Written in his book ‘The Age of Paradox’, Charles Handy, a philosopher specializing in organizational behavior and management, used the Sigmoid Curve to explain life and change of people and businesses, and how to manage them. The paradox being that a the point when we need to be making a change (in response to some changing force), everything else in our environment is telling us the opposite. Rather than diving into its applications into business, where it was originally conceived, I’ll focus on its career management application.
Handy outlines his application in the article ‘Where are you on the Sigmoid Curive? The progression of your career in a single job follows the lifecycle of the company and can modeled by a single Sigmoid Curve. In order to have a career that continues to grow, you need to jump onto a new curve (a new job at a new company or new division). Timing when you should jump becomes the important factor. The perfect time is at Point A. This is the time when the company is still growing, progress is being made and you are developing your experience, skills and knowledge. However it is typically only when you are starring disaster or decline at Point B do people typically try to do something. However, by then it becomes much harder to jump to a new curve. Resources are soaked up, moral energy and culture are low, people are getting laid off. It is better to make that jump/change at Point A when those resources are still available.
The transition between curves is filled with confusion and risk (shaded region). In a company setting, it is not apparent to many why the company is making a change when things seem to be going so well (the paradox). Conflicting ideas, emotions and actions are a fly. Why take the road downhill at A and you can keep going up. The same goes for a person’s career. Identifying point A and making the decision to jump, leads to a step backwards in order to take two forward. Many of us spend our time in the shaded region worrying that the first curve will turn down before we find that second one.
Reference: Handy, Charles. Directors & Boards. Sept 22 1994. Page 22-25