It’s Time to Stretch: Use the Scarcity Created by COVID-19 to Your Advantage

CEO Insider

2021 is right around the corner. While many of us are eager to put this tumultuous year in the rearview mirror, we need to face the reality that the way we work will remain resource-constrained for the foreseeable future. Many organizations are still figuring out how to work remotely while also responding to shrinking sales, tight margins, and seemingly insurmountable challenges such as finding a new way to execute their supply chain.

If we are to move beyond survival mode and begin to thrive over the next year, organizations will need to reinvent themselves, their processes, and their workforce culture. This requires a leadership team committed to making a mindset shift and putting in motion a significant change in organizational culture.

We humans tend to wallow in conditions that are out of our control, lamenting unfair circumstances and their negative impact on our business and personal lives. We criticize the actions of our governments and the constraints thrust upon us as our state and national officials toggle between supporting our safety and keeping our economy moving forward.

What do successful leaders do when faced with tough challenges?

The choice is fundamental. We can either accept and embrace the current situation and its accompanying resource limitations, or we can focus on change – on gaining something more or different, such as a bigger budget, more staff, more time, a different role, a different department, a different company. The path we choose between these two ideological frameworks will put in motion a series of drastically different events.

It is my belief that when we truly get comfortable with and embrace the finite resources we currently have, we are freed to find creative and productive ways to solve problems, innovate, and engage our work and lives more fully.

In the book Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less – and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined, Scott Sonenshein compares two different mindsets – that of a Stretcher and a Chaser. He describes stretching as using a learned set of attitudes and skills that come from a simple but powerful shift. This shift moves us from wanting more resources to embracing and acting on the possibilities of using the resources already at hand. This model offers a fresh way to think about the current scarcity in front of us.

By contrast, when we focus on chasing resources that, at the end of the day, are probably not available, it undermines our work and well-being. Chasing creates a narrow view of the worth and utility of our current resources, which dampens creativity. Alternatively, when we embrace the resources we already have, it helps us accomplish our goals with maximum effectiveness and efficiency, which is of paramount importance in these uncertain times.

Our gut reaction to most challenges, especially when we lack a clear view of the best solution, is that we’ll increase the odds of success if we amass a plethora of resources. Not only is this false, but it also leaves us feeling less capable and accomplished. The key to achieving goals is to be engaged, creative, and active with what’s already in hand – to stretch.

Knowing what is in your control and what is not will pull your scattered attention into laser focus and allow your subconscious the time and permission to make better decisions. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

A New View of Constraints

A key difference in these two mindsets is how each views constraints. Most of us tend to see constraints (the gap between what we want in an ideal world and what we have) in a negative light. But for those with a stretching mindset, constraints are positive things. They allow the person to be more creative and resourceful, providing motivation and a challenge to achieve regardless of the circumstance.

To apply this insight in your organization, you should foster a culture that promotes asking “What can I do with what I have?” and that rejects the paralysis and distraction of waiting to act until provided with exact direction, a bigger budget, or a larger team. An effective way to do this is to provide coaching to your leaders and teams to reframe their mindset and choose new, constructive behaviors. Organizations that stretch challenge employees to do the most with what they have. They accomplish this by purposefully imposing constraints, tearing up plans and learning from spontaneous action, combining unexpected resources, leveraging high expectations to boost the value of resources, and putting to work the untapped contributions of all employees.

I have seen the power of such stretching firsthand with our clients and within our organization. After working with us to shift their mindsets, leaders now see their existing resources as a motivating challenge to find pivot points, creating groundbreaking new solutions that will forever improve their business.

One example is a long-term client who rethought their paradigm of face-to-face technical solutions selling. The executive team took a big risk, leaning into screen-share technology as the new standard for customer interactions. They provided training to sales and customer staff so they could quickly learn how to best work with clients in this new environment. The results were astonishing. The company drastically reduced its sales cycle and increased customer satisfaction in the process. They found that clients didn’t need or even want to take the time to book conference rooms and coordinate attendees’ availability to schedule face-to-face meetings. These in-person meetings weren’t necessary for making purchasing decisions. The result was a win for all.

An example fueling the growth in our organization has been convincing clients to embrace our virtual high-potential leadership development programs. We have been offering our clients virtual-learning and blended options for years, providing savings of thousands of dollars and days of travel time per program. Historically, the chasing mindset has fueled in-person training, requiring organizations to make large investments of time and money for busy senior leaders to travel, sometimes across a dozen time zones, for a three-day learning event.

In unpacking this new paradigm with our trusted clients, many of them have stretched, offering a complete virtual or blended program with minimal travel. Our program evaluations have shown that learners are surprised by how effective this form of learning is and have even reported stronger engagement with the training material and activities. The result: less money, less time, greater results.

You can cultivate a stretching mindset. To get started, consider orchestrating an unusual combination of people on a project or initiative. The opportunity to interact with a diverse and different team of people will spark new energy for all involved. Another method is to create time and space for your brain to be creative – daydreaming, mindless activity, or meditation can do the trick. The idea is that these techniques can stimulate people to get out of the rut and increase their resourcefulness. If you would like more ideas for developing a stretching mindset, please check out this interactive worksheet with additional tips and space for you to start a plan.

The old saying “Necessity is the mother of invention” applies to this new concept. Don’t you want to step into 2021 with newfound energy, focus, and the confidence not just to get by, but to get better? If so, think about how stretching can prompt you to reposition, realign, rethink, or react in a creative, engaging, and confident way that creates great value for your company.


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