What’s Your Theme for 2022? Mine Is Simplicity

At the start of each year, I choose a theme that highlights my biggest opportunities and needs for growth and what I think my teams needs most from me.

I hope 2022 is off to a fantastic start for you! I know it feels a bit like Groundhog Day as we start another year with COVID and supply chain disruptions, but I hope you’ve found your footing in this storm and are keeping positive.  

Amid the challenges we’re all facing, I’ve found that focusing on the simple things I can do each day to create something and support my team has helped me stay positive and productive. Progress comes with small steps each day. If I could only offer one bit of advice, that would be it.

If you’ve been following Uprise for a while, you may remember that I set a theme for myself each year. This theme embodies my focus for the year, and I chose it based on two criteria:  

1) What I see as my biggest opportunities and needs for growth (both personally and professionally).  

2) What I think my team needs the most from me.

Last year, my theme was Listening and Teaching. In 2020, it was Clarity and Focus. This year, my theme is Simplicity. (Yes, I’m taking it that seriously and only choosing one word!) As I look back over the evolution and growth of Uprise, I can see how these themes have helped shape our business.  

Looking back may help you see some trends in your own business and give you some ideas for what you can focus on.

In 2020, we were in year three of our business, and it was a critical time to move out of discovery and experimental mode and into nailing down what we were really great at and who we worked best with. It was time to define our focus, commit to it, and operationalize it. I was in the weeds delivering client work, selling work, coaching the team, and handling operations. I was in the belly of the beast! (Which is where all company leaders need to go periodically, no matter how mature your organization is, by the way!)

Last year, (year four) my focus on listening and teaching was my shift from defining and operationalizing my business to optimizing my team and our output. I needed to step back from the intense day-to-day activities of the business and be a better coach. To be a better coach, I had to give myself the time and space to really listen and understand my team’s needs, what they were excelling at, and what they needed support with. I also needed to shift out of the mode of racing and rushing through my daily to-dos and make time to train my team and offer guidance.

We promoted our wonderful marketing lead to CMO, and we brought in a fantastic sales leader. These people are leading their areas of the organization so that I can step back in this way. This is a pivotal change for our business, and I’m incredibly grateful for their skills and drive.

2021 was a tremendous year for Uprise. We helped a wonderful group of clients across IT, security, software engineering and digital marketing. We were named among the top 100 security firms and among the top 500 security firms in North America. I had the honor of being named one of the Next Generation Solution Providers.  

We started our internship program and had the pleasure to work with a super bright and motivated high school grad who we hope to hire someday! We volunteered with Maine Center for Entrepreneurs and Techstars to give a hand to our fellow entrepreneurs. We more than doubled our revenue year-over-year again – which we have fortunately been doing since we started.  

Side note: a couple weeks ago, I learned an incredible statistic (literally incredible because it is almost impossible to believe) that only 2% of women-owned businesses surpass $1M in gross revenue. It makes me grateful for the fast growth at Uprise, but I also realize we have a long way to go to support women entrepreneurs.  

Amid this success, how did I do with my theme? I think I did great with listening, and I did ok with teaching (my self-review would say “needs improvement").  

I did well with listening because I understood the nuances of client needs, team member needs, and shifts in the business; I was able to navigate in the best way because of that. One big lesson I learned was to have more granular metrics to look at. Even if I’m being a good listener, if I’m not listening to the right information, I can’t have the most valuable insight! So mid-year we revamped our company metrics and the way we track team performance, which was a huge help. It is helping me make the right decisions faster.

I need to continue working to be a better teacher. I need to search for ways to jump into projects or have one-off conversations with my team where I may be able to help. For example, I volunteered my time to work with a non-profit client this past fall, and a team member who I haven’t worked closely with on a project before told me how great it was to see how I interacted with the client. She learned a lot from seeing that modeling.  

So, what about 2022’s theme? Simplicity is my ticket to where we need to go.  

I think many of us would agree that simplicity is something we value in our personal lives – but what does that look like in our professional lives? For me to bring simplicity into Uprise, it means looking at everything we have learned to this point as we enter year five and commit to doing what we know works.  

"Focusing on "Simplicity" means looking at everything we have learned up to this point and committing to doing what we know works."

It sounds so simple, but how many times have we seen teams (or done this ourselves) who don’t reflect aptly on what works and end up losing it along the way? Or we know what works, so we keep that in motion, but because it “just works” we don’t give it the attention it needs and it stops working? Or we are just accustomed to that dreaded way of being “busy” and in our busy-ness we just stay busy, trying new things, and new things again, etc. but don’t take the time or implement the rigor necessary to learn from these tests so we can make conclusions.  

You’ll see a shift with Uprise this year. We are working on a new website to showcase that. (I’m so excited for you to see it!) We know what we’re fantastic at, and we’re committing to doing that – not the things we’re just good at. We know what has worked for us in our marketing efforts, so we are going to execute to the highest quality. We’re cutting out the things that aren’t critical to our business goals. Last fall we updated our business plan, and that helped us to narrow in on what is most important.

My goal for my team in 2022, also based on this theme of simplicity, is quality over quantity. Let’s choose what we do with mindfulness, commit to it, and execute it to a T. It’s easy to get distracted, but we know what we need to do, so we’re going to stay focused.

For example, I had to turn down taking an advisory role in a startup that I believe in. I would have said yes last year – and last fall I indicated my openness and excitement about being involved. As I reflected on the demands on my time, and how I needed to remove anything that brought me away from our company goals, I realized that even two hours a month was more time – and brain power – than I could afford to devote to another business.

I encourage you to really think critically about your goals AND how you need to be and live to accomplish them. I won’t be able to accomplish my goals if I’m living a frantic day. I can’t run from one meeting to another meeting until I’m exhausted and have nothing left. It doesn’t give me the space to think strategically about our team, our clients, and our company overall. It doesn’t help me be a great teacher. I must create an environment for myself and my team to thrive.

Companywide, we’ve looked critically at quarterly goals as a team and for each team member. We’re cutting what’s not a top priority. We started “no meeting Thursdays” to give our team a day when they don’t have interruptions so they can dive into big projects, create, and think. (This doesn’t mean it’s a go-silent day. We are still on Teams and can call each other, but we don’t schedule anything.)  

I’m excited to see how this raises the bar for all of us. My hope is that we do what we do even better, and that our informed reflection helps us discover new things.

Here’s to an energizing, productive, and joyful 2022!  

Malinda Gagnon

Malinda is CEO at Uprise and has more than 20 years of experience in business strategy and technology at companies including Google and WPP, and has advised clients such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric, VW, BlackRock, and Walmart.

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