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 decline.

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 maintained.

Introduction

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 potential.

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.

Growth

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.

Maturity

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 interested.

Decline

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.

References

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.