One thing I learned early in my career as a serial entrepreneur is that "the status quo doesn't grow." If everything about your business stays the same, you aren't treading water-- you're going backwards.
Now that I help other people grow their businesses, I see this principle at work even more clearly-- particularly when I look at the projects or initiatives business leaders task themselves with for the future. In stagnant, slowing businesses, those projects tend to be self-sustaining, repetitive, iterative at best. In growing, industry-changing companies, the new project list clearly stretches the organization's abilities and pulls people out of their comfort zone.
How do you know if you're pushing forward or falling backward? Take a look at these three types of stretch projects. If you don't have any of these on your list, you're in trouble:
Do something that isn't in any how-to book.
Take a quick inventory of the main projects you've got going on at present. Do you have best practices and agreed processes nailed down? If you don't already, chances are that doing so is in the project gantt chart for the not too distant future.
Here's the thing: truly innovative, industry-changing organizations regularly push themselves to attempt something for which there is no roadmap, no playbook, no sherpa. Groundbreakers can reap massive first mover advantage-- but the risk is just that-- being the first mover.
Take another look at that project list. What could you add, that you have no idea (yet) how you might achieve, but which, if you succeeded, would truly change the face of your company, your industry, or your environment?
Add that. All you need to know at this point is the next action. As a groundbreaker, you get to trek the rest of the route alone.
Do something you got badly wrong before.
Most organizations have the institutional equivalent of rattlesnake aversion. Once they've been bitten by something going badly wrong in the past, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that they'll try it again.
You'll have seen a version of this at meetings: someone suggests an initiative that seems reasonable, even exciting, and there's a mass sucking in of air, accompanied by eye-widening, knowing head-shaking and muttered expressions along the lines of "Oh, no -- we tried that back in '03. Total disaster. Total. Disaster."
Thing is, most disasters are so not because of the original idea itself, but because of the lousy execution at the time.
Next time a suggestion comes up that gives your team the group equivalent of the heebie-jeebies, don't reject it out of hand. Instead, stick it on a parking lot for later consideration, and when you come back to it, make a quick autopsy of just why it was a total disaster. If the truth is, you or your predecessor executed it poorly, then why not try it again-- but get it right this time?
Do something you don't have the in-house knowledge to achieve alone.
It's a natural tendency, when confronted with an opportunity, to assess the ability of your existing team to deliver on that opportunity.
Problem is, thinking this way permanently constrains the ability of your team to grow, develop, mature, expand, and thus deliver even more in the future.
How about the next time a potential project comes up that transcends your current capacity to deliver, that you see it as an opportunity to expand your group or team's abilities? Who on your team could be developed in the missing skill or ability? Who could mentor your team in what they're missing? What other organization, or individual could you joint venture with to learn what you need to learn?
For your company to grow, you need to grow-- and that applies to every member of your team, too.
Download a free chapter from the author's book, "The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success" which provides a comprehensive model for developing yourself or others as an exceptional, world class leader.