Monday, 8 November 2010

A Company's Four Seasons

Lately I tweeted and viewed some tweets and pics about Autumn, or Fall for you Americans out there, and today I thought that the season-life cycle isn't only for nature, or humans, but companies as well: there are Four Seasons to a company

I somewhat described some of those in an earlier post, and called it my order of organisation:
  1. idea
  2. entrepreneur
  3. company
  4. enterprise
  5. multinational
  6. bureaucracy
  7. faceless bureaucratic institution
  8. extinction
There's eight of them, a bit more than four, and they describe a certain one-way path. I didn't know back then what I do know now: there are four seasons to an organisation, and if an organisation doesn't obey "the laws of nature", it dies: ending up at the bottom of the food chain to serve as compost for others

If you're a faceless bureaucratic institution, you've disobeyed the laws of nature: that's why these can be only upheld by the government, who burns our money beyond recognition on these structures.
Sometimes, very rarely, one of these is a private company, mammoth-size of course, a multinational enterprise gone wild. You can recognise them by their margins: they net a mere couple of thousand, sometimes even only a few hundred, dollars per employee. They don't have an R&D budget, but talk a lot about innovation. And they fail to attract and / or retain young "offspring"

Now, to the four stages of organisation-cycle: each is also characterised by a clear focus: inside or outside, and in and out. At the end, the cycle continues again from the start

Stage 1: Inside-out
Comparable to Spring, in the beginning there's an idea: a seed. That seed grows, and becomes a bud. The bud blossoms, becoming a flower.
The entrepreneur launches his company, hires a few people, and prepares everything to grow, get out there, spread the word. The work is hard, but bright and shiny, fresh.
Innovation is at its peak: new ideas, inventions and / or implementations flow freely.
I'm right there at the moment, and it is a very exciting stage to be at

Stage 2: Outside-out
Comparable to Summer, the flowers become fruits. If the flowers have been sold earlier, there will be no fruits here now! Otherwise, anything goes.
The company thrives, becomes bigger and bigger, glows, shines, and radiates its beauty to everyone around. At full growth, it is naturally attracting customers and employees without effort.
Innovation has become less of a primary objective, as there are now multitudes of customers and employees to take care of: it is them who made the company big

Stage 3: Outside-in
Comparable to Autumn, the fruits are gone, the growth is over: the company shrinks. Time for change.
The company reorganises, adds management in an attempt to regain control, searching for the lost fruits, trying to preserve the leaves from dropping (talent from leaving). To keep growing, other companies are bought, and absorbed by the masses.
Looking to save energy wherever possible, the focus turns outside-in as well: cost saving is the primary objective for the hordes of management, and Innovation is the first to be sacrificed. Next is the employee itself

Stage 4: Inside-in
Comparable to Winter, the time to change is gone too. The shrinking continues, all the young and fresh things are gone now, and only the old and stubborn remain.
Education, travel, phone usage, expenses in general, and, especially, salary growth is cut back to or even beyond the extreme. Even mentioning the word innovation equals the death penalty.
All the energy and gains left, no matter how little, go to the old, to make them ready for hibernation. There is no place for young or new within organisations like these

Then, Spring comes again. The old withdraw, leaving the organisation in the hands of new and countless young. Innovation returns, and sheer endless energy from the young boasts the company to yet (an)other new height(s):

What if the winter isn't spent in hibernation, but in futile attempts to propel in an early Spring or bring back a past Summer? The outcome is clear: too much energy is spent, and when the time's there for the new year, and Spring fires its starting gun, the entire structure collapses in its last attempt to move along

Obey the seasons: listen to your heart. Turn the page when it's time

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