image image 31st December 2021

So long, 2021 – thanks for all the lessons!

So, I wrote this post in 2021 but I couldn’t bring myself to post it – I was pretty burned out, unusually negative, and no one needed a whingy post! Now it is 2022 and after a break and spending two weeks turning into a couch potato and watching approximately 134 Christmas movies with the kids, I’ve gone over this with a fresh pair of eyes and given it a dose of post-holiday positivity and reflection.

2021, what a ride that was. And not always a very fun one. It was probably the most challenging year of my professional career to date.

We’re very lucky at the Shed to be in an industry where demand has been increased by the pandemic and where we can work from home with little drama. Our Shedders are healthy and well and we’re still growing – these are all things to be celebrated and grateful for (if only it wasn’t remotely via Teams!)

2021 has been hard, in the main I think, because 2020 was such a challenging year. All our energy was focused on just getting through 2020 in one piece. The immediacy and short-termism that the crisis environment fostered have had a significant knock-on impact on our scale preparations, and we felt it.

 

“The Teenage Years” means that we’re knee-deep in our scale journey.

 

When we presented our objectives for this financial year back in February, I jokingly called this period “The Teenage years” – I couldn’t have been more accurate. We’re knee-deep in our scale journey and focusing on investing in building solid foundations for our next period of growth. I knew it was going to be tough – but knowing something and living it are entirely different things.

We’ve invested much of this year’s profit back into the business by making some excellent senior hires and bringing in PSA software to help with the constant challenge of capacity management and driving more insight (ironic – we need data!). All of this was done a touch too late which meant that last year, the team was stretched more than I’d have liked (sorry, Shedders). New business was at a standstill over the summer as everyone took the 72 gazillion holidays they’d been rightly unwilling to spend sat in their house. And still again in October when again everyone seemed to be on holiday for the whole month. Getting new business efforts restarted felt like wading through treacle, but it did help us focus on the process and build a more robust structure around the pipeline.

Scaling a business is hard – everyone says it – but (like becoming a parent) it’s something you only really understand once you’re really in the middle of it, wrestling all the challenges that come with it. This is the bit I’ve really digested over the break; how far we’ve come and why it’s felt so difficult. Ed and I have never built a business before, so everyday we’re doing everything for the first time. This was something we absolutely relished when we were smaller and a lot of it was intuitive – now there’s 60 of us, the ramifications of a rubbish decision feel a lot bigger and it’s far less intuitive – we’re replacing our instinctual decision making with processes (as light as possible!) and other Shedders because we can’t be everywhere all the time.

 

Bringing in new talent is a challenge that is only going to get bigger.

 

We continue to be impacted by the “Big Resignation” and we’ve celebrated some wonderful Shedders move on to pastures new. As always, I’m delighted for them, and to have been part of their journey, but we will miss them. I’m also very excited that the Leeds tech market is ON FIRE right now. Bringing in new talent is a challenge that is only going to get bigger. A nice problem to have, but a problem that needs resolving nevertheless, both at the Shed and as a city (…nation …planet!).

2022 is going to have to be the year where we get our heads around this and how we solve it Shed Side. I’m sure it will come down to our culture and values and making sure our Shedders enjoy working at the Shed. Learning and Development will have my attention for the first part of 2022 for certain.

 

It’s important to be real and share the rough as well as the smooth.

 

Personally, the home working (particularly when your husband is your business partner) has blurred the lines between work and home in an unsustainable way – boundaries are so important, and I found it almost impossible to maintain them toward the end of last year. This in turn had an impact on my mental health which is not something I typically struggle with. I’d like to give a huge shout out to Claire Ackers, my leadership coach, who has helped me grapple with the many challenges I’ve faced. Our Shedders, my family and friends have been phenomenally supportive – without them, 2021 would have been immeasurably tough. Ed and I are certainly looking forward to a return to ShedQuarters as soon as we’re allowed and of course our Christmas Party phase two!

I look back on most years at the Shed with great affection and nostalgia. I’ve loved every step of the journey. Maybe with a bit more time and distance 2021 will get a glow about it?! I like to think that I’m known for my positivity and enthusiasm for this journey, but it’s important to be real and share the rough as well as the smooth. That’s why I haven’t just put this post in the bin and moved on!

2021 has been tough, but these are the times when we are most likely to grow and learn, so in the interest of starting 2022 on the right foot – here are some of the lessons I’ll be taking from 2021…

 

So, what have been my biggest lessons from 2021?

 

No matter how much things are on fire you need to take time out to PLAN for the next phase.

It’s really difficult when you’ve got your head down to look up towards the horizon. You need to make time for thinking, and normally that’s the time when you’re busiest – FORCE yourself to stop and look outwards.

Culture is important, but it’s only one part of why talent stays put.

Shedder engagement is a complex thing, particularly in the current home working world. I HATE working from home. HOWEVER, other people love it, and I’m listening to lots of different people to figure out how The Data Shed is going to work FLEXIBLY, but also to understand how we build long term, meaningful relationships with our team.

Big spinning plates need expert spinners.

And those expert spinners are best brought in before those plates start smashing! Getting a deeper understanding of our recruitment timing is a key objective for this year.

Lastly, and most importantly,

Value and success aren’t always measured in £££ and numbers.

I kind of knew this one already but 2021 has really emphasised it. The most satisfying moments of last year were distinctly non-fiscal. Our Shedder Awards, receiving a bunch of flowers because a shedder saw I was having a shit day, a photo of current and ex-shedders meeting for dinner on their own time, other Shedders stepping up and growing… I’ve really found joy in watching the growth of our team and friendships form between our team members – seeing them thrive as humans and the lasting impact of the Shed on their lives is a privilege without measure.

So – ONWARDS! Despite 2021 being a bit of a battle, it was certainly one worth fighting and as we come into the new year, we’re really starting to see the fruits of our toil. Our new business pipeline is full of some exceptional opportunities, we have some extraordinarily talented Shedders old and new who are taking on the challenges we throw at them in their stride. It inspires me every day. Our product, The Data Refinery, is going from strength to strength and the team has built some excellent new features informed by working with actual live customers – A HUGE achievement from 2021.

All the work we’ve done to bring in processes to support the growth and push autonomy out into the teams is really starting to show. I am also excited to see the launch of our Shed Academy in the spring and the final round of my research project with Leeds University Business school kicks off in February. All in all, 2021 was a tricky year – but one that has laid the foundations to make 2022 the best year ever at the Shed.

There’s a meme I’ve seen on social media that 100% reflects my feelings…

 

“Nobody claim 2022 as ‘your year’. We're all going to walk in real slow. Be good. Be quiet. Be cautious and respectful. Don't. Touch. Anything...”

 

…let’s creep into 2022 and kick its butt!

Anna

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