Whether growing or floundering, every organization reflects the individuals and leadership of which it is made. At the same time, from top to bottom, from vision to execution, each individual evolves and becomes what they strive for as they reach their individual goals. What that means is that the organization is experiencing and reflecting what the individual employees and leadership are experiencing, and vice-versa. Take the S Curve as an example.
At the corporate level, the S Curve is a representation or prediction of what a business will experience over its lifecycle. Every business starts the S-curve model at the bottom. The new business has a new or improved product or service. As the business gains traction in the market, the business begins to grow. At first, the growth can be slow, and then it develops more rapidly as customers see value in the product, services or combination of both. Eventually, factors come into play, both internal and external, that cause the growth rate to decline and many times flatten.
Quality leadership will see this flattening as an opportunity, and more importantly a critical point for the business. With clarity around what their customers want, and understanding of market changes, they will find a way to stay not just relevant, but more importantly find a new value proposition and strategic advantage. The company’s growth curve turns back up and growth becomes positive again, moving on to the next S Curve. If leadership does nothing to renew its presence in the market, the turning point becomes permanent and they find themselves plunging toward the depths of the ocean. Many times, this leads to the sale of the business at a reduced value.
As individuals, we sometimes reach our own S Curve except we call it something else: The Learning Curve. This becomes particularly true if we work in organizations that are not growing at a pace that provides opportunities for high performing talent.
The phases of the Learning Curve look much like the organizational S Curve:
1. Phase I: Bottom of the curve; low/launch - inexperience; usually slow and discouraging.
2. Phase II: Exhilaration and learning; hard but not too hard; you’re in your sweet spot
3. Phase III: Master your domain; Followed by boredom; questioning your future
Maybe you’ve been in your position for too long and are getting bored. Just like an organization, this is usually the case when you are no longer growing, and everything inside you is telling you it’s time to remake yourself. Professionally you have plateaued, and you feel that plateau will become an irreversible precipice. It’s time to act.
It may feel too scary to jump to the next level at this point, but you realize that it’s equally scary to stay in place. Here is the first question you need to ask: Can you make that jump within the company and help the company solve an important issue? Is there a problem your company needs to solve? Ask your boss for the opportunity but remember, before you do, you must be confident that you have trained your successor first! Your motto throughout your career should be: “Work myself out of my job”, and this part of the Learning Curve can result in just that: in the best way.
As leaders who manage and lead all levels of talent, we need people who can and want to grow. We need to build and grow our organizations to encourage our talent to jump to their next personal S Curve. It’s either that or they will leave, or worse yet disengage, which is bad for them and your company.
The key to a growing a well-run organization that can thrive through various iterations of S Curves and talent succession, is to align each employee's Learning Curve with the company’s growth. This ensures you are ready with the leadership and talent in place for the challenge of moving to the next S Curve, and in so doing provide for succession across the organization.