Harness the Current

Access Continuum’s Leadership Model for leading through novel unknowns

Continuum Consulting Services LLC

I am sitting on the back porch, drinking my morning coffee and listening to Bob Dylan’s “Times they are a Changing” play. The words could have been written to describe the times we are living in today. They also made me think about all of the work we have done with Continuum over the years, work that has supported clients going through rapid change. Then, and now, what comes to mind is one model that really resonates.

At Continuum, we are continually surprised at how much this simple Sigmoid Curve (S-Curve) illustration can help clients understand change and growth within their organizations. So many of the groups we work with are challenged about when to jump and catch the next curve. Now more than ever, as leaders navigate COVID 19 business impacts and things change at lightning speed, it is especially important to understand this model.

Here’s how it works.

Early Business

A company begins at the bottom of the S-Curve to vision, create and grow a program or organization. The organization experiences success and growth as it travels up the curve. The challenge is that what made you successful at the beginning of a venture may not be the same behaviors, tools, or strategies that you will need as you continue to grow. Sooner or later the company has to think and create differently. The old adage, “The things that got you here won’t get you there,” holds true.

For example, you have a visionary entrepreneur who leads a successful start-up organization. Everyone the company hires is a go-getter, ready to take on any project. Everyone works best when there are great challenges and little structure. Everyone is involved in decisions and forming the business.

Growth Business

Next, the business grows to 100 people or more. All of a sudden you need more specialized skillsets, standard operating procedures, common structures, and processes to continue to grow the business. It is time to begin a new growth curve.

This was especially evident with a large manufacturing client we were working with. We started working with the leaders before they even broke ground on the new site. We stayed consistently involved until seven years later when the site was up and running, and was successfully sold.

The beginning days for this manufacturing company were like the Wild Wild West. They hired really smart, Type-A, strong-headed, go-getters who loved the craziness, long hours, constant change, empowered decision making, and general chaos that comes with a start-up.

As the company grew, the next S Curve jump involved a shift from a start-up to an operational manufacturing site. Needless to say, the Wild West culture was not conducive to establishing a strong healthy operational manufacturing site. Organizational layers were established, and systems and procedures were put in place to standardize practices. The company also started hiring people with specific expertise who would focus on and grow one area. The culture also shifted in mindset—from an individual contributor mindset to a more team-based one.

For many who were part of the start-up stage, the new, more structured environment was not as much fun and many left to work for another startup. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, as organizations cycle through the curves, it is okay—and often expected—for some people to stay and adapt to the new curve, and some to move on.

Transform Business

This is where things get interesting. For organizational survival and growth, it is imperative that you begin the new curve (idea, product, way of doing business) before the one you are on crashes.

As we lead through current COVID 19 business impacts, transforming how companies do business to meet the challenges of a changing marketplace has never been truer. At the same time that leaders are attempting to deal with the challenges right in front them, they also must think ahead about how to position their companies to catch the next growth curve.

Gamini Hewawasam, CEO & Founder at INT Terminal / FineFinish Engineering, is a great example of a leader who saw the changes coming with COVID 19 and was able to quickly pivot and start a new curve. Hewanwasam, who is based outside of Chicago, runs two businesses, one of which is a machine parts manufacturing firm located in his home country of Sri Lanka. Realizing that people would be under lockdown for an extended amount of time, Hewawasam knew that access to food would become one of the most pressing issues.

What did he do? He transformed his business. Within two weeks, he and his team shifted their entire manufacturing plant operations and started a new company, Goiviyoo. They began manufacturing portable greenhouses that would enable people to grow food themselves year-round.

Adapt and Grow…or Die

The space in the middle of the S Curve is the most challenging to navigate, and it is where most of us are now. It is where transformation is needed, for us personally but also for companies if they want to stay viable and to thrive.

How do you manage through change and uncertainty? How do you encourage your people to change things that, in the past, made them successful but don’t work now? How do you keep up with the everyday challenges of your business and at the same time keep a visionary eye out for the best post COVID next wave? We created the COVID Leadership Model to help.

Remember: Although jumping the curve can mean challenging times for your organization, it is also exciting. It means you have been successfully growing your business.

Now, to succeed as you enter the middle of the curve, two things are critical. Don’t hold onto the past too tightly…and don’t forget to enjoy the ride!