Why You Should Toss “What’s Worked Before”
Let’s do a quick visualization exercise: imagine you’re an infant. Brand new to life and dependent on adults for your survival, you haven’t yet learned to talk. But no matter—you’re an expert at getting what you want.
Through experience, you’ve learned that the best way to get what you need in life, whether it’s food, attention, or a nap, is to cry. That’s right. Cry as long as you need to until the adults get the picture. The louder, the better!
Now you’re an adolescent. You still need food, attention, and sleep—but do you cry every time you need one of those things? Of course not! (How embarrassing!) No, to get the things you need and want in life, you must talk to and listen to your parents.
Now you’re a fully grown, middle aged adult. Do you rely on your parents to provide for you? Is that sustainable?
The lesson here is simple: what worked for you in one phase of life, often won’t work in another. In other words, what got you here, won’t get you there.
Just as a person experiences predictable stages of life, so too do businesses go through their own lifecycle stages.
In his book, “Managing Corporate Lifecycles,” Business Consultant Dr. Ichak Adizes names and describes each stage that a business can progress through, from inception to destruction: Courtship, Infancy, Go-Go, Adolescence, Prime, Stability, Aristocracy, Recrimination, Bureaucracy, and Death.
As Business Advisors, we’re confronted with this concept of “business life cycles” frequently. Many of the business owners we work with don’t realize that, as their business progresses through these stages, their management style and structure also has to change.
(That is, if they want the business to be profitable and avoid those last three stages of decline!)
For example: when a business is in its Go-Go stage (or its high-growth stage), business owners should be “making hay”—doing whatever it takes to carry the business. Conversely, when it’s in its Prime or Stability stage (popular, stable, and profitable), it takes a very different style to manage the business successfully. Business owners must be able to recognize which stage their business is in, and alter the leadership/management style accordingly.
“Whenever an organization makes the transition from one lifecycle stage to the next, difficulties arise,” writes Dr. Adizes. “In order to learn new patterns of behavior, organizations must abandon their old patterns.”
Frequently, we find leaders in organizations who are standing in the way of their own progress, because they continue to do what they've always done. As a result, they become a bottleneck to the organization and don’t even realize it.
In this scenario, our Business Advisors will help the Owner ensure they have the right people in their leadership team whom they can trust to run the business, so they may take a step back from the details and focus on the big picture.
At different stages, different personalities need to be at the forefront of the organization. Where you need a strong entrepreneurial leader in those first stages to just carry those businesses through, in the later stages, those same people need to step back and allow for someone else to run key positions of the business.
For this reason, every business owner who considers themselves to be a lifelong learner should consider adding Dr. Adizes’s “Managing Corporate Lifecycles” to their reading list. It’s an important study in the phrase, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”
But take care not to lean too heavily on any one text for all the answers (like the adolescent leans on the parent). My advice? Take all of the good, wise information that past and present business gurus have given us, and blend it into what you know is happening in your business. So, ask yourself: does your company need more engagement from you as a leader, or does it need you to step back and allow your leadership team to take the helm?
Author, Jerry Olson, is a Business Advisor with The Resultants™. To learn more about Jerry, visit our Team Page or connect with him on LinkedIn.
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