John Lefferts' Blog

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The S curve

A concept I was exposed to early in my career was called "The Sigmoid Curve" also known as the S curve, which was developed and coined by European management guru Charles Handy. It is the simple yet profound way to describe personal, professional and organizational growth/decay. It can be ascribed to relationships, careers, product life cycles, company life cycles, etc. Best explained in graphic form, below is an example of the S curve.

As it relates to one's career, it starts out slowly as they take on a new challenge and growth is slow in the "learning curve". But as they gain competence and confidence, a stage of growth begins up the curve. However, the growth plateaus and is at risk of decline if a new S curve is not started to begin the cycle again. The theory is that what was once new and challenging becomes stale and stagnant and a renewal of sorts is needed to begin a new S curve. If properly planned, Handy suggests that you should begin the seeds of a new S curve near the height of the current cycle you're in as illustrated below:

The plan is for you to develop your new career renewal plan while you are cruising along in growth mode so as to avoid ever being pulled into a decline. And if done right, one's career would be a series of S curves (illustrated below)throughout their I said, this is a concept, not necessarily reality.

Obviously the trick is the timing of when to start a new curve since it's counterintuitive to change something when it's going well. What if GM or the Republican party had the foresight to change their old ways to become new again? Don't relationships and marriages get stale needing renewal? When you think about it, the concept can be applied in numerous situations.

Personally, I have had the good fortune to develop career renewal for my entire tenure at AXA-Equitable. For me, each S curve seemed to last for 5 years and then I would take on an new challenge. It was a great 25 years, but at year end 2008, I found myself at the end of an S curve with no opportunity to recreate one within the AXA corporate structure. So the handwriting was on the wall, it is time to start a new S curve elsewhere...haven't started it yet, but getting close.

Another blog that does perhaps a better job explaining the S curve is this one:

Where are you on your personal or career S curve?


Steve Broe said...

John, your blog offers a great explanation of the S curve and a valuable approach to career renewal. I like the concept of the crucible, a period of transformational experience as described by Warren Bennis. Experienced professionals enter the crucible during a moment of crisis, and find their character, disposition, and professional temperment refined. Leaders often emerge during the crucible experience.

Dr. Steve Broe

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