Every living thing, from the simplest organism to human beings, has a life cycle. The pattern is familiar: moving from simple to more complex, from beginnings and rapid growth to maturity, decline, and death. Each stage requires specific types of nurture before moving to the next. You may not think companies have life cycles, but they do.

We’ve talked about the importance of HR personnel getting out of their box and learning the business. But knowing where your company or product falls along the business life cycle is equally important. Why?

Company Life cycle

Whether for a person or for a company, each stage has particular needs and presents particular challenges and opportunities. The company life cycle is often divided into four sections: Introduction, Growth, Maturity, and Decline.

Just as a newborn needs a lot of attention and care in order to grow, companies or a product line in early stages of development and launch require a big shot of creativity and energy before getting off the ground. A company experiencing decline may need a change in management or training to prepare employees for a new task. Different stage. Different needs. HR will do its best job when it’s tuned in to not only what’s needed in the present, but also what’s coming up.

What It Means for HR

For example, imagine you work in a company that manufactures medical devices. Introduction: Your R&D department has come up with an idea for a new gizmo. HR will be looking for talent to bring onboard. Growth: As the product moves from idea to production and sales, you’ll need to find marketers that can show healthcare providers and care centers why this new product will provide better outcomes for their patients. You may need to expand your workforce. Maturity: As bureaucracy develops, you’ll have additional tasks: forms, training programs, and planning for increased workforce needs.

Decline: Eventually, what was once new becomes old, and customers flock to the new product taking over your niche. Sales drop as does the need for the specialized workforce. Now HR will be involved in retraining employees or perhaps assisting them through the process of finding and transitioning into new employment. Of course, the hope is that the R&D team has come up with a new idea, and the product life cycle is beginning again.

It’s Always about the People

As always, throughout the process, HR’s concern is with employees: Finding new ones, engaging current ones, and helping them exit when necessary. HR will be most effective if it’s a step ahead of the game. You want to see what’s going to be needed before it’s immediate. Much better to be looking for fresh talent and enthusiastic marketers, or lining up retraining programs before someone walks into the office and says, “We need more developers,” or “We have to lay off 50 workers.”

The best way to avoid surprises, serve and retain employees, and contribute to your company’s success is to have a good idea of where it falls on the spectrum. It may be in a few places at once! One product or service may be in developing stages while another is on the way out. But by networking with the other departments and having a grasp of the big picture, you’ll know that. After all, you’ve put in some time on the life cycle!


Joe Rotella, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Joe Rotella, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Chief Marketing Officer at Delphia Consulting
Joe is a leading thinker and a professional speaker in the areas of HR technology, marketing, and web usability. He is a well-recognized speaker for the Society of Human Resources Management.