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Life-Cycle Analysis. Applied to Social Enterprises and Co-operatives. Wales Institute for Research into Cooperatives. Adizes, I., (1999), Corporate Lifecycles: How and why Corporations Grow and Die and What to do about it (Prentice Hall, London).

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life cycle analysis

Life-Cycle Analysis

Applied to Social Enterprises and Co-operatives

Wales Institute for Research into Cooperatives

Adizes, I., (1999), Corporate Lifecycles: How and why Corporations Grow and Die and What to do about it (Prentice Hall, London).

Bull, M. (2006), ‘Coming from the Heart (The Road is Long)’, paper presented to the 29th Annual ISBE conference, Cardiff, 29 October - 1 November.

Case A

A Charity and Company Limited by Guarantee focusing on public information and sharing information and raising public awareness about AIDS. Growing out the black community.

Case B

Company B is a Company Limited by Guarantee which aims to ‘enrich needy people’s lives through empowering disadvantaged groups such as people with disabilities, the elderly and people with mental health problems to live in the community in their own homes.’ It offers domiciliary care and is moving in minor repairs.

Case C

Registered as a charity it ‘provides a wide range of arts based training and opportunities for local residents of all ages who have or are at risk of experiencing mental ill-health and social exclusion.’

  • The embryonic years were difficult times. In company A they were cooking for people, tackling isolation, providing one-to-one care and companionship, raising awareness, applying for funding, and generally fire fighting with minimal resources. In company B a similar story was told of chaos, long hours, reactionary management and a lack of structure.
  • This stage is a struggle: “We’d have to cook food for people, we’d get our families to cook food, we’d be taking it round – as well as going to do the prevention work, the training, the co-ordinating – the whole lot.” [A]

Adizes suggests that at this infant stage the organisation is vulnerable and in need of constant care. In all three cases the board of directors/trustees played a major part in the care of these businesses. In A, the board members were self elected through the instigation of the pressure group. The skills they brought to the table were health, social and public sector focused; the people were social care workers, community workers and public sector civil servants. In B, the board was initially largely representative of the local community and social care workers, whose insights and involvement in the start up of the business were brought together. In C, similarly, the board was initially made up of tenants from the locality, community workers and local social care workers.

go go
  • All 3 companies had to learn and adapt very quickly. The re-organisation of informal and ad-hoc systems and structures were therefore prominent features within the growth of these three organisations. This shows how one organization responded to the ‘founder trap’:
  • “. ……I said to ….[the founder] that we can’t carry on like this, we have got to have a structure, we haven’t got any structure, we have got to introduce training, rotors.”

Adizes calls stage 4 the adolescence stage, as a painful time for learning during the transition from a holistic team to that of delegation and professional management. In A it was noted that the rhetoric changed from a support network to a business. The focus provided by the strategic away days brought people together and the CEO stated the staff began to think of the project work as something more substantial and professional. In B the managers wrestled with company law and organisational development issues. In C it was considered fundamental to the delivery of their service that they remained focused on their core beliefs. The internal capabilities of these organisations were developing which was attributed to a number of factors.


A comment typical of the prime stage coming from B: “We have evolved into a self sustaining business, and not only that but one that takes into account the service user and a choice of individuality and the quality of service. We have evolved into that and I can see us being the flagship for services offered to people that are vulnerable and disabled in this City. I can see the vulnerable and disabled communities in this City have completely changed and got better because of the service we provide to them and that gives me great pleasure to be able to do that.”

growth in social economy
Growth in Social Economy?
  • Appropriate scale conflict with economies of scale
  • Corporations benefit from hidden subsidies, such as national infrastructure, Lisbon Agenda
  • Social enterprises more committed to ‘human scale’
  • Co-operatives committed to democratic decision-making
why does a conventional business seek to grow
Why does a conventional business seek to grow?
  • To meet growing demand for your product
  • To restrict competition
  • To achieve economies of scale
  • To create local employment
  • To enrich the stakeholders and venture capitalists
two contrasting models of growth
Two contrasting models of growth
  • Sustainable growth—using retained profits: a lifestyle company
  • Rapid growth—requiring a large injection of capital
  • The second can obviously lead to loss of control, although it could be based on equity finance.
  • Lifestyle companies can tick along, perhaps as a family unit. They are priotising livelihood and earning a living over making a profit. They stay small and independent and are often run by their founders.
horizontal growth
Horizontal growth

Selling more products to more customers

  • Rebranding, e.g. lucozade, or greening Groundwork?
  • Developing new products, e.g. Smile bank
  • Attracting new customers, perhaps reducing prices or marketing
  • Extending geographically through exports, e.g. Eroski into France
  • Linking with other companies via franchises, licensing, rights and royalties.
vertical growth
Vertical growth

Expanding activities along the supply chain

  • Oil companies control the whole chain from oil well to filling stations
  • Extending upstream to gain control of raw materials, e.g. the Toad Lane shop
  • Extending downstream to gain control of distribution and retail, e.g. co-operative group buying more shops
  • Increasing the amount of goods that are controlled, e.g. Co-op own brand
  • Partnerships and mergers, e.g. CRS
how do you tell optimum size
How do you tell optimum size?
  • The aim is appropriate scale
  • Spin-offs rather than empire-building
  • Naturally limited by governance form
  • What happens when you expand?

What do you have to pass on?

  • Capital
  • Skills
  • Networks/customers
  • Work
what can an apprentice offer
What can an apprentice offer?
  • Employ another at fair and negotiated rates
  • Employ an apprentice for less but share skills
  • Secondary co-op
  • Mentoring
  • Support you later, especially with heavy work
  • It is about the relationship and community
  • Pass on the skills you have learned

What models could you use?

degeneration thesis
Degeneration Thesis
  • Essentially the degeneration thesis states that worker co-operatives will have to adopt the same organisational forms and priorities as capitalist business in order to survive. As a result co-operatives will gradually become dominated by a managerial elite who will effectively take decisions in the co-operative and so undermine democracy and the influence that other workers can exert.
  • (Cornforth, 1995)
criticism from the marxist left
Criticism from the Marxist left
  • Marxists believe that external economic forces make degeneration inevitable
  • Marx ‘acknowledged that co-operatives demonstrated the feasibility of certain aspects of a socialist mode of production, he also felt that while they operated in a capitalist system they were doomed to reflect that system’
  • Beatrix Potter and Sidney Webb (1921): ‘The most enthusiastic believer in this form of democracy would be hard put to it to find, in all the range of industry and commerce, a single lasting success. In the relatively few cases in which such enterprises have not eventually succumbed as business concerns they have ceased to be democracies of producers themselves managing their own work; and have become, in effect, associations of capitalists on a small scale...’
  • The Marxist tradition is threatened by the syndicalism and loss of central control inherent in e.g. The Miner’s Next Step.
four stages of degeneration
Four stages of degeneration
  • High idealism and commitment which enables the association to get off the ground. However, over time there are clashes ‘between a direct democracy jealous of its prerogatives and an economic activity still badly established’. The need for greater efficiency leads to the establishment of full-time administrators or co-ordinators who come to be seen as a directors.
  • The second phase is a period of transition in which, if the enterprise survives, further economic consolidation takes places and conventional principles of organisation are increasingly adopted. These changes are not always accepted peacefully, and conflicts continue between idealists and managers.
  • In the third phase co-operatives lose their radical ideals and market values are accepted. Democracy becomes restricted to a representative board, and the gap between managers and workers increases as the business develops and production is rationalised.
  • During the fourth phase members and their representatives lose all effective power as control is assumed by managers because of their superior expertise and ability to control information.

Meister A. (1984) Participation, Associations, Development and Change. New Brunswick: Transaction.

concludes degeneration is not inevitable
Concludes degeneration is not inevitable

Pressures toward degeneration include:

  • The need for specialisation to achieve efficiency
  • Growth increases the cost of collective decision-making

‘processes of regeneration have followed periods of degeneration’

Two main challenges to avoid degeneration:

  • Need to ‘reproduce’ an active, committed membership
  • How to introduce greater specialisation and division of labour without undermining democracy