It’s interesting that the past month for me has been quite focussed on thinking about the future. Maybe it’s the start of the financial year providing a planning cadence which forces forward planning or maybe it’s that the UK’s emergence from Covid-19 lockdown continued and I now have my first vaccination booked for next week.

Sunrise over Middle Pett Farm, Bridge - 13th April 2021
Sunrise over Middle Pett Farm, Bridge – 13th April 2021

Whatever’s behind it, I look back at the past 30 days and realise I spent a lot of time looking forward. I led a strategic planning workshop for The Panoply senior team where we looked at the challenges we face and the opportunities that exist for us over the coming years. I enjoyed getting into some real detail on developing good strategy (I re-read my favourite strategy book in preparation).

It was also energising to see colleagues face to face and recognise it was the first time that this team has been all in the same room together. We’re so conditioned to working together asynchronously and via video that it was really interesting to experience the richness and energy of in-person collaboration again.

Earlier this week we also announced that our trading during the year ended 31 March 2021 was strong and ahead of our recently upgraded expectations.

We’re expecting our revenue to be not less than £51m (up 62% on the previous year) and adjusted EBITDA to be not less than £6.9m (up 79% on the previous year). Our like-for-like organic revenue growth exceeds our goal of 10-15% per year.

Alongside the financials, we were also able to confirm strong progress with our ESG commitments. Later this year we’ll be reporting improvements in both diversity and inclusion statistics across The Panoply, as well as progress towards our commitment to be carbon neutral, including historic emissions.

To be able to deliver this performance against the backdrop of successive lockdowns and long term homeworking is a real testament to the dedication of the teams across the group and their commitment to our clients and the quality of work we deliver for them.

It was also great this month to see a new technology product emerge from The Panoply. OpenDialog is a genuinely unique conversational design platform targetted at conversational designers. It combines solid academic thinking about conversational interfaces with powerful cloud technology. We’re really excited about this launch and the potential for the product.

On a personal level I’m proud to have played a small part in its journey from Ronald Ashri‘s idea, through an in-house R&D project at Deeson in 2017, through to a standalone agency business in GreenShoot Labs and now a separate product business within The Panoply. But the kudos for reaching this milestone has to go to Ronald, his co-founder Tim Deeson and the current OpenDialog team for the long slog they’ve put in to get the product this far.

It’s also worth recognising that to enable a focus on the OpenDialog product, John Ennew and Antoine de la Gardette moved from GreenShoot Labs to sister Panoply business Manifesto to push on with delivering chat and voice-based projects at scale with the help of the wider Manifesto team.

This split of agency services and product development has provided the clarity of mission for each that’s needed to grow technology businesses at pace.

This is a good example of leadership effectiveness and where the less priorities and breadth of responsibilities that a leader has, the more effective their leadership can be.

This resonates with the concept of single-threaded leadership, popularised by Amazon and explored in detail by Colin Byar in Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon.

Considering this insight alongside organisational design led me to the realisation, obvious in hindsight, that traditional hierarchical organisational structures inherently lead to leadership complexity.

The aggregation of accountability across a breadth of domains towards the top of the traditional organisational chart makes this inevitable. This complexity reduces the potential impact of individual leaders which has a knock-on effect on the ability of an organisation to deliver pace and agility.

I’ve been thinking how what this insight means for scaled professional services businesses and how we might experiment with progressive organisational designs that reduce leadership complexity, while retaining clarity of accountability. My sense is that this is easier to accomplish with agile projects and initiatives, but needs deeper consideration when applying it to ongoing operational delivery.

The other area that’s been occupying my mind this month has been how we sense the organisation around us at work and how we add more deliberate process to decision-making.

This led me to rediscovering a framework that I’ve written about previously but had forgotten about – the Cynefin framework by Kurtz and Snowden almost 20 years ago. This article provides a good and less academic summary. The breakdown of leadership contexts into simple, complicated, complex and chaotic, along with thinking about different approaches to leadership best suited to these contexts, is a powerful insight.

Reflecting on my own work as a leader over the past 18 months, I’ve transitioned from a role which involved primarily simple and complicated contexts to one which spreads much more equally across the four contexts. This has required me to grow my skills and confidence operating across the contexts, as well as learning to diagnose context more deliberately and quickly.

My commitment to writing monthnotes, established 18 months ago, is providing me with a really interesting look back at the leadership journey I am taking at The Panoply. As I write this on the last day of the month I always reflect on previous monthnotes I have written as well as the sketchy notes I’ve made through the month that go towards the monthly round-up.

In doing this, it’s fascinating to see the progression of my thinking during the past eight months in this role. and be able to see a consistent theme of optimism and excitement to be part of creating a unique scaled business with genuine purpose at its heart at The Panoply.