New Year Renewal

by Linden Wicklund, AASP-MN Executive Director

Happy New Year! Hopefully you got some down time over the holidays that helped to open your brain space. Have you been reflecting on all that has happened over the past year and thinking about what you want to achieve in the next year? Are your business and personal goals intermingled or starkly separated? Are you gearing up, coasting in neutral or pausing to fully recalibrate?

Over the past year, there has been one emerging theme that has stood out to me: different shop owners/managers thrive in different phases of the organizational life cycle. Not only do they excel in one area over another, but they can also be quick to be skeptical of others not striving for the same. The traditional organizational life cycle model includes five phases: start-up, growth, maturity, renewal and decline. It is tempting to focus on the life cycle of the organization itself, but step back and think about where you are in your own career and which segment of the cycle best fits where you are or want to be. 

Now, what about the multi-shop organization? It is very interesting to watch the leaders who thrive in the start-up space and can harness this energy by bringing a shop to maturity and then take on another location to go through the process again. These leaders are very different from those in the revival stage, looking to reinvent and refocus the same shop in new ways. Both these stages are inherently entrepreneurial in nature. Growth and maturity require steadier engagement and energy, and a leader who isn’t seeking radical new challenges, which is why everyday management is often shared with other team members as the top leader tweaks and adjusts for a smooth path forward. These two stages are uphill and can last for decades, as can the tenure of the employees that make them possible. 

In my version of this infographic, both renewal and decline are downhill. Renewal often requires acknowledgment that major changes are needed to become something new, and this draws on the downward momentum to pop up ready to move into the growth phase, just as the start-up does. Decline is rarely sudden, which is why it can scare leaders. Think of it this way, a mature organization that has held the same gross revenue for over a decade, particularly the last one, hasn’t maintained alongside inflation and is thus actually slowly declining. However, if it doesn’t scare you, decline can look like a well-executed and deliberate engine breaking down a scenic mountainside. 

So, what happens when organizations and their team members, including leadership, are best suited for different points of the life cycle? This is the root cause of much of the workforce anxiety I have seen over the past year. When the team and the organization need different things, it can be de-stabilizing. Shops that have been enjoying maturity along with their master technicians can’t suddenly replace them with entry level technicians and keep operating in the same way. Shops that have been in start-up or growth mode likely have become well versed in growing team members. Finding, onboarding and training talented people requires growth energy. Retaining and rotating in strong talent requires mature stable energy. Renewal energy is disruptive, so it can come along with a shift in leadership and can cause staff turnover since those who thrive by maintaining rarely thrive in environments of change. 

Which life cycle phase do you thrive in or strive for? Are you jumping into reinvention and looking around critically at those who took the off-ramp to decline? Have you found the best way to feed your start-up style is to open new locations instead of pulling the current ones through unnecessary renewal? Are you focused on elevating your team, so you aren’t left with a leadership gap just as you start to enjoy the benefits of running a mature shop? 

While this dynamic plays out in individual shops, there certainly are other factors and overarching themes in the industry. There are lots of shops run by baby-boomers, so there is a big focus in the industry on the decline lifecycle phase in shops leading to the sale of independents to conglomerates as those shop owners look to retire. And lots of fear around the shortage of technicians as the baby-boomer master techs retire in large numbers. So yes, this is a time when we are witnessing major changes in the workforce and ownership models. Being able to recognize where your company is in its lifecycle and how that relates to your own leadership style can make a big difference in how you plan. 

Want more? Check out the January 2024 issue of AASP-MN News!