Stretch-Exploit-Coast Concept

The concept of stretch-exploit-coast (for North Americans, Coast = Freewheel) is a simple but highly effective way of assessing what someone’s current job gives them. When we start a new role, we are usually in high “positive stretch” mode – there is a lot to learn, and we relish the excitement and challenge. (“Negative stretch” occurs when we are faced with far too much work to achieve in the time allowed, or when the task is beyond our current capabilities and we do not have the support and guidance needed to help us deal with it.)

As we get familiar with the new role, we continue to learn by applying the new learning to other situations (“exploit” mode), but the pace of learning reduces sharply, unless we take on other new challenges. If we are in the same role for a long time, we become so familiar with the work that it becomes routine and there is almost no learning – we are in coast.

We all need a balance in our work between these three modes and that balance can be very different according to circumstances. For example, mums returning to work after having had their first baby often want to emphasize exploit and coast for a period, until they are back in the swing of their jobs and have settled down to a work-home routine.

When the balance between stretch, exploit and coast is right, then that indicates a good job fit. But if the alignment between the mixture you want and the mixture you have is poor, then there are three main potential outcomes:

  • You start looking for a new job
  • You do nothing but become increasingly less engaged with your work
  • You negotiate with your manager a change in your work roles 

Your mentor can help you think through the balance you have, the balance you want, and how you will negotiate with others and change your own habits, in order to achieve the balance you want.

Copyright – David Clutterbuck

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