How to Use the Stages of Personal Development As a Reference in the Company's Development Process
A company is often described as though it’s a living organism. Companies are born, they live, develop, and many eventually die. But is this just a tired old phrase that marketers and entrepreneurs like to spout off, or is there something to be learned by examining this tried and true comparison?
As a person grows older, they change and develop, much like a company does as it goes from a startup organization to a massive enterprise. Ego psychologist Erik Erikson outlined the development of a human being as having eight distinct stages, known as the stages of development.
When we examine the eight stages of development, we can draw comparisons to a company’s development process. In this article, we’re going to do exactly that, going through the stages of personal development one by one and drawing a parallel to the development of a business.
Applying the stages of personal development to a business
Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust
The first stage of personal development occurs from infancy to 18 months and deals mostly with our reliance on adult caregivers during the early stage of life. A startup company also has this reliance early on; only they’re forced to rely on investors and a limited number of customers to stay afloat.
Many businesses need to take out loans to get off the ground, while others might choose to try and go it alone, not wanting to place trust in any person or organization that can have power over them and their business journey.
Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
In our second stage, the role of independence emerges during early childhood. A child starts to perform basic actions and make simple decisions on their own regarding what they want to eat or watch on television.
As a business gains some financial footing, it also starts making informed decisions. Much like a child’s preferences develop as they begin to understand the world around them, a business adjusts its strategies accordingly as it starts to understand the preferences of its core audience.
Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt
In the preschool years, children start to take the initiative in their lives, directing social interactions and play with others. As a business, you can enter this third development stage when you start rolling out new and creative marketing approaches, stepping outside the norm to direct your outreach personally.
Often this comes with more money, as the tools needed for creative photo editing, audience management, and marketing campaign automation come at a sizable cost. When you hit this stage, you’ll be able to reach your audience directly in a way that your competitors aren’t or can’t.
Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority
From age five to eleven, children start to change how they interact socially and perform academically. Success is met with confidence, while failure is met with feelings of inferiority.
As your business progresses, it will also change how it interacts with buyers, partners, investors, and the world as a whole. Obviously, business success and increased profits can lead an entrepreneur to feel that they’re on top of the world and can do no wrong. Failure and operating at a loss can leave them feeling terrified and desperate. In those moments, a business owner might take drastic action like a workforce layoff or a complete marketing overhaul, the same way a young child might act out due to feelings of inferiority.
By encouraging your workforce and remaining positive even in the face of a downturn, you can help keep your company healthy and competent.
Stage 5: Identity vs. Confusion
Now we come to the formative teenage years, where your company can fully develop a sense of identity or descend into confusion and weakness.
Teens explore their own independence, much like a business has to as it begins to scale. At this point, you understand your audience and what it takes to reach them. You should have a fully realized brand identity, including colors, logos, content tone, and style.
By committing to your brand identity at this stage, you’re setting yourself up for success. Being inconsistent or wishy-washy with it will confuse customers and create uncertainty around the entire organization.
Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation
As young adults, human beings seek to create loving, long-term relationships with the people around them. This includes family, friends, and romantic partners.
For young companies, this can be translated into customer loyalty. You must forge long-lasting relationships with your customers to keep them coming back for more. After all, it costs a lot more to sell to a new prospect than it does for a current customer.
A failure to build these relationships will lead to a lifetime of hustling for new business, practically begging the public to spend money on what you’re offering.
Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation
Adults desire to leave a legacy behind, to nurture something that will outlast them. As a business owner, your company can be that legacy, and you can pass it on to other professionals who will take your concepts into the future.
The process of stepping back and planning for the future of your business starts with professional development plans for your employees.
This is where you have to define your goals as an employer. That could mean offering different career progression alternatives inside the company or resources like courses, resumes, and cover letter templates for those seeking advancement.
If you decide to find buyers for your business, that professional development instilled in your workforce will impact your business's value. The more efficient and productive your company is, the better price you’ll get for it when it’s time to sell and move on.
Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair
The final stage of development comes when a person is elderly, reflecting on their life. For a business, this can occur during two different periods — either the successful sale of your business to a new owner or going out of business altogether.
When someone sells their business, they can often look back at their choices and feel good about them, taking a large chunk of cash into a happy retirement as their legacy continues. Entrepreneurs who fail and lose their business will be filled with regret and may be bitter or angry about it.
However, unlike someone at the end of their life, an entrepreneur can learn from their mistakes and try again with a new company.
A business is like a living, breathing organism, so much so that it develops using the same eight stages as a human being. By understanding what stage of the journey your business is in, you’ll be able to determine if you are where you need to be and how you can best move on in your professional development.