Overcoming the Life Cycle

More than a decade ago, there was a commercial that showed a boy becoming a teenager going off to school who becomes a man dressed for his job in a suit before finally transforming into an older man in a sweater that looks like he might go for a walk in a local park.  The point of the commercial was that just when we become accomplished at one stage of our life we move to another.  In a very simple way, it conveyed to the viewer that in different, yet fast moving stages of our life their company can take care of our financial needs.  In other words, their company understands the life cycle and how your needs change with life’s changes.  It did a fantastic job capturing the reality of the human experience.

The idea of nature’s life cycle capturing the intricacies of a business is fairly common.  Most of us have bought a product after its height and paid a little less and ended up with something that worked a little better than it did when the first models came out.  Although it might have made sense to us, our friends typically use it as an opportunity to tease us for being “behind” or “out of touch” when we bought our electronic device, flat screen television, or GPS after everyone else had one for a year or more.  Organizations, products, and processes all go through the typical, biological life stages:

  • Creation/Startup/Birth
  • Growth (fast followed by slow)
  • Decline
  • Renewal/Death

Understanding how the life cycle works, how it can impact our organizations, and how we can mitigate its impact is critical to our success.  There are three key ways the life cycle manifests itself in our organizations in how the major building blocks of organization success change over time:

  • Employees
  • Teams
  • Organizations

Employees

We have all worked with employees that were strong or even high performers for years to only flounder later in their career.  There are a variety of reasons why performance levels or trends can change with individual employees.  Some lose interest due to a lack of new challenges, others fail to maintain important skills, a subset has pressing personal issues, and still more simply burnout due to work demands.  Regardless of the cause, every organization eventually deals with this decline among its key employees.  The only way to prevent this inevitable decline is to engage employees, ensure resources match need, reward when exceptional performance occurs, manage succession carefully, and respond to issues as they arise instead of allowing them to accumulate.  Inaction or the assumption that everything will work itself out is the biggest cause of decline in star employees.

Teams

Teams like individual employees once created begin a process of growth followed by decline.  Most teams are formed for a specific purpose: accomplishing a project, dealing with an issue, or increasing the performance of the work unit.  Once this goal or outcome is attained, there is a crisis of existence.  The crisis begins the moment when the team has to redefine itself or lose relevance before deteriorating.  Most organizations ignore this critical point and then wonder why its approach to team formation and cooperation is unsustainable.  The key to long term teams is getting it right at creation, supporting during growth, and assisting with transition for redefinition.

Organizations

Organizations are born, grow, and eventually decline.  Some renew once reaching decline and others disappear.  Just as the video mentioned at the beginning of this post, most organizations become accomplished at one phase of its life cycle and then it changes to a new stage.  The new entrepreneurial endeavor endures growing pains just like a preteen child.  Usually this transition instigates a change in leadership and a professionalization of the culture.  The need for new resources and diversification leads to the organization expanding into new markets and encountering more competition and reaching maturity. The new levels of professionalization serve it well until it loses its innovative and dynamic nature and becomes overly bureaucratic.  Infighting and fiefdoms undermine the ability of the organization to do great things and it finds itself at a crossroads.  One direction leads to decline and the other will renew the organization.