Today I want to take a minute to discuss stretch opportunities. What’s a stretch opportunity you ask? Well, it’s simple really. Stretch opportunities in the workplace are tasks, projects, or any opportunities in life that are slightly beyond your current skill or knowledge level and therefore allow you to ‘stretch’ by improving your capabilities, abilities, and/or others’ perception of you. In your personal life they can present themselves at opportunities to engage in or complete tasks that maybe aren’t part of your “usual” routine.
We all have stretch opportunities confront us on a weekly / monthly basis in both our personal and professional lives, and many times, we don’t even recognize them at the time. The lack of recognition we have in these situations is an issue because if we can’t recognize an opportunity, the chances of us taking advantage of that opportunity significantly drops.
So what’s the first step? Well, it’s to improve your self-awareness. It may sound cliché or simple even, but becoming more self-aware of a stretch opportunity is likely your most challenging step in these situations. Let us start out with on the personal side with a few examples of what a stretch opportunity could look like:
- Let’s say your significant other always makes themselves a coffee in the morning. You don’t drink any so it’s not part of your routine. Now let’s say you see your significant other really behind one morning and struggling to get out of the house. Coffee isn’t made yet… do you recognize this opportunity as a stretch opportunity? Making them that coffee to help them out [without them asking] and assisting their struggle that morning just leveled you up in their eyes.
- Let’s say you’re out at lunch with a friend. They’ve been having a tough time lately and are trying to find a meal on the menu that they can afford. You aren’t exactly swimming in money yourself, but you can absolutely spare $15 without it affecting your week. Do you recognize this stretch opportunity and tell them to order what they want, you’re picking up the bill, because it seems like they could use a good meal [and a break in life]? Most people would just say nothing, do nothing. But think about the perception your friend now has of you. You helped them out in a time of need, WITHOUT them having to ask. Now that’s a stretch opportunity!
So let’s now take it back to your profession. It doesn’t matter what job you have, what role you play, there are stretch opportunities available on the regular. You first have to recognize them and then you have to take advantage of them! H. Jackson Brown Jr. once said “Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.” I couldn’t agree more! You generally have one chance, and very little time to jump on a stretch opportunity. If you miss it, it’s gone forever. Now the good news is, another will present itself… so don’t dwell on the missed ones – learn from them and improve your craft of recognizing them in the future!
As a leader with almost 100 employees currently and someone who has been leading employees for over two decades, what I often see are individuals who like to solely focus on areas of their normal job description that they do well, especially when it comes time to asking for a raise or promotion. Comments like “I deserve a raise because I built the required golf carts this week” or “I sold the ____” or “I’ve been making the invoices needed”, or “I’ve been answering the phone”, etc. What I instead recommend to everyone is to focus on the stretch opportunities you took advantage of because that’s what sets you apart. Of course, you made invoices… it’s your job! Of course, you sold the thing or built the thing or made the calls… it’s your job! But where in the recent past were you presented with a stretch opportunity, recognized the opportunity, and then CRUSHED it? That’s what you focus on in these types of meetings [on top of having a stellar work history/performance for your normal duties]. Remember, completing stretch opportunities does not absolve you of errors made in your day-to-day job or personal life!
So, what are some stretch opportunity examples at work? I’m talking about REAL stretch opportunities, the ones that move the needle in some way. That isn’t refilling the toilet paper in the bathroom, or taking out the trash, or holding a door open for someone. Those are just a portion of being a good person, a good employee. Focus on the big things. Here’s a few examples off the top of my head just from around Bintelli’s history:
- The most recent major stretch opportunity I can think of was when our building flooded a few weeks ago. Water was everywhere! The service center, showroom, admin area… everywhere! What a mess. It’s not a fun situation but boy did it present some great stretch opportunities in the heat of the moment. We’ve discussed this event in length with the staff so I’m not going to beat a dead horse here, but it’s such a great example so it needs to be brought up! Those that recognized this stretch opportunity approached the situation with “How can I help?” or simply picked up a mop and started cleaning the mess. This wasn’t part of their usual routine or job description, but they did it anyway – and not just to get praise… but because they recognized it needed to get done and was a “level up” opportunity.
- Another stretch opportunity could be if your team has a goal of __ vehicles to build in a week [or any goal for that matter] and if everyone shares the equal burden that means you needed to build 15 vehicles. It’s Friday at 5pm, you should be heading home, and you built your 15 vehicles as needed… but unfortunately the team didn’t meet the weekly goal. Do you head home at 5pm because you can or do you ask your supervisor if you can stay a little later to help the team goal get completed? That’s a heck of a stretch opportunity right there to level up and stand out from the crowd… if you A) recognized it and B) took advantage of it.
- Here’s another opportunity that I’ve seen time and time again. You’re on the phone with a customer who just hasn’t been able to catch a break. Maybe they tell you about a legit problem with your product or service. Maybe it gets compounded with some insight into their personal life problems – a death, a divorce, an injury, a job lay off… it could be ANYTHING! Maybe they are even rude to you on the phone because they’ve just had enough. What do you do? Most will just do their job, answer their questions, solve their work-related issue, and move on without a second thought. That’s not what someone who recognizes this opportunity would do! Nope! Want to go above and beyond? How you CRUSH this opportunity depends on the leeway you have within your role… but let’s say you can’t spend a dollar of company money and you’re broke… you can still get (or make) a card for the customer, hand write a note about you hoping that things turn around and that you are rooting/pulling/praying for them, have the team sign it and send it out to them. Imagine what they will feel when they get that card from you! You can take it further… at Bintelli we love sending Edible Arrangements, because come on, who doesn’t love a bouquet of tasty fruit to eat? What you do for the customer [or co-worker] in this scenario doesn’t really matter… it’s that you recognized the opportunity to do something for this person that can make their day/life better and level you up in life. That’s a pretty cool stretch opportunity to recognize and take advantage of!
Now it’s important to realize that:
- Does completing a stretch opportunity (or opportunities) mean you get a raise? NOPE!
- Does completing a stretch opportunity (or opportunities) mean you’re going to get instant praise? NOPE!
- Does completing a stretch opportunity (or opportunities) mean you’re better than those around you? NOPE!
What it means is you recognized an opportunity (kudos!), took advantage of the opportunity (kudos!), and in doing so, your capabilities, abilities, and/or perception of you has likely “leveled up” in some way, even if it’s just a small tick on the meter. That said, continuing to recognize and take advantage of these opportunities time after time is what will get you farther ahead in life – both personally and professionally. As I look around to my closest friends and the leadership team within Bintelli, one thing that they all have in common is recognizing and ATTACKING stretch opportunities every single chance they get [while still striving for perfection on their normal day to day tasks, duties, and expectations].
So I leave you with this. Don’t dwell on opportunities you’ve missed out on. Learn from them, use them to fuel your future. Keep your ears open and your eyes peeled and see the level-up moments that are right there for the taking… and then CRUSH them and STRETCH your growth upward.
Bintelli LLC, President