Embrace the stretch

The world today is the most dynamic it has ever been. Information moves in milliseconds, social media platforms grow to hundreds of millions of users in years and fail in the same short period of time. Every day there is a global competitor appearing in your company’s business area that is motivated and hopes to eat you in near future.

Successful companies are not successful because they were lucky. It’s because they learned on their failures in exceptional pace, much faster than their competitors and always acknowledge that they are still in the race. There is no finish on the horizon. No checkpoints in the meantime. Everyone is running and innovating. I know how this feels - like some crazy race that you don’t want to be part of. Please, don’t assume that I have a whatever-it-takes attitude. What I say is that every company needs to move forward. Stopping means losing the game.

If you are working in a successful company, I can imagine that there is a lot on your plate. There is always too much to do, you are being pulled by multiple, not correlated workstreams and every day you got distracted at least once. I think that the word stretch represents pretty good this feeling. I feel this way.

Why there is a stretch at all?

The fact that we constantly have more to do than we can is a great and exciting signal, but of course, the root causes might be both positive and negative. Having more to do than you are able to deliver gives you a chance to prioritize and make decisions. It teaches you how to use your limited time, look for best opportunities and solve only the right problems.

Moreover, it’s kind of a never-ending exercise. Whenever you get absolutely great at that, you will immediately feel that you are not stretched anymore. And as far as it happens, you and your manager should look for more. There is no finish line in this exercise and it always makes you grow.

Take a look from the manager perspective, too. When we hire new, smart people, we expect them to raise the bar and be independent. We trust them and we give them space to thrive. You delegate a lot of things, which doesn’t mean that you actually want them all done. You delegate the work and the exercise of prioritizing that work. If a manager was expected to prioritize and make all decisions about scoping the work, eventually the CEO would have a lot on his or her plate, right?

When is a stretch positive?

To have a positive stretch for employees, the company must have a healthy culture. Where you let people learn from their mistakes. Where you coach them to make proper decisions. Where you are not expecting them to work overtime and you proactively remind them about that.

When is a stretch negative? Of course whenever the positive things are not in place. Moreover, there is one red flag that you should look for. If the organization acknowledge your stress that comes from the stretch and tells you that this is how this company operates, it’s not a healthy place. Don’t say that stressful situations are normal. This is a red flag that means you are not expected to make proper decisions and prioritize but just work crazy hours.

However, if you are in healthy company, embrace and enjoy the everyday stretch you have. Take advantage of opportunities, prioritize and do the most impactful work as it is the best way to iterate, learn and grow. Don’t work at home, don’t feel stressed - treat it as an opportunity and enjoy the pace.

Subscribe for new posts!

I post every 2-3 weeks and always with lessons related to software engineering managers. I won't use your email in any other way!