HR Business Partner’s Contribution in the 4 Stages of a Product Life Cycle


HR Business Partners Contribution in the 4 Stages of a Product Life Cycle

By Antoinette (Toni) Ford, HR Strategist and Facilitator, Institute OD

I was sorting out some of my parent’s boxes the other day when I came across some old items, including a record player complete with 33 1/3 records, and some VHS tapes.  It brought up memories from an economics class I had back in college and I recalled my professor who introduced me to the Four Stages of the Product Life Cycle.  What I found in my parent’s old box were products that now reside in Phase Four, which for them is in a boxed graveyard.  These products predictably failed to sustain the test of time in the marketplace.  While it’s true there may still be some collectors, their place in history now resides in the past.  As I recalled the Four Phases of the Product Life Cycle, I realized how it affects more than just products.  It also affects people and their careers.

As Human Resource professionals, we need to be in touch with where our organization is at in the four cycles and how it impacts the various people within the process. Reviewing the hiring process may be a good place to start.  While knowledge, skills and abilities remain the cornerstone of hiring, there are now other attributes that play a critical role.  More than ever, what is required now is the ability to be agile, flexible and resilient.  How can these attributes be identified during the hiring, promoting and transferring of positions?  Does the training and development include an understanding of how things change and the need for greater agility?  How do we reposition people and is it always possible?  Let’s start with a brief summary of the phases.

The Four Stages of the Product Life Cycle


Phase One: Entrepreneurial (Introduction)


A new product is developed.  It’s risky, scary, fun and exciting for people who prosper under leaders of the “Ready, Fire, Aim” type of management.  Developing and launching the product/service requires lots of long hours, running around, chaos and getting the product showcased.  Research says that 80% of companies and products fail within the first two-to-five years.  That doesn’t stop the believers, and their enthusiasm can be both intoxicating and frustrating.  Which brings us to the second phase.

Phase Two: Managed Growth (Growth)


Great ideas and products can fail if growth is not well managed.  We all know products from our childhood that no longer exist in the marketplace.  In this second phase, people are buying the product and competitors start entering the field.  Typically, you will see policies and procedures put into place.  Sales are high, prices drop, and marketing, streamlining and organization is the new battle cry.

Phase Three: Maintenance (Maturity)


The third phase is exemplified by product acceptance within the given marketplace.  The excitement of the entrepreneurial atmosphere is replaced by a largely saturated marketplace and holding the competition at bay. Sales tend to slow and the shake-out point begins.

Phase Four: Managing on the Decline (Decline)


Inevitably, products lose their appeal.  Better, faster, newer, cheaper products replace the trusty old ones. Think about the typewriter versus computers.  If you can manage to be the only one in town that produces or services a product, the organization may be able to fend off the decline for a number of years.  Otherwise, it’s time to retire the old product and come up with a “new” and “revised” model. Survivors re-enter the Phase One Entrepreneurial/Introduction Phase with a new concept or product.

How Does This Affect Human Resources?


All of this may be interesting, but does it impact Human Resources?  Of course, it does! It’s not just products, but organizations and the people who work there that may not be suited to lead, grow, maintain or reinvent as the organization goes through its predictable four phases.  Can we expect entrepreneurial leaders and their team, who crave invention, to feel the same level of passion during the Growth and Management Phase, where order, systemization and maximizing profits are the name of the game?  Leaders and managers who thrive making tough decisions during the decline – like closing plants, laying off people and upsetting the economic balance of the community – have a different skill set than people in the Managed Growth Phase, who enjoy creating processes, procedures, and developing marketing plans for growth.

What Can We Do?


First and foremost, we must set people up for success.  Play to their strengths and recognize their weaknesses.  Communication is crucial.  Assist key personnel in developing new skills and talents. Preach and demonstrate agility and the ability to change.  Ensure people who no longer feel like they are a good fit gain alternative employment through Employee Assistance Programs.  A recent participant in the HRBP Certification Program found herself in this dilemma and took on a project identifying job opportunities by reviewing transferability of skills and contacted their competitors to see if they had openings for people with those skills.  Whatever it is, organizations need to recognize there is a lifecycle and develop strategic plans to generate agility within the workforce. Create a learning environment. Add value and respect to your leadership team as you navigate the effects the Four Phases have on employees and identify how to remain profitable while being an Employee Champion.

For more information on the Human Resource Business Partner Certification Program and other relevant programs, contact


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