Applies to Businesses, Families, and Everything Else

After chairing a recent Board meeting for a charity I’ve been involved with for over a decade, I was reflecting on how much that organisation has grown since I first became involved as a volunteer.

The needs of the local inner-city community we serve have changed with immigration and gentrification, and the services we offer needed to continue to evolve for us to be the best resource possible for our members.

At the same time, the way we manage ourselves as an organisation has continued to mature and become more clear and formal, especially regarding the processes and procedures followed by our leadership team.

Our challenge as a Board is to also continue to grow, evolve, and mature, to match what’s been going on “on the ground”, as it pertains to governance.

Noticing Growth, Evolution, and Maturity, Everywhere

I’ve long been a fan of acronyms and have shared a few over the years in this space.

See Start Cleaning Up your M.E.S.S., Is your Continuity PAL in Danger? and The “Family HUG” We’re All Looking for, for a few examples.

I’ve tried to leave a proverbial trail of breadcrumbs above, and I bet some of you have already caught on to the GEM acronym I noted in my title.

We’re talking about Growth, Evolution, and Maturity this week, because these processes are always going on, even though we rarely ever notice them.

Far too often we worry about the short term, minute-by-minute and day-to-day concerns that are always front and center.

To notice the GEMs, though, you really need to take the time to step back and look at a much longer arc of time.

The Business’ Cycle

Like the charitable organisation mentioned above, most businesses also follow a pattern of growth and evolution that can last for years and decades, end eventually hit some sort of maturity phase.

Maturity itself can last a long time and we don’t even typically recognize maturity until it’s well underway.

Career cycles of those who work in the business also evolve, and key members see a growth in their responsibilities as that happens.  

Long time employees hit their stride and mature into roles, and if they’re lucky enough to stay until retirement, you can sometimes witness them coming down the other side of the maturity hill.

This isn’t always a bad thing, of course, especially when it has been expected and planned for, and replacements have been properly on-boarded.

The Family Business Version

Successful family businesses that have survived at least one generational transition each go through their own versions of this, and that’s where we’ll spend the rest of our discussion.

The founding generation goes through the progression first, and hopefully by the time they’re into the maturity phase, they’ve got other team members also growing into their roles and evolving with the business’ needs.

Ideally that’ll include some who are the offspring of the founder(s) and they can follow a similar journey.

So why am I even raising this idea?

My concern goes back to a point I made above, about the fact that you need to take the time and step back to see this, otherwise you won’t recognize what’s occurring.

To Everything There Is a Season

While the business is doing it’s day-to-day, month-to-month, and quarter-to-quarter thing, you know, the “Busy-Ness”, not everyone recognizes the progression of the individuals in the different generations of the family.

As the “now gen” are cresting the maturity hill, their “next gen” followers are rapidly ascending the growth and evolution stages, trying to catch up.

In fact, in an ideal scenario, both generations spend time together near the top of that hill and co-create a future for the organisation.

Contrast that with a stubborn leader who will not acknowledge that they’ve arrived at maturity and need to be thinking about their own eventual exit.

The unfortunate follow-on effect is a tendency to downplay the growth and evolution of their replacements, in order to justify their hold on that perch.

There IS Another Side to that Hill

I guess my main message here is that there is another side to the maturity hill.

The best descent from that peak is a gentle, gradual, and planned one.

This can (and should) be part of a long process, where the gems of the organisation can gradually ascend, all while having been encouraged to do so.

Battles for “king of the hill” are counterproductive.