2019, the year of the crisis

podsumowanie roku Project: People

The first week of February is the best moment to sum up the previous year, isn’t it? We’ve been talking about the 2019 summary in Project: People since mid-December. But how to sum up the year which was a challenge in many respects? How to sum up a difficult year? How to sum up the year we ended happy that a new and better time is finally coming? 😀 Eventually, I think this story has matured in me so much that I am ready to share it with you.

So how to sum up a difficult year? There is probably no other way than to simply do it HONEST.

2019 is the year of…

Anyone who has read our summaries of the year (here 2017 and 2018 summary) knows that for some time we have been calling the individual years of our activity referring to the nomenclature of runners. And so 2018 was the year of the sprint, and in 2019 we entered calling it the year of the marathon.

At the end of December 2018, we were extremely tired. We have completed a huge number of projects, entered new groups of projects/clients, changed the office and doubled the team. The end of the year was a time of euphoria (we accomplished our goals with a vengeance) and thanks. It was also a moment of reflection: we knew that we needed to slow down, that we needed to equalize the level of knowledge in the team (because a lot of new people came), take care of processes and their metering, take care of customer service (we had several projects in 2018 that were unsatisfactory for both us and our clients – I write about it here >>).

We were prepared that this year will be a year of slowdown. However, we did not expect how much organizational change we will have to go through and how much it will cost us. When dealing with strategies, we know that crises in organizations occur in certain cycles. This is perfectly illustrated by the Greiner model:

summary in Project: PeopleSource: Models of the organizational life cycle by L. Greiner, Mary Jo Hatch

There are several patterns, theories, which also speak in more or less obvious ways:

Gartner Hype Cycle

Shows that after the hype period, a decline is inevitably coming. The bigger, the bigger the hype.

summary in Project: People

Rogers’ Curve

Shows a “gap” when moving from early adopters to early majority. Once I heard such a bon mot (I did not verify its accuracy in the form of statistics) that this place is a “cemetery of dead startups” – and there is something to it. The process of disseminating your product/service/idea is not an easy process, which often ends in failure during its popularization among mass recipients.

podsumowanie roku Project: People

Stock Market Correction

The economy also talks about the phenomenon of exchange rate correction – the moment after a period of dynamic increase in the price of shares, when the price drops suddenly to be able to rise again.

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    All these patterns show one thing: after a period of dynamic growth, there is a moment of decline and crisis and you need to prepare for it. So as you probably guessed…

    2019 was the year of crisis

    It sounds dramatic, maybe. However, this was not the case. Anticipating the questions – we are far from bankruptcy, and we achieved a comparable financial result to 2018 with a slightly smaller team, so it wasn’t that bad 🙂 However, from the point of view of the processes taking place within the organization, we have certainly experienced crises on many levels.

    Vision Crisis

    At the end of 2018, during our strategic workshop, we summarized everything that has happened over the course of the company’s 2.5 years. During the summaries, however, we did not notice that we actually realized the vision that we set together with Asia at the beginning. We became a strategic agency. In addition, at the end of 2018 Tomek Osowski joined the board, which was supposed to constitute his contribution to the company, but it was also a huge change.

    We continued to operate as before, but subcutaneously we felt that something had changed, that something might be wrong. That it doesn’t work as well as it used to. Each of us had a different vision on which direction we should follow, whether to expand our audience or narrow them down and what is wrong. We had different ideas about what our next big step should be, but we couldn’t agree on them unanimously.

    I think it helped us finally understand that the problem is not that our individual ideas, directions, ideas are wrong. It was crucial for us to understand that we do not agree on the vision, that we do not agree on which idea we will implement TOGETHER. Here, thanks go to Konrad Grudziński, who at the beginning of August conducted a workshop with us regarding the sales process, but touched on several important, difficult topics. He drew our beliefs from us and worked hard on them. And probably after the workshop he didn’t want to have anything to do with us, because…we had an argument with Asia and Tomek like never before (who knows Asia knows how difficult it is to argue with her 😀 ).

    And we needed this argument very much! It let us understand that our visions are different and get out of this impasse. The next step, just two weeks later, were strategic workshops (first for our management and then for the whole team), which allowed us to define a new vision and MVP of the new strategy, which we were testing until the end of 2019. And since the beginning of the new year, it’s been working very well in the full version.

    Thanks Konrad! And so BTW, Konrad is a great sales consultant – he will help you organize internal sales processes, hire the first salesman, run sales workshops where you will argue understand what you are doing wrong when it comes to sales 😀

    podsumowanie roku Project: PeopleValue Crisis

    During the past year, we also worked on making our company values more precise. To translate them into particulars, and even on trying to…measure them (:O). We translated values into specific behaviors and they became the foundation for our team contract, we introduced them to our feedback process and to Kudos.

    Clarification sometimes caused resistance among some people in the team who understood these values differently. For example, some people strongly identified our values with the values of the Teal organization, and we did not define ourselves as such. This caused difficult discussions. It also caused conflicts, whether this Project: People with the same, but still very precise values is still a Project: People in which I want to be.

    In retrospect, I think it was an important and necessary process. It helped reduce the risk of over-interpretation and individual understanding of company’s values. It just made us able to move on.

    This crisis may sound very light compared to the vision crisis, but it was very painful to me personally. It was hard to separate difficult discussions about values from myself, it was difficult not to take them personally. After all, company’s values are Asia’s and mine’s. It’s just us.

    Leadership Crisis

    The lack of vision I mentioned earlier had another big implication. We (Asia, Tomek and I) as organization leaders were lost without vision, it was difficult for us to make decisions, it was difficult to answer often hard questions asked by the team about the direction in which we are going. This weakened our position as leaders.

    In our confusion, a mini organization began to form inside Project: People – a team of 4 with a strong leader, a separate communication system, operating principles, information flow, etc. We discussed for a long time what to do with it, after all having strong leaders in the organization is an advantage, not a disadvantage (we believe so). However, in this case it caused split of the organization from the inside (it was absolutely not the fault of these people – rather a natural process that often occurs in organizations).

    A transparent conversation on this topic, individual and team awareness that such a process is taking place, as well as joint and sincere team work on the topic helped strengthen our team. It caused that our leadership was formed and the team began to function in a very effective way. It also allowed us to understand how important leadership is, how important it is for us to have a joint strategy, how important communication between us in the management board is, and how important it is for us to agree. Then there is no space for a split.

    It was also important for us to understand that each of us brings a different value to the organization and has a different role. We have organized our roles and responsibilities. It also allowed us to make decisions and act more efficiently.

    podsumowanie roku Project: PeopleCrisis is good

    We started the year 2020 confident that it will be a good year. However, we started it as a completely different organization, at a different stage of development. If we were to use the start-up nomenclature, we would say that we have moved from the mature start-up phase to the early scale up phase.

    Looking at the organization’s development stages, from an organization oriented on relationships and a family atmosphere, but at the same time not very result-oriented (especially financial), we have become a very well-ordered organization, with clear goals and their measurement, processes, principles of cooperation, values, a clear structure, plan actions and a NEW STRATEGY, adequate to what kind of organization we are now.

    Most importantly, we’ve become an organization based on a very strong, constituted Golden Circle. Our WHY gives meaning to what we do and is our real mission. Our HOW defines exactly what lean means to us, how we want and how we do not want to work with clients. And WHAT – what we offer clients and what we DO NOT offer. All this allows us to act and communicate more effectively – with clients, partners, within the team, with the media, with our community, etc.

    I also have the impression that we survived stronger as a team. This year also meant parting with several team members – on our part and on the part of these people. On the one hand, the company ceased to please some after these changes (it’s natural in transformation), on the other hand, we decided to say goodbye to some people due to the change in the specifics of our organization.

    We closed the year with a blank card – we closed various processes that took too long, we set some of them again. We are entering 2020 with new energy and certainty that it will be a good year!

    All these changes have allowed us to grow amazingly as a company. In 2020, we enter with huge projects with clients, with large brands on board, team coverage with projects a few months ahead, a mega-harmonious team, structured marketing, sales, customer service and HR processes, with huge successes on the account from 2019 and great case studies, but also with a visible, huge new wave of growth that awaits us in 2020 and which we can already see on the horizon (in cashflow and employment). We already know that 2020 will again be a year of high GROWTH.

    I believe that there is no development without changes and these might be truly painful. It was a year of crisis, but also a year of humility. The year of change and the year of learning. I dedicate this text to all organizations in which crises happen – literally to ALL organizations 🙂 It is not worth sweeping the crises under the carpet, it is worth working on them because they stimulate growth, they make your organization develop, they allow for spectacular results.

    These are my “lessons learned” from 2019. And what did you learn last year?


    PS. Finally, I would like to thank:

    Tomasz – without you, your pragmatism, common sense, all-embracing we would not be where we are. 4 words: Thank you so much!

    Asia – it’s an honor to create Project: People with you, I don’t know anyone who would be such a good person and leader, empathic, caring for people, including me.

    Kasia – you are the personification of the values of Project: People, your commitment and focus on development are invaluable.

    Grzesiek – thank you for honest feedback and the opportunity to talk sometimes (well, quite often: D), your empathy and support!

    Dryga – honesty, no fear of broaching difficult topics, scoring inconsistencies, courage in setting boundaries – these are your strengths.

    Paweł – I appreciate your assertiveness, your own point of view, but also crossing your borders and self-development.

    Aga, Rita, Aga, Asia, Kasia – I’m glad you joined us. I know you haven’t been through these changes with us, but I hope you see results. How talented you are and how you work shows that we are already at a different stage <3

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    Beata Mosór-Szyszka
    Beata is a serial entrepreneur, co-founder & managing partner at Project: People and Project: Values, and CEO of Hermes & Partner cooperatives. She is also an investor at ProEco Leaders foundation, co-author of The LiGHT Book (together with et al. Phillip Zimbardo, Robert Cialdini), and the author of diverse business tools (e.g. Values Poker, Lean Marketing Sprint).

    Beata is a strategist, marketer and lean consultant with over 14 years of experience in the international market. She has cooperated with companies such as Sabre, T-Mobile and Google. She shares her knowledge and experience as a mentor in acceleration programs (like EIT Digital, Google LaunchPad), and as a lecturer at Tischner European University & WSB University in Gdańsk.

    Project: People is a lean strategy agency that Beata established together with Joanna Ostafin in 2016. The company gained more than 160 clients from 16 countries in just 4 years (2016-2020), has 18 people on board, and achieves impressive growth of 200% Y2Y.

    Beata built the females-first organizations, where ~60-75% of team members are women. She is also open to investing in the female businesses with a vision.

    As a speaker, Beata performs at Polish and international conferences (e.g. Lean Startup Days Paris, VC night by Viva Technology, Open Living Lab, Product Marketing Summit London).

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