Travel Industry Leader @Accenture | Public speaker | Passionate Leader Diversity & Inclusion | Network champion.
Every city, organization and company has something in common: a defined life cycle. Take New Orleans for example. U.S. Route 90 – part of the Ponchartrain Highway – bisects the heart of New Orleans, connecting the south shore of Lake Ponchartrain with communities below the Mississippi River. If you’ve traveled to “NOLA” before, you know the east side of the highway, because that’s where you’ll find the business district and all the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter. The west side of the highway – at least the immediate west – is a very different environment. The ‘Central City’ was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and continues to struggle with homelessness, underemployment, repopulation and poor infrastructure.
So why mention the west side of the highway at all? Because it is part of the city. And because it’s part of New Orleans, the neighborhoods and stories are important to the vitality of the entire region. While this area of New Orleans is lagging far behind the economic strength of its eastern counterparts, it is rising in 2022 due to the vision and sweat of community leaders, business owners, and engaged groups. The alternative to taking the initiative in Central City is further decline and negative effects throughout New Orleans.
The same principle applies to companies. If you ignore any part of your business life cycle, the entire organization will eventually suffer the decline and negative effects of the neglected part.
The life cycle
Organizational theory describes the stages of the common life cycle as “beginning, growth, maturity and decay or revitalization.” A more nuanced, businesslike look at the life cycle may include stages such as seeding, startup, growth and establishment, expansion and maturity or exit.
While most of us in leadership understand that our organizations and businesses go through life cycles because of natural processes and disruptive events, our stakeholders — and even some of our colleagues — often find the transitions between the advanced stages scary or worse.
In my work in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) space, for example, I find that many “old school” or less progressive leaders continue to struggle with the idea that DEI work requires much more than hiring someone to run an office. and comply with management policy. I’ve heard leaders say by heart, “We never needed this DEI stuff in the past.” Infusing a robust DEI program into your business — what we might call revitalization in the lifecycle of an organization, or maturity in the business-focused vision — can be quite terrifying for those who are very content with the status quo.
But here’s the reality: leaders lead throughout the organization’s lifecycle and throughout the organization. If you neglect one corner of the business or downplay any stage of the life cycle, everyone suffers and sooner or later your business could end up on the market exit.
Know what you’re looking at
The most critical step one can take in leading the entire organization and through the organization’s life cycle is to identify and value the currents that mark the different stages of your organization’s life. For this current context, let’s focus on the business life cycle.
In the beginning, you sow the company. This is the exciting, entrepreneurial phase of a business leading up to the “big reveal” at startup. We all know what it’s like to be at the top of a great idea and a brand new company: it’s exciting. If the company is somewhat on its way to growth, establishment and expansion, the energy level can remain high and the inertia to innovate remains palpable.
However, companies get stuck when they come of age or are startled by outside influences, such as a global pandemic for example. This is where leaders really show their ability or incompetence. Organizational guru Sophia Fromello says leaders equipped to navigate the maturity stage of the business lifecycle are “not controlled by limiting beliefs.” This sentiment rings true in times of external pressure or disruptive events. Leaders who are quick to announce that the sky will collapse at the start of a transition or disruption cannot lead the entire company and through all stages of the business cycle.
Some leaders reach the exit with their companies and see that it is time to spend money. I admire anyone who does their homework and then concludes on principle that it is time to ensure a healthy end to the business so that team members and stakeholders can move forward with their investments and lives. However, most exit ramps mean that a company is mature and must re-invest to remain robust and relevant. At this stage of the lifecycle, there are many opportunities to return to the early and start-up stages of the organization’s lifecycle.
Remember my comments about DEI work? This is an example of seeding and starting something new from a place of maturity. In my DEI leadership over the years, I’ve helped companies understand that they can bring forth innovations in human resources and community engagement from the ‘home’ without dismantling the entire company. That is the power of reinvestment. One can make significant changes to an organization – for the better – without compromising the legacy identity.
The important thing is to reinvest when maturity or disruption arrives. Doing nothing leads to certain death. That’s what’s going on in New Orleans, 17 years after Katrina: Exit areas like the Central City on the west side of Route 90 are now capitalizing on the entrepreneurial spirit of residents old and new who refuse to let limiting beliefs control them.
Know the life cycle. Know where your business is in the lifecycle. And be prepared to reinvest when it comes time to do so.