Setting up and then growing a business can feel like a white knuckle ride - full of expectation and adrenaline, with the highs and lows that punctuate every turn. The experience can be exhilarating, exhausting and transformational.
One of the reasons that the business' development feels this way for those involved is because, consciously or subconsciously, they are riding one of nature's oldest predictive models - the S Curve.
The S Curve and business
The S curve, also known as the logistic curve, plots the growth of one variable against another. The relationship between the two variables follows this pattern because they are constrained by a limiting factor which determines the S shaped trajectory. Whether it's cell growth, economic forecasts, international development, stock market performance or, most famously, the product innovation cycle, the S Curve has been helpful in predicting future outcomes.
In the development of a business, the S curve is typically used to describe the performance of a company or a product over a period of time, often with cash, turnover, market share or profit as the quantum that defines success.
The Stages of Growth
Businesses, or the products of businesses, that follow an S curve have recognisable stages of growth:
Lessons from the S Curve
So you get the picture?
Using the the S-curve is a helpful metaphor to allow businesses to anticipate their next steps. It also provides comfort to those businesses that are initially investing time and effort for minimal returns. It is also an important model for those businesses that are riding the success curve, apparently impervious to any potential downfall. History is littered with examples of businesses that failed to realise they had entered the decline phase: - Blockbuster (failed to anticipate the impact of online delivery); Royal Bank of Scotland (displayed leadership arrogance and failed to anticipate market failure); Blackberry (failed to innovate).
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
When using the model with clients, I find that there a number of lessons that can be drawn from using it:
1. Limiting Factor? What are yours? Each stage a company will have different limiting factors that are impacting its future progress - only through understanding these can the business mitigate these.
2. Staff expertise and capacity. So often I have found that the very skills that were a premium at the outset become a major risk later on. Constant review of what skills and development are required is essential.
3. Competitor analysis. Without having a radar on the marketplace and understanding what customers are buying (instead of yours) is a key risk for the business. The chances of being overtaken by competitors increases.
4. Continuous Improvement. Operational processes can be the one form of competitive advantage through the maturity phase when the market demands good value through the right channels - so make sure you get them right.
5. Avoiding decline. Unless you want your business to take the inevitable journey to obscurity, you have two choices. Either extend the existing S curve by becoming more efficient or leap on to a new S Curve. This can be a modification of your current business strategy but one that addresses the emerging market needs.
6. Measuring success. How you measure success for your business will change over time. At the onset, getting new profitable customers is crucial whilst in the growth phase it is more critical to ensure operational effectiveness.
7. Business strategy and leadership. The S curve is a great tool to use in tandem with other business strategy tools (see SWOT, Ansoff's Matrix or the Lean Canvas) and the best business leaders will use them in tandem to help develop a clear business strategy.
Chris Lorimer is a highly experienced business consultant who coaches leaders of businesses of all sizes and across all sectors. He is based in Devon, UK.
Chris Lorimer is an
experienced consultant who has helped many organisations to grow through his unique 4 Ps approach.