Predictable Success – Getting your Organization on the Growth Track, and keeping it there

May 6, 2012 | By

Predictable Success is one of the seven stages of growth and decline through which every organization progresses. Not every organization makes it all the way through all seven stages – some organizations stop at one or more stages; some make it to one stage, then drop back to the previous stage or stages;
and some organizations die at a certain stage.


The Predictable Success Growth Cycle
Predictable Success is the apex of the growth curve. The three stages before Predictable Success (Early Struggle, Fun and Whitewater) are growth stages. The stages after Predictable Success (Treadmill, The Big Rut and Death Rattle) are decline stages.

There are three important things to note about the growth cycle:

  1. Organizations cannot “jump” a stage. For example, it’s not possible to move into Predictable Success directly from Fun, bypassing Whitewater, no more than it’s possible to jump from childhood to adulthood while bypassing puberty. Every organization trying to get to Predictable Success will move through Early Struggle, Fun and Whitewater at some point. However, by taking the right steps, it is possible to minimize the time spent in a specific stage.
  2. Organizations can move back as well as forward in the growth cycle. For example, it is possible (and quite common) for an organization to cycle in and out of Whitewater and Fun a number of times. As we’ll see, this is the fate of most organizations that do not take a planned approach to attaining Predictable Success.
  3. It is possible for an organization to remain in Predictable Success indefinitely. By implementing the right strategies, any organization, division, department, group or team can undergo a process of continuous rejuvenation, allowing it to stay in Predictable Success and not decline either back into Whitewater or forward into Treadmill.

What Predictable Success Is Not

  • It’s not about size. Small organizations can be in Predictable Success, large organizations, too. Other organizations never get there, irrespective of how big they grow. Any organization,of any size, can be in Predictable Success if managed correctly.
  • It’s not about age. Being in Predictable Success has nothing to do with the chronological age of organizations – a young organization can be in Predictable Success, and some very old organizations never get there.
  • It’s not about money or other resources. Resource-rich organizations cannot buy their way into Predictable Success. Conversely, if they take the right steps, resource challenged organizations can make it to Predictable Success (and in doing so, will also resolve their resource needs faster than they would have otherwise).
  • It’s not a culture. Predictable Success is not about adopting any one organizational culture. Organizations in Predictable Success don’t all adopt the same way of doing business, use the same management style or follow the same “gurus”. They each have a unique way of doing business that is specific to their own culture and goals. Predictable Success organizations can be highly disciplined, or looser and more freewheeling. They can be for-profit or not-for-profit, family oriented or more “corporate” in style – it doesn’t matter.
  • It’s not about how meetings are held. Although you can tell a lot about any organization by watching how its meetings are conducted, this is an effect, not a cause. Meetings in Predictable Success organizations are run a certain way because they are in Predictable Success, not the other way around.
  • It’s not about the industry you’re in; Predictable Success is entirely industry-neutral.

Seven stages of growth and decline

Here’s a brief “helicopter ride” through the Predictable Success growth cycle. See how many stages you can recognize from your own experience:

Early Struggle. It feels as if you’re hacking through the jungle, fighting to keep your newborn organization alive. The two main challenges are (1) making sure there is enough cash to keep going, until (2) you’ve clearly established that there is a market for your product or service. The mortality rate of organizations is high in this stage – more than two-thirds of all organizations don’t make it out of Early Struggle. You’re fighting for your organization’s very existence.

Fun. You’ve broken through the Early Struggle – you have cash (at least enough to take the pressure off) and an established market. It’s time to have Fun! Now you’re free to concentrate on getting your product or service into the market, so the key focus now moves from cash to sales. This is the time when the organization’s myths and legends are built, and the “Big Dogs” emerge – those loyal high producers who build the business exponentially in this time of rapid, first-stage growth.

Whitewater. The very success that you reaped in the Fun stage brings with it the seeds of Whitewater: Your organization becomes complex, and the key emphasis shifts once more, from sales to profitability. Achieving sustained, profitable growth requires you to put in place consistent processes, policies and systems. Unfortunately, putting those systems in place proves harder than you expected. Making the right decisions seems easy, but implementing decisions and making them stick is incredibly difficult. The organization seems to be going through an identity crisis, and you may even be doubting your leadership and management skills.

Predictable Success. You’ve developed a team that has successfully navigated your organization through Whitewater – congratulations! You have reached the prime stage in your organization’s growth: Predictable Success. Here, you can set (and consistently achieve) your goals and objectives with a consistent, predictable degree of success. Unlike Fun (when you were growing, but weren’t quite sure how or why), in Predictable Success you know why you are successful, and you can use that information to sustain growth in the long term.

Treadmill. In principle, there is no reason for any organization to decline from the position of Predictable Success. In practice, many organizations begin to swing too far toward dependence on process and policies. Creativity, risk taking and initiative decline in response, and the organization becomes increasingly formulaic and arthritic. Working for the organization at this stage in its development can feel like being on a Treadmill: A lot of energy is being expended, but there’s little sense that forward momentum is being achieved. There’s an overemphasis on data over action, on form over content. Good people start to leave—many of whom have been with the organization for some time. Even the entrepreneurial founder(s) (if they’re still there) may be becoming frustrated and threatening to leave also.

The Big Rut. Treadmill is a dangerous stage in the organization’s development. If it is checked in time, creativity, risk taking and flexibility can be re-injected, taking the organization back to Predictable Success. Left unchecked, however, the organization will decline further into The Big Rut. At this stage, process and administration have become more important than action and results. Worse, the organization loses its ability to be self-aware and cannot diagnose its own sickness and decline. When an organization reaches The Big Rut, it can stay there for a long time on a very gradual decline.

Death Rattle. Eventually, for all bureaucracies, there is a final attempt to resuscitate the organization, whether by the appointment of bankruptcy practitioners or by being acquired. Either way, the organization will not survive in its present form. After a brief Death Rattle (when illusory signs of life may be seen), the organization dies in its present form.

Based on the book Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization on the Growth Track – and Keeping It There written by LES McKEOWN, President & CEO of Predictable Success. In this role, he advises CEOs and senior leaders of organizations on how to achieve scalable, sustainable growth and speaks to Fortune 500 companies about his breakthrough strategies.

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