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Is your business suffering from the Seventh Year Itch?

Posted on 30/04/2014, 10:09

Over the years, there have been many theories in existence which suggest that our minds and bodies develop and change every seven years. For example, Austrian philosopher and teacher Rudolf Steiner created a theory of human development based on seven-year cycles that were associated with astrology. According to his theories, humans experience changes physically and mentally every seven years.

Over the years, there have been many theories in existence which suggest that our minds and bodies develop and change every seven years. For example, Austrian philosopher and teacher Rudolf Steiner created a theory of human development based on seven-year cycles that were associated with astrology. According to his theories, humans experience changes physically and mentally every seven years. It makes some sense that if we experience large changes in personal growth, experience, knowledge and goals every seven years, that these changes will make us less stable and increase the probability of major problems, such as divorce. Hence the term “The Seven Year Itch” – which is usually applied to marriages.

A 1999 study undertaken by Dr. Larry A. Kurdek, a psychology professor from Wright State University, demonstrated the validity of both a four and a seven year itch. In our opinion, the ever-changing conclusions indicate that there is no ‘magic number’ – but it does seem to indicate that things can start to go off track some time after 4 to 7 years have elapsed.

For the purposes of this article, we are going to concentrate on the seven year itch as applied to businesses, but the parallel with marriage is one that we shall continue with.

A lot of businesses that we work with have started out successfully, made reasonable profits and are generating sufficient cash, but some time after that 4 to 7 year period, things begin to plateau and everything goes a little bit ‘flat’. It is only when somebody from outside of the business begins to ask the owners the relevant, hard-hitting questions, that they begin to realise that things are not going quite as well as they might have (don’t worry – even successful young companies encounter significant business difficulties a few years after starting out!). Growth can become harder to come by, the competition is stiffer and whipping the troops into a frenzy of 60-hour weeks becomes ever more daunting. Too often, we find that the owners have ‘taken their eyes off the ball’ and have been spending too much time looking inwards rather than outwards.

Once these businesses have decided to grow their business again, what do they do next? Too often the default is just “more of what works now”.

But for most SME businesses, the methods that made you successful previously, may not be scalable or appropriate any more. Do you really know which areas of your business have the most potential to increase revenues and profits? Relying on ad words, trade marketing or word of mouth have their limits. You have to look at marketing more strategically, integrating it with your product development, your team’s skills & capability development, and the finances of the business. We know that it can be really tough to stand back and take a truly objective view of the markets that you are operating in and the products and services that you are offering to those markets.

If you want to effectively grow your business, you need to know the answers to a few fundamental questions, such as these:

  • What recent changes in your industry and your sector can you exploit?
  • What changes have your competitors made over the last few years – and are your competitors from a few years ago still your main competitors now?
  • Are you operating with the right products/services in the right markets?
  • Where should you really be focusing your efforts?

We believe that one of the reasons why these owners have taken their eyes off the ball, is that there is nobody holding them to account! They do not have to answer to anybody, so there is nobody to challenge them, question them and motivate them. That is where we come in. Whilst we hope to become your best friend, we will also be your biggest critic, giving you an honest opinion that you may not wish to hear!

Returning to the marriage analogy, the seven-year itch is a period where people tend to re-evaluate relationships and unfortunately, many come to an end. The signs of deterioration have been there all along, but everyone has been too busy to notice them or to act on them.

After seven years, all of the parties on both sides of the employment contract are undoubtedly suffering from the proverbial “itch”:

  • Do the employer and the employees still see each other as attractive anymore? Almost certainly not! The good points each tried so hard to show in the early years have long since gone.
  • Have both parties let themselves go? Almost certainly! The need to make an effort has gone, without that outside initiative.
  • Do they take each other for granted? Without doubt! Many staff still regard their jobs as long term and secure and are convinced that they are indispensable.
  • Has the novelty worn off? Almost definitely! It is highly unlikely that either side is bringing anything new to a repetitive relationship after seven years.
  • Have each other’s individual idiosyncrasies become irritating habits? Yes! With the constraints that we now face under Employment Law, these cannot usually be honestly expressed.
  • Does another prospective employer appear a considerably more attractive proposition? Undeniably! The grass is always greener on the other side, both in terms of quality of life and financial rewards, and what the competition are offering will always be more exciting – offering many of the things that are missing in the current relationship, including fresh, new ideas.

So what is the under pressure business owner to do when they identify that the 7 year itch may well be upon them?

The first thing we recommend is that you go back to your original business plans and strategies and ask yourself if the business is really still on the track that you had imagined it would be after this length of time? If not, revisit those plans and strategies and see what you can think about doing to get back on track. Even better, seek advice from somebody outside of the organisation and share the issues with them – you DO have a mentor, don’t you?

If you require outside help, we offer a free strategic review of your business and we will genuinely help you to improve your results. During the free consultation we’ll give you our invaluable support and advice on the areas of your business that need improving.

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