This blog touches on the unanticipated findings during your on-boarding process.

You understood your new company to be mature yet you’re discovering it to be very immature. You’ve discovered there are few documented processes, everyone seems to be fighting fires and there isn’t a HR policy manual. Or vise versa, everything has a documented procedure and there is no room for innovation.

You have a fixed amount of time to investigate a new employer during the interview period. Performing an exhaustive research to make an 100% informed decision about the new employer is impossible. For example, during a merger or acquisition, professionals using a tried & true process to research the to-be-acquired company, and they still can’t find everything. You research the company in the time allotted and to the best of your abilities.


Businesses exist in one of four phases of in their lifespan, which Author Michael Watkins refers to the STARS model:

  1. Startup
  2. Turnarounds
  3. Accelerated Growth
  4. Realignment
  5. Sustaining success

Startup – The company is trying to launch a new business, product or service. Limited financial resources, employees are usually less focused on key issues, there is ongoing excited confusion, your assembling startup’s capabilities, corporate memory is virtually non-existent – residing with a few key resources – the company’s primary goal is often fiscal survival. You must channel the excited confusion into a productive direction. You need measurable goals and create value, often requiring tough calls. By definition, startups are on the offensive requiring hunter type management.

Turnaround – Stakeholders know what the problems are, but not what to do about it. For example, the product is at end-of-life with no replacement in sight or a competitor has been relentlessly eating away at your business greatly eroding the financial viability of the business, but at least the team recognizes the consequences and they are hungry for hope. At any given time, between 20 and 30 percent of all companies are in need of a turnaround (J. Murphy 1986). Staff may be demoralized. You need to teach people the need for change and about the problems. Your business, process or product takes on a defensive strategy. You have one goal, which is to get to a defendable line, meaning you’ll have to make tough calls. Again, hunter type management is required.

Accelerated Growth – Managing a rapidly growing business. Putting processes and systems in place to enable the business to scale. The growth helps motivate people who will in-turn stretch themselves to achieve objectives.

Realignment – People are unwilling to see the forest for the trees, they are in denial. The challenge is dealing with ingrained cultural norms and convincing employees that change is necessary. You will still likely to have strong people, products or technologies. You have to create a sense of urgency. A farmer management type is needed here. Hunter type management types don’t work well here.

Sustaining Success – This is the plateau companies strive for. Complacency sets in. Innovation slows. You have to create a new challenge to fend off complacency and find new areas to succeed or grow. A farmer management type is needed here to take the company to the next level.

Multiple Phases

It’s not uncommon to find a company existing in multiple phases of a business’s life cycle. Various departments, products or systems/processes may each exist in a different phase. For example

  • A Sustaining Success firm could be launching a new product line, which falls into a Startup category,
  • A company may have just been acquired by a firm in Turnaround.

You need to identify where each key department, product, or process exists in the STARS model. This will enable you to procedurally tackle the unique issues in each category with a common framework unique to that category.

Take some time to categorize your new situation as this will aid in strategizing your approach to each. Categorize the departments, processes and products as you learn about them.

There is much business literature on the various phases of businesses. If you find your business / department / process / product entrenched in any particular state, suggest learning more about that one specific phase.

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