Several months ago, in mid-July, I noticed an untimely phenomenon in our backyard. A tree that towered high above our two-story home began dropping brown, dead leaves. And while the annual cycle of falling leaves wasn’t uncommon, we were used to it happening in October and November instead.
But the tree had been struggling for a while, and this was the signal that it was truly dead. After dropping all its leaves and some small branches, we finally called a tree service to cut it down and remove it. They had a very efficient process to sever the branches, then chop the trunk, cart away the wood, and even grind the stump with the dirt into the ground.
Afterward, we could level the ground, lay some topsoil and plant grass. There was no longer any sign that it ever existed. As beautiful as trees are, we don’t miss it because it hadn’t served much purpose for several years. It wasn’t providing sufficient shade or beauty in the yard. We knew its days were numbered, and we simply hadn’t taken the time (and money) to address it.
Contrast that with my morning walk in early October when I noticed moist leaves with warm tones of rust and gold that had fallen around healthy trees. This is part of preparing and protecting trees from the harsh cycle of winter and giving them a fresh start in the spring, as their nutrients are recycled to help grow the next leafy generation.
As I later reflected on it, the tree represented a life cycle: birth, growth and transition. And for all things created, there’s a time to live and a time to die.
Understanding the life cycle of business evolution
Everything exists to fulfill a need — within organizations, that includes strategies, processes, routines, products and services. They grow and flourish as they connect with the goals and objectives they serve to yield better results. They must progress and change out of necessity to meet evolving organizational and stakeholder needs. Eventually, the effectiveness decreases because its ability to meet demand lessens. The requirement may be redefined, or other competing forces encroach upon it, or it simply lives out its useful lifespan.
But everything that is created grows and evolves, eventually transitioning and being replaced by something more practical. Personal computers and word-processing software replaced typewriters. Automation is replacing human effort. Artificial intelligence is replacing writing skills and human data analysis.
The key for all of us is to let go of what no longer serves us well. This can be difficult because of our pleasant memories of the past and our resistance to change. Or we may be too distracted with other seemingly more important things to recognize the reality that’s staring us in the face.
Evaluating your business evolution
To ensure we’re optimizing the best processes, strategies, routines, products and services for our teams and organizations, we need to distinguish between whether “falling leaves” represent a seasonal change or the end of the life cycle. This is an opportunity to ask three questions and take action.
What’s working well?
Celebrate and continue to do it!
What needs refreshing?
This is a seasonal change. Like a fresh coat of paint, investing energy in business evolution can be exciting . This can lead to more creative ideas and suggestions with a significant impact. Assign a project team. Gain stakeholder input. Communicate!
What no longer serves its purpose?
This is the end of the life cycle. Most of your team will be able to identify what’s not working; however, they may have pushed it aside because of how it impacts their roles or the uncertainty that change represents. But just like dead leaves in the Fall, reality is constantly in front of you until you finally need to do something about it. Celebrate how it served you in the past and those who were critical to its success. Then put it to rest. Replace it symbolically or tangibly with something newer that meets a current need. And move forward. Occasionally, in hindsight, you’ll wish you had done it sooner.
Leaders with expert vision can foresee when this transition is coming. They recognize when the effectiveness of a process is waning, when it becomes more challenging to achieve good results, when new trends are replacing existing norms, when stakeholders’ interests are shifting, when new technology is completely changing how we accomplish our goals.
Don’t waste time and money by delaying the inevitable. Instead, invest in the future of growth.
For more tips on business growth, read Words Matter: Clarifying Your Business Vision.