference and why it matters, by Richard Rumelt – I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve their strategic thinking and strategic planning skills. I talk through some of the ideas contained in the book in episode 102 of HR Coffee Time, ‘Boosting your strategic knowledge to step up in your HR role‘.
  1. High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way, by Brendon Burchard – this book was recommended by guest Aoife O’Brien in episode 107 of HR Coffee Time, The impact of imposter syndrome at work & how to tackle it head-on. I raced through listening to the book as an audiobook (it is brilliant) and would like to re-read it in its paperback form, to make sure all the learnings have sunk in!
  1. Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life, by Héctor García & Francesc Miralles
  1. Inclusive Growth: Future-Proof Your Business by Creating a Diverse Workplace, by Toby Mildon – one of my recommended reads of the year (as mentioned in episode 94 of HR Coffee Time, ‘Summer reads: 3 great books to help your HR career’). I was also lucky to have Toby as a guest on the show for episode 93: Creating a more inclusive work culture: how to make an impact.
  1. Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us about the Business of Life, by James Kerr – I’m not a big sports fan but decided to read this after it was recommended by Craig Elvin in episode 13 of HR Coffee Time, How to get a senior-level HR role. I really enjoyed it; there are some great lessons into strong leadership and effective team building.
  1. Managing for Happiness: Games, Tools, and Practices to Motivate Any Team, by Jurgen Appelo – this book was recommended to me by Adele Stickland (guest on episode 10 of HR Coffee Time, Tackling stress and building resilience). I loved it. It’s packed full of ideas to manage teams effectively (but in a fun and engaging way).
  1. Poetry at The He{art} of Business: Spoken word poetry exploring the concept of company culture & belonging, by Arend Boersema – an interesting way of exploring culture and encouraging connect. Arend was a guest on HR Coffee Time for episode 114: What workplace culture is, how to measure it & a surprising way to improve it. 
  1. Rejection Proof: How to Beat Fear and Become Invincible, by Jia Jiang
  1. The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging, by Charles H. Vogl – I enjoyed this book and put some of the ideas in it into practice for my group programme, Inspiring HR, to help everyone bond and feel connected.
  1. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, by Priya Parker – I can’t sing the praises of this book highly enough. An essential read for anyone who wants to make group experiences as impactful as possible.
  1. The Personal Board of You Inc.: How to recruit the best personal advisors to accelerate achievement, by Emma Maslen – I talked about putting the key idea of this book into practice in episode 90 of HR Coffee Time, ‘How a Personal Board’ can help solve your challenges at work’.
  1. The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field, by Mike Michalowicz – an enjoyable read. I’d quite like to re-read it as I’ve forgotten a lot of it after reading it at the beginning of the year (note to self – must make more notes when reading or listening to books!)
  1. The 2-Hour Workshop Blueprint: Design Fast. Deliver Strong. Without Stress. by Leanne Hughes – a fantastic book; I used it to help me design some of the workshops I ran this week and found it incredibly helpful. 
  1. Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot, by Matt Abrahams – I’m a fan of Matt’s work and have recommended his other book, Speaking Up Without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident and Compelling Presenting many times to people who are nervous about speaking in public. This latest book is filled with fantastic ideas and useful frameworks to help you respond well when you’re put on the spot with a question, or a request to speak up. 

6. Which relationships did you develop and build?

I’ve developed and built new and pre-existing relationships with clients, other coaches, podcast guests and my colleagues within the Bright Sky team.

I started having online accountability co-working sessions in 2022 and enjoyed them and found them really helpful. They have been a great way of keeping me on track with projects and tasks, while also getting to see people I like regularly and strengthen my relationship with them (otherwise working from home can start to feel a bit isolating), as we have a 10-minute catch up before cracking on with our work. I now have 8 x 1 hour of these sessions a week; each session is with a different person and focuses on a different topic – Jo (strategy), Tracy (finance admin), Julie (social media), Adele (newsletter), Joseph (systems), Jacqui (podcast), Delphine (podcast), Sarah (catching up with whatever I haven’t managed to get to during the week).

Niraj Kupar’s story of meeting up with people in his network in real life (in his book, ‘Business Growth’) has inspired me. I’ve barely left my home office all year. I’d like to prioritise carving out time to see people in real life; especially those who have been a huge support to my business this year.

7. What are you grateful for?

Photo of the Eiffel Tower

I’m grateful for my family encouraging me with Bright Sky and for having a lot of quality time with them this year (we’ve had some great family trips and outings, including a trip to Paris for my stepdaughter’s 30th birthday and a big family holiday in Greece); my friends; for all of Bright Sky’s clients who have put their faith in us to help them with their careers; for all the guests who agree to appear on HR Coffee Time and share their expertise; for the HR Coffee Time listeners who get in touch to say they’re enjoying the show or to recommend future topics; for all of the Bright Sky team who do brilliant work; for being an HR Ninjas partner (a wonderful community); for all my co-working accountability partners (I love seeing them every week and appreciate all the support and encouragement they give me) and the members of the new coaching Mastermind group I’ve joined; for the sponsors who have believed in the HR Coffee Time podcast and newsletter.

I’m also incredibly grateful to Michelle Hartley, Claire Cathcart and Pete Colby – they have been amazing at encouraging me with the HR Planner and championing it. I’m truly grateful to them (and they all have brilliant offerings for HR professionals – so, if you’re reading this article and work in HR, I’d highly recommend looking them up on LinkedIn).

8. What did you find challenging this year?

The biggest challenges I’ve experienced this year are (1) putting myself under too much pressure (a bad habit that has reared its head again), which has left me feeling a bit burnt out at the end of the year. I’m grateful to having some time off over Christmas to re-energise and know I need to make changes for 2024, so it doesn’t happen again. (2) Recognising I need to work on my business acumen (which I’m hoping will be helpful to my coaching clients, as well as being helpful for me because I know this is an area that many HR/People professionals can struggle with); this includes freeing up more of my time to do paid client work (instead of dedicating so much time to the podcast and other free resources) by putting more support from other team members in place (instead of doing so much of the behind the scenes work myself).

9. What insights do you have from reading through your answers to questions 1-8?

  1. Looking back is always helpful: It’s incredible how our brains can trick us into thinking we haven’t done enough. Throughout the whole year I’ve thought, “I haven’t been reading as much as last year” but when I added up all the books I read to include in this article, I realised there were actually more than last year! When I’ve got cross myself for finding it hard to make time to create a new service (group coaching programme for CHROs/CPOs), recognising how much else I’ve been working on my listing it all out, has helped me be a lot kinder to myself.
  1. How much I enjoyed doing things in person again: It’s been wonderful to run some workshops in real life and start to see some clients in person again (instead of all my work being online).
  1. Accountability sessions continue to be helpful: I’m going to continue with the accountability sessions for 2024 and I’d like to introduce accountability sessions as an option for HR Planner owners.
  1. Process improvement is boring at the time but reaps rewards in quality, consistency & efficiency of service: I put a lot of time and effort into improving the guest booking process for the podcast this year. Next year, I’d like to focus on making the onboarding and offboarding process as enjoyable and high-quality as possible for my coaching clients.
  1. It’s always interesting to see how goals evolve and shift: I’d ended 2022 thinking I was going to create a ‘write your HR strategy in a day’ workshop but as I developed and worked on the idea, it changed and ended up becoming the ’10 steps to strategic success’ workshop that I ran at the end of the year. I’m now going to incorporate parts of it into the ‘being strategic’ module of Inspiring HR.
  1. Focusing on fewer goals is more impactful than focusing on too many: This review has confirmed that lasering in on a handful of goals is so much more powerful than trying to achieve loads of goals. I put a huge focus on developing my group coaching and facilitation skills this year and I feel like this has definitely paid off.
  1. I still find it hard to let go: Last year in my end of year reflections I talked about finding it hard to let go of some of my coaching work and having other Bright Sky coaches do some of the coaching for me. This year, I’ve realised the biggest things I’ve struggled with letting go of is a lot of the ‘behind the scenes’ things like editing the podcast, or corresponding with podcast guests. But when I do finally let go, things usually work out for the better because of the time it frees up without compromising quality (in fact, it can improve quality). I need to remember this as I move forward.
  1. I need to free up some more of my time, so I don’t burn out: it feels uncomfortable but I’ve decided to reduce the frequency of HR Coffee Time podcast episodes from once a week to fortnightly, to give me more time to work on other projects and not feel so maxed out. I also need to utilise the support team I have in place more.
  1. I’d like to prioritise my physical wellbeing: I’ve signed up to a new weekly yoga class for January and want to get back on track with walking the dogs daily, as well as going to Pilates and tennis each week.

10. How can these insights influence your goals for 2024?

The goals I’d like to set myself that have appeared from this ‘look back to look forward’ activity are:

  1. Enhance the HR Planner ownership experience – set up live monthly accountability sessions for HR Planner owners & send monthly emails.
  2. Create a group coaching programme, especially for CHROs/CPOs.
  3. Get Inspiring HR accredited (this is something I’ve never looked into properly before, so it feels a bit daunting but I’d like to do it).
  4. Create a fantastic onboarding and offboarding experience for all coaching clients (this involves creating and following a documented process, to ensure consistency).
  5. Create a welcome sequence for all new HR Coffee Time email subscribers.
  6. Stop doing so much admin myself (including things like writing podcast show notes & sending ‘thank you gifts’ to podcast guests), and utilise other team members to help me with this.