As educators who teach marketing, management, and computer
information systems, we can't even count the number of times we
have conveyed the concept of the life cycle diagram. We've used it
to indicate how consumer and business products move from
development to decline, as well as how technology moves from
innovation to decline and computer programming moves from code to
action. Regardless of the discipline, the basic principles are the
same: something advances from stage to stage and is impacted by
changes in the situational environment.
The traditional product life cycle stages are Introduction, Growth,
Maturity, and Decline. Plotted into a chart, its curve begins low
and peaks around the Maturity phase, curving back downward in
As we reflected on our teaching, we began to look at the catalyst
behind the cycle--human performance. It is indeed people who
establish and prolong the life cycle in whatever capacity. Thus the
product life cycle curve can also apply to human performance. After
all, employees are products too, and they need to be developed and
Traditionally, a product in this stage has low sales and revenues
with slow development but with quality being established. Products
need marketing awareness, and consumers must learn of the product's
In parallel, new employees may initially have low productivity that
results in lower output. They may not be very sociable until they
feel accepted by others in the workplace. They are learning the
culture and the standards desired by the organization. New
employees need to be educated in all facets of their new workplace
during this stage. During this stage, new employees need mentors
and coaches who can spend quality time with them and who can
increase their knowledge of work responsibilities and culture.
During the growth stage, product sales volumes and revenues greatly
increase with greater acceptance in the marketplace. Product
improvements become numerous and result in greater efficiencies.
With competition also growing, it is essential that product quality
is maintained while new features and support services are added.
The aim is toward broader acceptance.
The same is true for employees who reach this stage. They continue
to pursue acceptance within the company. They become more
proficient in their responsibilities, thereby reducing costs for
the organization. Employees in this stage must be given
opportunities to improve through empowerment, job rotation, and new
learning opportunities. With their increased productivity, they
become in higher demand and are more recognized by their peers.
Products that reach the maturity stage initially have relatively
high sales volumes and revenues. Growth begins to slow; however, as
fewer market opportunities exist. Products in this stage have
reached their potential. Many new development opportunities are
passed by due to increasing costs and little potential. With few
new customers, products need new product features and developments
to maintain existing clientele. Further, existing customers still
require increased servicing and availability.
Employees who reach the maturity stage of human performance may be
individuals who have been with an organization for a prolonged
period of time or who have achieved and passed through the
introduction and growth stages. In either situation, these
employees may start to feel stagnated because they have climbed the
learning curve, gained awareness and empowerment, gone through job
rotations and trainingand now those types of activities may be
reduced. It is key to provide employees with opportunities for
growth and learning. The key word is opportunity. Despite costs and
a view of little potential, organizations must look to the future
of increased efficiencies and long-term employee loyalty.
Developmental pathways must be created to keep employees
In this stage products are somewhat overtaken by competition, and
more useful alternatives are available in the marketplace. Existing
sales tap into those who waited until the last minute to buy and
the remaining loyal consumers. Three alternatives exist here: (1)
the product can be rejuvenated, (2) the product can be maintained
for loyal consumers, or (3) the product can be discontinued.
With employees, organizations would do well to make use of all
human resources. Career development plans should be constantly
updated so that employees are not unnecessarily eliminated or
replaced. Organizations must ensure that all of their employees are
not simply maintained but rejuvenated. This will result in employee
longevity, continued loyalty, consistent performance outcomes,
fewer recruitment costs, fewer retraining costs, and increased
revenues. Organizations should not wait until employees leave or
find other employment before providing career development pathways.
It is important to note that the human performance life cycle, like
the product life cycle, can be made up of multiple employees
performing similar tasks who each have their own individual human
performance life cycle. This provides a further challenge to
keeping the life cycle in motion. Human performance can be the
lifeblood of an organization. Knowing the actions and reactions at
each cycle stage--and providing an appropriate response--gives
organizations the opportunity to be consistent and productive in
industry, government, and service.
Bateman, T.S. & Snell, S.A., (2007). Management: Leading &
collaborating in a competitive world 7th ed. Boston:
McGraw Hill Irwin.
Marketing Modelling Matrix, (2004).
2007 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.