“What got us here won’t get us there.”
Give your team permission to celebrate what they’ve achieved, and permission to let go of what’s not serving the company well.
Years ago, I learned the statement “What got us here won’t get us there.” It became one of the more powerful frameworks I know for setting new goals or launching new initiatives. And that’s because it does two things:
“What got us here won’t get us there” gives everyone permission to celebrate how far we’ve come. And it gives everyone permission to set down the stuff that isn’t working anymore.
You know, like if you were to grow really fast in your first year of a subscription box company sent to teachers but paid for by parents, and you did it by getting really scrappy and just renting U-Hauls and delivering stuff yourself? That’s probably not the way to grow to new cities. Also, we did that and here’s proof:
Why it Matters
It’s not easy to let go of the things that won’t take us where we want to go. Change is scary. It might require new teams, new ways of building, new skill sets we don’t have yet. And it might require saying “the thing I spent the last 6 months building isn’t the right thing for our future.” That’s tough.
To make that change easier, be sure to give those important contributions a place in history to be appreciated and celebrated. Only then can we say “okay, we did that and it was the right decision at the time. Now, it’s time to move on.”
How to Use the Framework
The “What got us here won’t get us there” framework helps us both celebrate the wins and know what to let go of. Here’s a way to use it in practice (with examples from my own company)
- What’s “HERE”?
Where have we gotten as an organization that we’re really proud of? What are the wins worth celebrating?
Example: At Alpaca, we’re REALLY proud of going from supporting 25 teachers at 1 school to 2,600 teachers in 70 schools in our first year.
2. What got us HERE?
What are the qualities, skills, choices, software stacks, decisions, or teams that got us here? All of it — the good, the bad, the ugly.
Example: At Alpaca, we got here by saying yes and doing whatever it took. GOOD: We were REALLY scrappy early on. When a district offered us the opportunity to bring our packs to every elementary teacher in our district, we said YES and figured out how later.
BAD: We ordered supply from everywhere and anywhere, we packed until midnight, we delivered packs in our cars.
UGLY: We nearly wore out our small team doing it.
3. What’s “THERE”?
Where are we going that we’re excited about? What’s the vision ahead for us?
Example: We want to take Alpaca’s unique model for supporting your school to parents in 3 new cities in 2023, and double the number of teachers we support.
4. What will get us THERE?
What stuff do we want to keep? What stuff do we know won’t scale? What stuff is taking too much time, energy, or deliberation? What stuff is it time to set down, because it won’t get us where we’re going?
Example: We know that to get to new cities, we can’t operate like a local company. We’ll have to develop national shipping capabilities, a national sales team, and hire a buyer who can get the right stock at the right time. And we’ve got to let go of the last minute operations fire drills.
Now, start at the top
More important than running this with your organization is running this on your own work as a leader. You can take this framework and apply it to your own work personally. What are the management and leadership skills you used to get the team where it is today? What are the things in there we should celebrate and lean into? And what are the things that were the right decision at the time, but aren’t going to take you where you want to go?
If you want to go next-level, share your honest assessment of yourself with your team, along with the commitments you’re making in light of it.
Repeating this process often can keep your company nimble, your own leadership humble, and your goals within closer reach.