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Stretch Assignments: What Are They and Is Your Employee Ready For One?

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Stretch assignments are a cornerstone of a strong employee development plan. A statement that is backed by a number of research studies. In one conducted by the Harvard Business Review of 823 executives, it was found that 71% of respondents said stretch assignments had the biggest impact on unleashing their potential. In another, this one conducted by Korn Ferry , stretch assignments were named the most valuable developmental experience, ahead of things like mentoring, classroom training, 360-degree assessments, and even exposure to senior leaders.

An intentional and strategic stretch assignment can go a long way in accelerating an employee’s development or supporting the trajectory of their career at your organization, though their success relies heavily on the one assigning the task - their leader.

In the following article, you will learn more about what stretch assignments are, what they are not, how to tell when an employee is ready for one, and more. Let’s begin.

What are Stretch Assignments?

While there are countless ways to define a stretch assignment, the following definition from BeLeaderly perfectly sums it up for the purposes of this article: “Stretch assignments are temporary, internal learning gigs that simultaneously offer an employee a chance to develop new skills while helping the organization solve a real business problem.”

Most commonly, stretch assignments are implemented to prepare an employee for an upcoming promotion, engage a high-performing employee, encourage skill development, or evaluate an employee’s level of interest or aptitude for another role.

As the name implies, stretch assignments mean they “stretch” or challenge an employee to think and act outside their comfort zone or day-to-day job. But what exactly makes a stretch assignment challenging ?

  • It presents employees with an unfamiliar challenge
  • It challenges an employee to create change
  • It gives an employee a high level of responsibility
  • It challenges an employee to work cross-functionally

At this point, it is important to define what stretch assignments are not. Stretch assignments are not a chance for you to hand off work you do not want to do. They should also not be what Korn Ferry calls “glass-cliff projects.” According to them, “stretch assignments and glass-cliff projects both involve some risk and often include crisis situations, but one is about building your skills and the other is about proving your worth, despite your many successes. One is encouraging; the other is an affront.”

Are you struggling to decide what to delegate and whom to delegate to? If so,  this guide will help!

4 Signs Your Employee Is Ready For a Stretch Assignment

Of course, there is a fine line between “stretching” or challenging an employee and overwhelming them. To help you distinguish if an employee is ready for and can handle a stretch assignment or not, here are a few key things to consider: 

  • Their Track Record An employee who is ready for a stretch assignment and can handle it will not only have a history of successful projects and good performance, but will have a track record of asking for help when they need it, respecting boundaries, proactively seeking learning opportunities, and taking accountability for their actions (whether good or bad). These behaviors show a level of discretion that is imperative to the success of a stretch assignment, where an employee is outside of their comfort zone.
  • Their Engagement According to Gallup , “engaged employees are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are psychological ‘owners,’ drive high performance and innovation, and move the organization forward.” Whereas, “actively disengaged employees aren't just unhappy at work - they are resentful that their needs aren't being met and are acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers potentially undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.” Fortunately, stretch assignments are an ideal chance to further engage already engaged employees and those bordering on disengaged. You should be quite certain that the individual you will give the assignment to will see it as a positive opportunity and be willing to do their best work, not just because they have to, but because they want to.

An employee who has been given a stretch assignment is going to need your support more so than they would for their everyday job. Therefore, before you give a stretch assignment, be sure you have the availability and capacity to proactively support your employee from start to finish. 

  • Your Relationship Given the nature of stretch assignments, there is always a risk of failure and for some employees, failure is hard to handle even if it is a valuable learning experience. That is why it is so important to have a relationship built on trust before delegating a stretch assignment. Your employee needs to feel comfortable sharing their challenges and questions without fear of judgment, or else they might try to “go at it alone,” which is ultimately where people get themselves into trouble.

2 Major Things to Be Aware of With Stretch Assignments

  • Stretch Assignments Should Not Impede An Employee’s Day-to-Day Job As a leader, you need to closely monitor the progress of a stretch assignment, the well-being of your employee, and the health of their day-to-day roles and responsibilities. If your employee is suddenly working an exorbitant amount or is showing signs of burnout , then you need to be prepared to step in. While the stretch assignment is important, it should not put your employee's core roles and responsibilities , not to mention their wellbeing, at risk. If this becomes an issue, use it as a learning opportunity to help the employee identify their signs of burnout and set boundaries .
  • Stretch Assignments Need to be Fairly Distributed The unfortunate reality is stretch assignments are not always fairly distributed and accessible to all employees. This was highlighted in a study from BeLeaderly , which found that “women are less likely than men to receive challenging stretch assignments.” The report noted that “when stretch assignments are unclear, unadvertised, and unevenly offered, it makes women hesitate even more to pursue them. On the other hand, taking an open, equitable approach to stretch opportunities can create a thriving internal gig economy - one that’s accessible to all. This not only helps employees advance in the short term, but it can also set the course for diversifying, and therefore strengthening, your leadership ranks in the long term.” So, how can you ensure the distribution of stretch assignments is fair? According to a report by Catalyst , they recommend leaders link the distribution of stretch assignments to performance reviews, review the allocation of stretch assignments to ensure equitable distribution among women and equity-seeking groups, as well as consider providing new hires with a stretch assignment or assigning new hires to a team working on a stretch assignment. 

Employees who are given a stretch assignment will require more support, guidance, and encouragement than an average employee. Though the effort is well worth it as stretch assignments contribute to employee engagement, morale, satisfaction, productivity, and success, which in turn contributes to your success as their leader. It’s a win-win!

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What Are Stretch Assignments?

Why are stretch assignments beneficial.

  • Catalyzes growth. These dynamic projects or tasks are designed to propel employees out of their comfort zones and catapult them into the realm of professional growth. By taking on unfamiliar responsibilities, employees are exposed to fresh challenges and opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge. It's like strapping a rocket to their career trajectory.
  • Supercharges engagement and motivation. We all know that engaged employees are the heart and soul of any thriving organization. Stretch assignments inject a much-needed dose of excitement and purpose into the work lives of your employees. By entrusting them with challenging projects, you're sending a clear message: We believe in you. Their commitment, initiative, and creativity skyrocket, resulting in a turbocharged organization firing on all cylinders.
  • Builds confidence and resilience. Stretch assignments give employees the perfect training ground for building confidence and resilience. As they conquer challenges and complete demanding projects, their sense of accomplishment skyrockets, boosting confidence levels and fueling a can-do attitude. Plus, the resilience developed through stretch assignments equips employees to navigate change and uncertainty with ease, making them valuable assets to your organization.

Types of Stretch Assignments

The skill-building extravaganza, the cross-functional adventure, the project of epic proportions, the innovation challenge, the client-facing expedition, how to implement stretch assignments in the workplace, step 1: align assignments with development goals, step 2: provide support and resources, step 3: set clear objectives and expectations, step 4: recognize and celebrate achievements, challenges associated with stretch assignments, challenge 1: the comfort zone conundrum.

  • Understand the employee's perspective. Recognize that employees may be hesitant to take on stretch assignments due to various reasons such as fear of failure, lack of confidence, or concerns about work-life balance. Take the time to listen and understand their concerns before addressing them.
  • Communicate the value . Clearly explain how the assignment can enhance their skill or broaden their experience and highlight the positive impact it can have on their career trajectory.
  • Provide support and resources. Assure employees that they will receive the necessary support, guidance, and resources to succeed in the stretch assignment. Offer training, mentorship, and coaching to help them build the skills and confidence required for the task. Reassure them that you are invested in their success.
  • Set realistic expectations .Ensure that employees understand the expectations and scope of the stretch assignment. Clearly define the goals, deliverables, and timelines involved. Break down the assignment into manageable steps and provide a roadmap for success. This will help alleviate concerns and make the assignment less daunting.

Challenge 2: Time and Resource Crunch

Challenge 3: skills gaps, challenge 4: balancing act, challenge 5: ensuring equity, evaluation and reflection, assess progress and outcomes, support reflection, refine and improve.

Brandi M Fannell, Ph.D.

Brandi M Fannell, Ph.D.

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Stretch Assignments that Develop Strategic, Interpersonal, and Personal Skills

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

Given that most development occurs through experience (McCall, Lombardo, & Morrison, 1988), stretch assignments can provide a great vehicle for driving employee learning and/or leadership development. Stretch assignments are essentially short-term projects or assignments that provide unique and challenging experiences for the purpose of developing employee/leader skills and abilities. Although the use of on-the-job development is clearly on the rise, it is often applied without consideration of the necessary planning and support mechanisms.

The first thing to keep in mind if you’re thinking about leveraging stretch assignments for developmental purposes is the common-sense notion that different stretch assignments develop different abilities (e.g., public speaking skills cannot be developed through writing policy statements or crunching numbers). Because of this, it is important to first identify the specific skill(s) to be developed. Once you have a list of skills, the next step is to identify the available assignments that provide relevant exposure. This article will help you with this first critical stage of using stretch assignments – that is, thinking about competencies and identifying assignments. Below is a list of stretch assignments that have been shown to develop competence in the following three areas: strategic skills, interpersonal skills, or personal effectiveness.

If you would like to share this list, check out our reference guide which contains the same information in a PDF format.

Strategic Skills

These assignments will help develop competencies related to expanding one’s awareness of organizational functions and strategy ( e.g., coping with ambiguous situations, gaining a strategic perspective, influencing others, working with customers, problem solving )

  • Spend 3 days with clients and report back (presentation or written report)
  • Conduct a customer-needs analysis
  • Write a policy statement
  • Interview external stakeholders about their opinions of the organization
  • Analyze and compare a competitor’s product or service
  • Put together a presentation for a senior employee (i.e., supervisor or manager)
  • Evaluate a training program
  • Join a cross-functional team
  • Join work on a project that has been unsuccessful
  • Put together a task-force to solve a tough problem
  • Monitor a new product or service through its entire life cycle

Interpersonal Skills

These will help develop competencies that increase one’s effectiveness to work with and manage other employees or teams ( e.g., communication, listening, managing conflict, managing relationships, teamwork, negotiation, trust, approachability, delegation, leadership )

  • Lead a team meeting
  • Become a mentor to a new employee
  • Train a new employee in a particular skill
  • Represent team concerns to supervisor
  • Join a team that’s dealing with conflict
  • Negotiate a new customer contract
  • Take responsibility in resolving a team conflict
  • Troubleshoot a performance issue
  • Become a campus recruiter
  • Interview customers and report back
  • Work with a peer on a developmental opportunity
  • Delegate 2 tasks to a peer and ask him/her to delegate 2 to you

Personal Effectiveness

These are oriented around competencies most closely related to your performance and personal development ( e.g., organizing, planning, intellectual acumen, creativity, composure, time management, work/life balance, decision quality, customer service )

  • Help launch a new product or service
  • Re-launch a product or service that previously failed
  • Learn a new tool, process, or approach and give a presentation on it
  • Work with someone from another department on a tough issue
  • Handle a difficult negotiation with an internal or external client
  • Take on a project that others have failed in
  • Write a press release
  • Teach a seminar on an unfamiliar topic
  • Create a customer satisfaction survey
  • Take on a task that you do not like to do
  • Take on an employee’s tasks who is on vacation
  • Conduct interviews with employees on their work/life balance experience & present findings

Note: This list is informed by research presented in Lombardo & Eichinger’s (1989) book entitled “Eighty-eight assignments for development in place,” and Yost & Plunkett’s (2009) book entitled “Real time leadership development.” I highly recommend both books as resources for any organization that currently applies stretch assignments or plans to in the future.

Going Forward…

Going forward, keep in mind that this is only a single piece in effective use of stretch assignments for developmental purposes. There are a number of mechanisms that are critical for actually translating experience into learning and development. Employees who will be given stretch assignments need the active support ant participation of their supervisor before, during, and after:

  • Before – to meet with the employee and discuss what skills to develop, then chose a stretch assignment and identify learning goals
  • During – to give immediate feedback, support and encouragement, and provide access to resources (e.g., time to participate in assignments, introductions to other people who can provide guidance)
  • After – to reflect and debrief on what was learned during the assignment and how that can be applied to their current job or future development

Happy Development!

– Scontrino-Powell

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Use Stretch Assignments to Get a Raise, a Promotion and Anything Else You Want at Work

stretch assignments

Want to uncover a bigger, bolder vision for your career than you can imagine today? Try taking on a stretch assignment — a project that can’t be completed using your current expertise.

A stretch opportunity could be a temporary assignment or project that you oversee for a few weeks or a few months. Or it could be taking on a new, permanent role that increases your scope.

Examples of stretch assignments include:

  • Delivering a presentation to a VIP client
  • Structuring and communicating a rollout for a key change
  • Leading the implementation of new tools to replace manual processes
  • Convening or serving on a task force created to solve a difficult problem
  • Relaunching an internal initiative that previously failed
  • Performing data analysis to find business efficiencies
  • Turning around a failing product or launching a new product

When you take on such an assignment, you’ll be compelled to develop new technical, business or leadership skills. As you engage in the process, you’ll build relationships with new stakeholders, and increase your visibility and your chances of earning a promotion or raise.

stretch assignments

Why Stretch Opportunities Can Be Career-making

“There’s now towering evidence to confirm the career-transforming power of stretch roles and stretch assignments,” says Jo Miller, CEO of Be Leaderly , a firm dedicated to helping organizations develop a pipeline of qualified and engaged emerging women leaders.

According to McKinsey & Company, people who get advice from managers about how to advance — and who then land stretch assignments — are more likely to to receive raises . Similar research from Korn Ferry names stretch or rotational assignments as the most valuable experiences for career development , ahead of action learning, mentoring, relationships, 360-degree assessments, exposure to more senior leaders and formal classroom training.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that stretch assignments provide so many benefits to individuals’ careers, men and women are not on a level playing field when it comes to those opportunities.

Women More Likely to Feel Unsure About Whether They’re Ready

Recently, Be Leaderly conducted a study on workers’ attitudes and experiences around stretch assignments . They found that both men and women have similar ambitions: both genders are equally interested in being promoted into director or vice president positions and ultimately advancing into C-suite roles.

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

Yet, most women don’t feel their employers make it easy to gauge if they are ready for a promotion, while most men think their employers help them to know whether they are prepared to advance.

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

Additionally, when women assess how ready they are for a new job, they are less likely than men to overestimate or “round up” their skills, and more likely to underestimate or “round down” what they know or can do.

What might account for these differences between male and female professionals?

Selena Rezvani — VP of Research at Be Leaderly and co-author of this report — suggests that “women may be more sensitive than men to social cues signaling readiness to advance. [So] when stretch opportunities are unclear, unadvertised and unevenly offered, it makes women hesitate even more to pursue them.”

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Most women don’t feel their employers make it easy to gauge if they are ready for a promotion, while most men think their employers help them to know whether they are prepared to advance.” quote=”Most women don’t feel their employers make it easy to gauge if they are ready for a promotion, while most men think their employers help them to know whether they are prepared to advance.”]

How Men Versus Women Evaluate Stretch Opportunities

For both genders, the top criteria for deciding whether to take a stretch assignment are having the influence to create a positive outcome, and getting an assignment that aligns with their career goals. Yet, men are 3.5 times more likely than women to cite pay as an important factor in evaluating the appeal of a new assignment, job or level!

9 Ways to Make the Most Out of Stretch Opportunities

How can you make the most of stretch opportunities at your organization, knowing that your organization might not advertise these assignments or provide clear clues as to how ready you are? Below are some key tips from some experts in the leadership development space, including the authors of Be Leaderly’s report on stretch assignments and others.

1. Chart Your course

If you understand your passions, innate strengths and the direction you want to take your career, it will be much easier to identify the stretches that make sense for you. What types of work do you naturally feel passionate about or gravitate toward? Look beyond your immediate role and identify those unmet needs in your organization that you have an interest in solving. Once you have ideas, find evidence to support why they would be helpful. Discuss your proposal with management and share why you’re excited about the part you could play.

2. Gather Your Own Data to Assess Your Readiness

Be proactive in assessing your own readiness to advance. Seek out clear, frequent feedback on your work — both formal and informal — that is tied to business outcomes. For example, send a survey to those who work with you and ask them for their perspective for your strengths and how you show up at work. Include questions to help you understand how others see you, such as “What three to five words would you use to describe me?,” “What’s a success or a big win I had in the last six months?” and “What one adjustment would you encourage me to make?.”

And here’s another important piece of advice from Selena: “If you’re a woman, aim to round up rather than round down your qualifications when deciding if you’ve got enough to go after a certain role or assignment.”

3. Trust in What You Already Know and Bring It Forth

You may have a hard time “rounding up” your qualifications because you feel that you haven’t learned enough or don’t know enough to tackle a new challenge. Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big and career coach to emerging women leaders, identified this as an issue for many of her female coaching clients. She believes that the reason women and men feel this way is because our experience in schools have taught us to value external knowledge over our own lived experiences and judgment.

Tara, in her book, points that in many schools, the dominant activity is absorbing information from the outside — whether from a book, a teacher’s lecture or the internet — and then internalizing it.

In school, most assignments follow this pattern: 1) do the readings/research, 2) absorb the information, 3) apply it through writing a paper/report/making a presentation. The message is that the value we have to contribute on a topic comes from information absorbed from an external source — from teachers, homework reading and research.

When we carry this sort of conditioning into our professional lives, we are led to believe that we need another qualification, degree or certificate before we can tackle a stretch assignment. But to reach our full potential, we must start to value who we are as much as what we know.

“Playing big often requires assessing what we already know, trusting its value and bringing it forth. This is particularly true as women advance to senior levels in their careers, where they need to be the source of ideas and of thought leadership,” says Tara.

4. Identify your champions and talk to them about your career goals

In addition to your manager, there are others in your organization who could become champions for you and refer you opportunities you may not be aware of. This group includes your manager’s manager, more senior colleagues from groups/teams you work with and staff from your HR team. Build relationships with these people, make sure they know your work and what you aspire to do. When they have this knowledge, they’re likely to have you in mind when an opportunity opens up.

5. Make informed decisions and ask for what you need to be successful

Don’t agree to do the extra work without the extra pay. Remember, men are 3.5 times as likely than women to cite pay as an important factor in evaluating the appeal of a new assignment, job or level.

Gather the details on what the new opportunity entails, including compensation, recognition and career options that a stretch might lead to. “Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘If I do an excellent job on this project, what can I expect as a result?” says Jo and Selena in their report.

Also, make sure you negotiate for what you need — resources, authority and support — to be successful in the role.

6. Take a Project No One Wants

stretch assignments

Some projects are shiny, cool and trendy (e.g. working with a hip new client). But what about the riskier assignments no one else wants? When you raise your hand for the assignment that makes others nervous or uncomfortable, it demonstrates your confidence in your abilities and commitment to your organization. These projects can give you the opportunity to prove yourself as a problem-solver, change agent or emerging leader.

7. Focus on Learning as Much as the Outcome

Don’t be quick to judge the gaps in your knowledge when you take on a new role or project. Embrace your newcomer status and find joy in your learning process. Think of yourself as a student of the problem you’re solving.

8. Translate the experience and spotlight what you accomplish

Did your new assignment help you develop new technical skills? Did you learn a better way of working with a group? Document your learnings so others know what you have gained from an assignment. Identify at least three actions you can take in your current role based on what you learned.

9. Market what you accomplish

Even if you knocked the project out of the park, it won’t mean much if no one knows what you’ve accomplished. “In your pre-deal negotiation, request that your stretch assignment be marketed internally. For example, ask that it serve as a best practice story and be shared on appropriate company channels, whether it’s via an internal newsletter, social network, or even in a brown-bag information session,” suggests Jo and Selena.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you taken on a stretch assignment recently? We want to hear from you. Share your results in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter .

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The power and purpose of stretch assignments in career advancement

January 19, 2024

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

What are stretch assignments?

Stuck in a career rut? Feel ready to push boundaries and expand your skill set? Or do you feel ready for more and need the right opportunity to prove it? Enter stretch assignments: challenging projects to propel individuals beyond their comfort zones and ignite career growth. They are professional boot camps offering opportunities to lead cross-functional teams, tackle complex problems, or master entirely new skills.

These aren't just resume fillers; they're springboards to professional advancement. Discover hidden talents, impress key stakeholders, and watch your career ascend. Embrace the learning curve, the inevitable stumbles, and the thrill of overcoming them. It's an investment in your professional future, with the potential to unlock your full potential and take your career to the next level.

Ready to dive deeper? This article will guide you to identify the perfect stretch assignments for you, navigate their challenges with poise, and leverage them for maximum career impact:

  • The power of stretch assignments: How they can help you get ahead in your career

The purpose of stretch assignments: How employers can use it to discover employee potential

Navigating the challenges of stretch assignments, fast-track your career with airswift, the power of stretch assignments : how they can help you get ahead in your career.

The power of stretch assignments lies in their ability to propel individuals beyond their comfort zones, acting as catalysts for continuous learning and growth.

These challenging projects develop new skills, boost confidence, enhance visibility, and open doors to unexpected career paths, ultimately shaping a dynamic and resilient professional journey.

Developing new skills and expertise

Learning new things is crucial for professional growth, and stretch assignments are like rocket fuel. These challenging tasks push you outside your comfort zone, forcing you to break free from your usual routine and pick up new skills.

Whether mastering a new software tool, leading a team on a project, or honing your communication skills, stretch assignments make you a more well-rounded professional.

Imagine an IT pro tackling a complex project with a diverse team. They conquer the technical aspects and learn essential project management skills like planning, budgeting, and delegation.

This experience broadens their skills, making them adaptable and ready for any challenge. By the end, they're not just technical whizzes but a well-equipped leader.

The benefits go beyond the individual. When employees learn and grow, the whole organisation thrives. A dynamic workforce with diverse skills and fresh perspectives sparks innovation and continuous improvement.

Those who embrace stretch assignments become valuable assets, bringing new ideas and approaches. This collective growth makes the organisation agile and competitive, able to navigate the ever-changing professional landscape.

Graphic with the quote: Stepping outside your comfort zone is how you truly grow. Stretch assignments are challenges disguised as opportunities for learning, self-discovery, and exceeding your own expectations." - Simon Sinek, Author of "Start with Why

Boosting confidence and growth mindset

Tackling challenging tasks is like dipping your toes into a chilly pool – it might be scary at first, but it can feel amazing on the other side. Stretch assignments are challenging projects that push you beyond your usual routine and comfort zone. But here's the thing: they're also powerful tools for building confidence and a growth mindset.

Imagine conquering a complex project you initially felt unsure about. That triumphant feeling? That's the confidence blooming! It's not just about mastering new skills for that specific project; it's about realising you can tackle anything you want.

Overcoming hurdles builds resilience and leaves you feeling like you can take on anything the professional world throws your way.

Stretch assignments are like personal cheerleaders for this way of thinking. They encourage you to see challenges as chances to learn and grow instead of walls to block progress.

Your talent and skills matter, sure, but renowned psychologist Carol Dweck says it's your approach that makes the difference. By embracing this, you will take a major step towards conquering career obstacles such as impostor syndrome .

So, always remember, with this combination of stretch assignments and a growth mindset, you're not just getting skilled up. You're developing a "can-do" attitude that keeps you learning and adapting.

Enhancing visibility and reputation

Taking on a challenging project at work can feel like stepping into the spotlight. Stretch assignments, often involving high-impact tasks or leadership roles, are your chance to show off your skills and make a big impression.

Imagine a marketing whiz leading a complex campaign. Everyone sees their talent in action as they navigate deadlines, budgets, and creative hurdles. Their success doesn't just boost their confidence; it gets noticed by colleagues, bosses, and even other departments. This "buzz" about their abilities opens doors to exciting opportunities: promotions, invitations to key meetings, you name it.

The more individuals tackle tough assignments and deliver results, the more they're seen as competent and proactive. This builds a strong reputation and paves the way for a brighter future within the company.

Completing a stretch assignment isn't just about learning new skills. It's about showcasing your potential and launching yourself towards the next level.

Discovering new career paths

Think of stretch assignments as stepping stones leading beyond your usual work routine. They're your chance to explore different corners of your field, like trying on different shoes to see which fit best. Working on cross-functional projects or tackling tasks outside your comfort zone gives you a taste of what different roles involve.

Imagine an engineer on a cross-functional project suddenly fascinated by product development. Who knew they had a hidden passion for turning ideas into things? This newfound exposure broadens their skills and opens their eyes to exciting career paths they have never considered before.

These discoveries can lead to some amazing things. Our engineer fired up about product development, might start seeking out roles that let them build and craft things. They might seek promotions, ask for projects that align with their new interest, or even create initiatives that blend their existing skills with their newfound passion.

Stretch assignments don't just expand your skillset; they can be the spark that ignites your career and leads you to something you truly love.

Businesses in today's dynamic landscape understand that their greatest asset is their products and their people. To nurture talent, unlock hidden potential, and build a workforce equipped for the future, forward-thinking employers are turning to a powerful tool: stretch assignments.

The purpose of stretch assignments is to transform employees into well-rounded professionals by immersing them in challenging tasks and fostering continuous learning, innovation, and leadership readiness—ultimately creating a workforce that is adaptable, creative, and prepared for the dynamic demands of the business world.

Let's delve deeper into how stretch assignments serve this critical purpose, transforming individuals and fuelling organisational success:

Investing in employee development

Smart companies know their greatest asset is their people. That's why they invest in stretch assignments – challenging tasks that push employees outside their comfort zones. It's like giving them a mini adventure to explore new skills and areas of their work.

Why? Because continuous learning and development are crucial for both the employee and the company. Employees who tackle tough challenges build new skills, gain confidence, and discover hidden talents. This makes them more adaptable and ready for anything the business world throws their way.

Graphic of a quote: The fastest way to get noticed and move up the ladder is to take on challenges beyond your current role. Stretch assignments make you stand out as someone who is proactive, capable, and ready for more." - Lori Loughlin, Founder of The Mentor Network

For the company, it's like building a stronger team. A diverse skillset across the board means the whole company is more flexible and able to handle change. It sparks creativity and innovation, helping them stay ahead of the competition in this fast-paced world.

Take companies like Google and IBM . They're champions of stretch assignments, and it shows. Their employees get to work on exciting projects, develop new skills, and explore different corners of their roles.

This makes them happier and more engaged and builds a culture of learning and adaptability that keeps the company thriving.

Fostering innovation and creativity

Stepping outside your comfort zone can feel scary, but it can also be incredibly creative. This is precisely what stretch assignments are about – pushing you to tackle new challenges and think outside the box.

Your brain must flex its creative muscles when you're not stuck in the usual routine. You start seeing problems from different angles and coming up with fresh solutions. Imagine a tech company bringing designers, engineers, and marketers together for a cross-functional project.

Suddenly, ideas are bouncing around like ping-pong balls! This clash of perspectives often leads to groundbreaking inventions, like a new gadget you never even knew you needed.

Hence, stretch assignments aren't just about learning new skills and sparking innovation. They create an environment where everyone feels encouraged to experiment and explore .

By stepping outside their comfort zones, individuals contribute to the company's success, discover hidden talents, and unleash their creative potential.

Preparing for future leadership roles

Thinking about taking the helm one day? Stretch assignments are like your leadership training ground . They let you test your skills on challenging projects, like a mid-level manager heading up a high-impact initiative.

Not only do you tackle tough problems, but you also learn to guide and inspire a team towards success. It's hands-on leadership experience preparing you for the captain's chair.

These challenging projects are like obstacle courses for your leadership skills. You'll face tough decisions, navigate uncertainty, and learn to bring your team together. It's like building a well-rounded toolbox for all things leadership, preparing you for bigger roles down the line.

Think of it as an audition for future leadership opportunities. Stretch assignments show your potential, letting everyone see your ability to handle pressure, make smart choices, and motivate others.

This real-world experience makes you a star team member and a potential future leader.

Cultivate your future leaders with Airswift's Global Employment and Mobility (GEM) ; we personalise your search for professionals to build your organisation's human capital pipeline.

Navigating the challenges of stretch assignments involves acknowledging common fears and imposter syndrome. Still, individuals can confidently tackle challenges and turn them into meaningful personal and professional development adventures by reframing these concerns as opportunities for learning and growth and building a strong support system with mentors and colleagues.

Overcoming fear and imposter syndrome

Taking on a big challenge can feel scary. You might worry about failing or feel like you're not good enough. These feelings are normal. Fear and "imposter syndrome" (that voice telling you you're a fraud) are common, but they don't have to stop you.

The key is to remember that stretch assignments are about learning, not just getting everything right. Think of them as adventures to explore new skills and areas of your work. So, instead of focusing on failure, focus on growth. Celebrate small wins and enjoy the journey!

Talking to others can also help. Mentors have been there before and can offer advice and support. They can share their stories about overcoming challenges and help you set realistic goals. Building a support network can make even the toughest stretch assignments feel manageable.

By facing your fears and reframing how you think about stretch assignments, you can turn them into opportunities for personal growth and confidence.

8 Tips to conquer imposter syndrome at work

Finding the right stretch assignment for your needs

Choosing the right stretch assignment is like finding the sweet spot between a comfy sofa and a cliffhanger. You want it to challenge you but not send you tumbling. And ideally, it should be something you're interested in, too.

Think about your skills , what you're good at, and what you'd like to learn. Then, look for projects that stretch those muscles without overwhelming you. Don't forget about your passions and long-term goals. Pick something that excites you and helps you move towards your dream career.

This way, the challenge won't just feel good; it'll feel meaningful. And if you can't find the perfect fit, don't be afraid to create it! Talk to colleagues, propose new ideas, and show your boss you're proactive.

Many companies have resources to help you find the right stretch assignment. Human resources might offer career development frameworks like maps for your professional journey. They can show you what skills you need for different roles and suggest projects that match your interests.

Mentors can be another great source of advice. They've been there, done that, and have the wisdom to guide you. Ask them about their career paths and see if they can suggest any stretch assignments that fit your goals.

By combining self-reflection, company resources, and mentorship, you can choose a stretch assignment that's both challenging and meaningful. Remember, it's not just about the destination but the journey of growth and discovery.

Building support systems

Taking on a big challenge can feel like scaling a mountain alone. But you don't have to do it by yourself! Having a support team by your side makes all the difference.

Think of your mentors as Sherpas, guiding you through unfamiliar terrain and sharing their wisdom. They've been there before and can help you navigate any tricky bits. Your colleagues are like your fellow climbers, lending a hand and sharing their perspectives. And your supervisor is the base camp, providing resources and motivating you.

Open communication is key. Talk to your team about your goals, worries, and successes. Mentors can offer advice, colleagues can bounce ideas around, and your supervisor can ensure everything aligns with the company's vision. This teamwork makes the climb way more enjoyable!

Smart companies set up mentorship programs where you can learn from experienced pros. They create peer networks where you can share and learn from each other. They ensure regular check-ins with your supervisor, so you always have someone to talk to and keep you on track.

With this robust support system, you can conquer any stretch assignment. Remember, you're not alone – your team is right there with you, cheering you on every step of the way.

In summary, the power and purpose of stretch assignments in career development are undeniable. These experiences offer many benefits, from skill development and boosted confidence to enhanced visibility and unexpected career paths. Despite the challenges, individuals are encouraged to embrace stretch assignments as opportunities for growth, learning, and career advancement .

As Eleanor Roosevelt aptly said, "Do one thing every day that scares you." Individuals genuinely step into their full potential through these challenges and achieve remarkable professional growth.

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4 Stretch Assignment Examples for Upskilling Your Workforce

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There’s a reason why doctors and fitness experts encourage regular stretching. Doing so improves your performance, increases your range of motion, and builds flexibility. 

Likewise, employees can improve their performance and expand their skills when they stretch their abilities in the workplace. 

This can be done by taking on stretch assignments: projects or tasks that are beyond their current skill set or expertise. Stretch assignments play a critical role in upskilling programs by strengthening employees’ career prospects, enhancing performance in the workplace, and extending an individual’s range of knowledge.

Here are several types of stretch assignments you can assign employees to help them upskill for career development and internal mobility :

  • Teaching a class or developing a course
  • Leading or working on a cross-functional project
  • Coaching or mentoring a teammate 

Sound interesting? Next we'll jump into more detail on each type of stretch assignment and what kinds of skills they help employees develop.

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1. Ask subject-matter experts to teach peers

The protégé effect states that the best way for a person to learn is to teach. Therefore, empowering your internal subject matter experts to teach a class or create a course allows them to refresh existing knowledge and learn new skills in the process.

These employees learn how to better communicate their thoughts clearly and precisely, so colleagues who are taking the course can pick up the material quickly. This type of exercise also requires subject-matter experts to use their imagination and creativity to work out how to best deliver the content in an engaging and effective manner.

Take for example, a senior graphic designer who is creating a beginner Photoshop course for her organization. Even though she knows how to navigate the software like the back of her hand, she will still need to learn how to explain design concepts in a manner that non-designers can easily and quickly pick up.

To encourage more frequent peer training in your organization, consider investing in an LMS with an authoring tool that enables anyone to create internal courses in minutes. The most flexible employee training programs enable users to create and participate in both employer and employee-led learning remotely and asynchronously. 

Google, for example, has a formal employee-to-employee training system called “G2G” (Googler-to-Googler), in which employees volunteer to teach and train their peers. They can create a course on any topic that they’re interested and experienced in, which has covered topics as diverse as coding, cooking, and ballroom dancing.

This initiative has also created tangible benefits for volunteer teachers, such as improved performance and new hard and soft skills. A Google engineer even taught his co-workers how to fly airplanes , and in the process, he largely improved his skill and confidence in public speaking and presentation.

2. Assign employees to work on cross-functional projects

Although online learning and remote work give employees greater autonomy on how they learn and work, they can also be isolating . One way to offset this is to have your employees upskill and challenge themselves by participating in or leading cross-functional projects within your organization. For example, you could have an employee in product management work with the marketing and customer success teams on a new product launch. 

When employees collaborate with other teams or departments, they can share their expertise and learn from fellow colleagues, while expanding their own knowledge and skills. This could mean gaining tactical skills and discovering helpful new tools, but also developing communication and interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and teamwork. This transfer of knowledge and expertise also allows team members to exchange ideas and share different perspectives, which can help stimulate creative thinking and problem-solving.

3. Have experienced employees coach junior team members

Becoming an effective leader isn’t as easy as just reading a book or taking a course. It requires hands-on experience acquired through interpersonal interactions in the workplace. Help your employees gain this experience with an internal program teaching them how to coach their peers .

In the workplace, a coach is a person involved in the instruction, direction, or training of an individual or team to help them grow and develop their skills. A leadership coaching survey showed that 72% of companies offer some type of leadership coaching to improve the leadership skills of their employees. This type of stretch assignment is well-suited for employees who want to guide others in reaching specific goals, and to develop leadership skills like emotional intelligence, empathy, and self-awareness. 

There are two ways to support your employees with a coaching program:

  • One-on-one coaching : This occurs when a more knowledgeable or skilled employee works with a more junior team member in the same field to guide them on their professional development. This method allows the coach to follow their trainee’s work and habits to determine how they can help improve their performance. For example, in a design agency, a lead designer can coach a junior designer and help them plan and strategize their work.
  • Peer-to-peer coaching : This is a more informal method where two or more employees with similar levels of experience and seniority work together to help each reach their goals. It can be as simple as connecting to ask questions, review work, provide feedback, or help someone join a new project or team. For example, assigning onboarding buddies to new hires helps the latter acclimate to the company and their role–and gives the former an opportunity to take on more responsibility and engage with their work in a new way. 

4. Increase workplace engagement with a mentoring culture

Research from Gallup found that a whopping 60% of workers are emotionally detached at work. Giving your employees rewarding opportunities to become mentors can increase their engagement and satisfaction in the workplace. A study from the Harvard Business Review revealed that employees who served as mentors “described their job as more meaningful than those who did not mentor.” And mentors also experienced lower levels of anxiety than their non-mentoring counterparts.

Like coaching, mentoring is a relationship in which employees learn from someone else’s experience. Coaching is more performance-driven and often designed to help trainees reach milestones and achieve specific goals. On the other hand, mentoring is more focused on passing a mentor’s knowledge onto the mentee, rather than following direct instructions.

For example, desired outcomes of a mentor-mentee relationship are often: helping an individual realize their potential, accelerating their development, or supporting them in furthering their career. A mentor looks at their mentee’s holistic improvement, rather than specific skills that can be learned through practice. 

Mentorship also enables mentors to transform their individual knowledge into institutional knowledge . And this process of sharing their skills and ideas with others helps them improve their interpersonal and communication skills.

To make your mentorship program a greater success, pair mentors with mentees who have different experiences, knowledge, and skill sets. This encourages mentors to get outside their comfort zone and challenges them to think or see things differently. As part of its four-step mentorship program , Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution matches mentees with mentors who work in different locations. This approach creates more opportunities for interesting conversations and fresh perspectives because employees can interact with team members they wouldn’t normally encounter in their day-to-day work.

"Stretch" your employees to strengthen your organization

It’s easier for employees to excel at stretch assignments in a collaborative learning environment. A collaborative learning culture ensures that your employees are regularly sharing knowledge and building new skills, whether through peer-learning opportunities or mentorship and coaching programs.

Investing in a comprehensive learning platform like 360Learning allows employees to declare their learning needs in real-time–enabling L&D teams and SMEs to create courses that address the most immediate skills gaps within your organization.

Want to read about more upskilling strategies to develop a highly skilled, engaged, and loyal workforce that’s ready to take on new challenges and propel your business to greater heights? Explore more articles on the topic below, or book a personalized demo of 360Learning here .

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Embracing Learning through Stretch Assignments: A Guide to Success

Stretch Assignments, Upskilling, Leadership Development

Industries now evolve 5 times faster than 5 years ago. With unrelenting change, adaptability is essential. McKinsey ( 2019) finds leaders exposed to 5+ functions and 3+ countries become 69% more change-ready. Harvard Business Review (2020) analysis shows broad experiences expand perspectives to envision transformation. Further studies show experiential learning opportunities directly enable greater agility—employees with wider skillsets adjust up to 40% quicker to disruptions.

This blog explores how "stretch assignments" and experiential learning are not just beneficial but essential for thriving in such a fast-paced environment. We delve into the intricacies of implementing successful stretch assignments and how they can be a key to not only surviving but excelling in today's ever-changing work world.

Stretch assignments are developmental projects that push people beyond their comfort zones. By tackling unfamiliar responsibilities, employees expand their skill sets and perspectives.

Stretch assignments are impactful for several reasons. They provide real-world practice, enhance problem-solving abilities, build resilience, boost engagement, and promote leadership skills. With continuous feedback and learning, employees progress in their careers and become better equipped to drive innovation.

9 key experiences that you should consider as stretch assignments:

Operational Delivery : Leading a project to enhance the efficiency of a critical production process.

Unfamiliar Environment : Taking a short-term role in a different department or geographical location.

People Management : Managing a cross-functional team on a high-profile project.

Global Remit : Overseeing a project with team members from multiple international offices.

Change Management : Leading an initiative to implement a new organisational structure.

Growth:  Developing and executing a plan to enter a new market.

Start-up:  Launching a new product line or service from scratch.

Turnaround : Revitalizing a struggling business unit or product.

Special Project : Managing a corporate social responsibility project with high visibility.

If you want to learn more about these key experiences, download our 9 Key Experiences to Develop Future-ready Leaders Handbook. Click here to download

The effectiveness of 'learning by doing' through stretch assignments critically depends on addressing 4 specific elements essential for success. This comprehensive guide explores these four elements, offering insights and practical strategies to maximise the benefits of learning through stretch assignments.

Element 1: Overcoming Organisational Resistance to Experiential Learning

One significant obstacle in implementing stretch assignments is overcoming organisational resistance to experiential learning. This resistance often stems from a lack of understanding of the practical benefits of 'learning by doing,' apprehension about the outcomes, or a preference for more traditional, structured learning methods such as classroom-based or e-learning modules. Overcoming resistance to stretch assignments requires a proactive and positive approach that emphasises educating and showcasing their tangible advantages, which can be achieved through securing management buy-in, effective internal communication of successes, and positioning HR as a facilitator of experiential learning opportunities:

Management Buy-In : Securing the active endorsement and support of top management for stretch assignments is essential. When leaders share their personal experiences with stretch assignments, they highlight their value in personal and organisational growth, effectively linking development with success.

Effective Internal Communication : Consistent communication about the successes and benefits of stretch assignments is critical. Showcasing stories of employee growth and their contributions to organisational objectives can help create a positive outlook towards experiential learning.

HR's Role in Facilitating Experiential Learning : The Human Resources department should be at the forefront of creating and implementing frameworks for experiential learning opportunities. Organising focus groups with senior leaders to discuss and share their experiences with major projects and stretch assignments not only reinforces the value of experiential learning but also serves as a powerful reminder of its effectiveness to the leadership team.

Element 2: Securing the Right Stretch Role

In the second element of our exploration into stretch assignments, we focus on the critical factors of ensuring that the stretch role that has been selected for an employee is right. This involves careful consideration of several key criteria, including aligning the role with both the individual's career path and the organisation's objectives, determining the optimal level of challenge to encourage growth without overwhelming, and clearly defining role objectives and expectations. By paying close attention to these factors, we can significantly enhance the effectiveness and impact of stretch assignments in employee development. It’s important to set employees up for success.

Let's delve into these critical success factors in more detail.

Firstly, Strategic Alignment: It is crucial to select stretch roles that align with the employee's career trajectory while contributing significantly to the organisation's objectives. This approach ensures the unlocking of potential with precision. When both individual and organisational goals are aligned to the stretch role, both the individual and the organisation are going to care more about making the assignment a success. 

Secondly, Optimal Challenge Level: The role should present an appropriate level of challenge, promoting autonomy and decision-making in employees. This balance fosters innovation and growth while ensuring the role remains achievable and the employee is not overstretched.

To determine if a role offers the right level of stretch, consider these aspects:

Employee’s Reaction and Confidence Level :

Observe the employee's initial reaction to the assignment. Signs of excessive anxiety or doubt may suggest the role is too challenging. In contrast, if they seem too comfortable or unchallenged, the role may not be challenging enough. The ideal stretch induces cautious optimism and an eagerness to embrace the challenge.

Past Performance and Learning Curve : Evaluate the employee’s historical performance and adaptability in similar contexts. If they have consistently managed slightly challenging tasks well, a more demanding assignment could be appropriate. On the other hand, if they have struggled with moderate challenges before, a more modest assignment would be advisable. The role should encourage them to utilise and expand upon their existing skills and knowledge.

Time and Effort Estimation : Assess the required time and effort for the assignment relative to the employee's current workload and abilities. A suitably challenging assignment should necessitate a substantial, yet manageable, increase in effort and time beyond their usual responsibilities. If the role demands an inordinate amount of time or effort well beyond the scope of their current position, it may be excessively challenging.

The final factor in securing the right role is Role Clarity: It is essential to clearly define the objectives and expectations of the stretch role. Regular check-ins and documented goals are vital for maintaining alignment and clarity, particularly in roles that are new or involve novel challenges. For those in the earlier stages of their career, roles with well-defined parameters often prove more successful as stretch assignments.

Element 3: Preparing the Employee for the Stretch Role

This third section is focused on providing employees with the essential preparation and support they need to successfully navigate and thrive in their stretch roles. The right preparation and support are crucial in ensuring the employee is not only ready but also set up for success in their stretch role. 

First, start with a skills assessment. Conducting a skills assessment is vital because it helps to identify the specific competencies an employee currently possesses and the areas where they may need further development. This assessment ensures that the employee is placed in a stretch role that is challenging yet achievable, aligning with their existing skills and potential for growth. By understanding their strengths and weaknesses, the assignment can be tailored to maximise learning and minimise the risk of failure, making the experience both developmental and beneficial for the individual and the organisation.

For high-stretch roles, it pays off to assess additional aspects to ensure the role is both safe and developmental. This can be done through a semi-structured interview. 

Additional aspects to assess include:

Assess the candidate's ability to adapt to new situations and learn quickly from experiences

Consider their level of emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, empathy, and ability to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically

Gauge their tolerance for ambiguity and change and their resilience in the face of challenges

Review their past performances, especially in challenging situations, to predict future potential and development areas

Understand their career goals and motivation to ensure alignment with the objectives of the stretch assignment

Secondly, providing comprehensive and balanced support with realistic goals is crucial in the preparation for a stretch role. This involves offering robust mentorship and guidance to help employees navigate new challenges they might encounter. Furthermore, it's important to set achievable, clearly defined goals that are in alignment with the employee's capabilities and the objectives of the stretch role.

Regular and constructive feedback is essential to aid in their development and to adjust goals as necessary. Encouraging a work-life balance is also key, especially considering the extra effort and time that a stretch role might require; this can be supported through flexible working conditions. Additionally, ensuring that employees have access to the necessary resources and training to develop skills and address knowledge gaps identified in the assessment is vital for their success and growth in the new role.

Finally, creating a safe-to-fail environment : Cultivate a culture where failure is viewed as a stepping stone to learning. Emotional support and recognition of efforts, irrespective of outcomes, are essential. Not every stretch project goes as well as expected, sometimes not through the fault of the employee but because the role has changed. 

Here are our top quick tips for creating a ‘safe to fail environment’ 

Have leaders publicly discuss their own early failures and career detours. Vulnerability from the top makes it psychologically safer.

Separate performance reviews from assignment-based development initiatives. Ensure stretch projects are evaluated independently from day-to-day job effectiveness.

Set explicit expectations that stretch initiatives likely only have a 60% probability of fully realizing the original intent. Frame them as learning journeys.

Build slack time into participant schedules - roughly 20% - for reflection and application of learning during experimental projects.

Establish formal mentorship check-ins for talent in stretch roles to discuss learnings separate from line managers.

Publicly celebrate examples of teams pivoting ambitious initiatives due to external variables rather than viewing them as failures.

Element 4: Recognising and Advancing Career through Stretch Assignments

The recognition of the efforts and learning gained from stretch assignments is vital in ensuring they are seen as valuable experiences. And so is the need to continue an employee’s development journey after the completion of the stretch assignment. 

Continuing an employee's development following a stretch assignment is crucial for several reasons. 

First, it maintains employee engagement by acknowledging and rewarding the extra effort and risks undertaken during the assignment. This recognition helps employees see the tangible benefits of their hard work.

Secondly, ongoing development is key to retaining talent. Without meaningful opportunities for further growth or new challenges post-assignment, employees, particularly those with high potential, might feel undervalued and consider leaving the organisation. This could lead to a loss of critical talent.

Furthermore, it's important for other employees and line managers in the organisation to see the value of taking developmental risks. When they observe that personal and professional growth leads to positive outcomes, it encourages a culture of development and risk-taking for the greater good of the organisation.

Finally, post-assignment development helps in leveraging the investment made in an employee's growth during the stretch assignment. Stretch assignments inherently involve risks, including the possibility of personal or organisational setbacks. However, when employees successfully navigate these challenges, they emerge with enhanced skills and experience. Effectively utilizing these new competencies not only benefits the individual but also contributes significantly to the organisation's growth and success.

At the end of a stretch assignment, it is vital, as a first step, to update the employee’s personal development plan to address outstanding development areas and to capture future career aspirations. This must include inclusion in succession planning to understand and prepare for future roles and responsibilities. As a next step, consideration must be given to the person’s next role. There may not always be the right follow-on role available for an employee who has completed a stretch assignment, however, there are other ways to keep them learning and to harness their new skills and experiences. 

Three ways to continue the development journey in the absence of an immediately suitable role:

Follow-Up Projects: Engage in subsequent projects that build on the skills and experiences gained. This can include cross-functional collaboration working on diverse projects to apply skills in different contexts.

Mentorship or Coaching: Work with a mentor or coach to actively work on any remaining development areas to smooth the way to a new role or promotion.

Networking: Actively facilitate networking with senior stakeholders to open doors to new roles and opportunities. This may include regular meetings with senior leaders or participation in senior leadership meetings. 

When effectively executed and supported, stretch assignments can serve as a catalyst for substantial growth, both for the individual and the organisation. The four essential elements to consider are embracing organisational change, selecting the appropriate stretch role, effectively preparing the employee, and acknowledging their efforts and the insights gained. This comprehensive approach maximises the benefits of learning through stretch assignments. It not only encourages personal development but also contributes to the overall success of the organisation, fostering an environment where continuous learning and adaptability are key.

Having explored the impactful nature of stretch assignments and the strategies for their successful implementation, it's vital to take the next step in advancing your leadership development. To deepen your understanding and enhance your capabilities, we encourage you to download our in-depth guide, '9 Key Experiences to Develop Future-Ready Leaders'.

Download your free copy now 

Not sure which key experience to dive into? Let fate decide! Spin the roulette and embrace the challenge that lands your way. It's a fun, exciting, and somewhat mysterious way to discover what your career might be missing.

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Stretch Assignments 101: Maximize Opportunities for Growth With Thoughtful, Guided Supervision

Stretch assignments are well understood to enhance individuals’ skills and experience. But how is it done right — without the career version of a pulled muscle?

The vice president of life sciences at Iterative Health , Laura Mantell, shared her methods and techniques for doing this safely and effectively. It starts with training the individual to give them technical proficiency as well as to give them self-confidence. She also advises assigning the employee a project area and client with whom that person is familiar. 

Provide close supervision and plenty of support at the beginning of the stretch assignment, tapering back as the trainee scores more points in the win column, said Mantell. And always offer support, even in the latter stages.

  Built In Boston spoke with Mantell to discover how Iterative Health is able to attract some of the best talent because of this culture and approach to growing its people.  

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

Iterative Health uses AI to transform gastroenterology treatment and improve patient outcomes.

Please share an example of when you extended a stretch assignment to a direct report. What was the assignment, and how did you know the individual was ready to take it on?

Recently, a member of my team had an opportunity to take on more of an active role in managing an important client relationship, which was a critical relationship for the business. This team member had spent several months getting to know more junior members of the client company and established a strong rapport with them, making him a trusted partner. The team member's diligence, thoughtfulness and high-quality work product clearly demonstrated that he was ready for more of a challenge. He met it head on, becoming a well-regarded partner across the client's organization, which led to continued success and growth today.

It was important to me that my teammate felt set up to succeed and grow individually.”

How do you ensure that team members are not overburdened by stretch assignments and are supported throughout its completion? 

In the previous example, it was important to me that my teammate felt supported throughout this stretch opportunity and that he was set up to succeed and grow individually. As a result, I worked closely with him — giving him space to run and manage the client with increasing independence and space while also providing feedback, answering questions, reviewing materials, etc. In this way, my team member was positioned to grow as a result of this opportunity, while also being able to learn from the team and those around them in the process.

Six people around a table

How can managers make sure that they take a thoughtful approach to stretch assignments so that they lead to growth — and not stress — for their assignees?

In my experience, the best way for managers to stretch their employees without causing undue stress is to spend and invest significant time and training upfront, ensuring and building confidence that the team member can continue to grow with increasing independence. When done well I've seen team members be able to grow faster and with more autonomy as they feel well prepped and trusted by their team. 

I also believe that building trust is critical to this process. There needs to be a strong level of trust between manager and teammate so that the teammate feels that the manager has their back. Also, the manager knows the teammate can handle opportunities independently and doesn't feel the need to micromanage.

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How to Use Stretch Assignments to Support Social Good

  • Mark Horoszowski

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

Advance your career and give back at the same time.

A proven way to get ahead in your career is to take on stretch assignments. These projects can develop your skills and confidence, as well as prove to leaders that you can succeed at the next level. Many companies go to great lengths to create these assignments for employees as part of a retention and development strategy, and for good reason – if employees can’t find stretch opportunities, they leave. In fact, the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they lack a career path, according to recent  research . This fact is especially relevant for Millennials, who often value meaning in their careers and are actively looking for the opportunity to become leaders .

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

  • Mark Horoszowski is the cofounder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org. He also serves as a volunteer with the American Cancer Society, cochairing its National Volunteer Leadership Advisory Team.

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30 HR Stretch Assignments That Can Enhance Your Growth, Development & Promotability

Plus a one-page cheat sheet you can use!

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

by Alan Collins

Want to take your career to the next level with your current employer?

Taking on a stretch assignment in your current role may be your ticket.

A stretch assignment is simply a project or task you take on that falls outside your typical duties and requires you to step outside your comfort zone and learn new skills.

There are lots of benefits of tackling one of these assignments:

  • It can accelerate your growth and development without changing jobs.
  • It can infuse more joy, excitement or challenge into your current role.
  • It sends the message that you’re ready for more responsibility.
  • It prepares you for future leadership or promotional opportunities.
  • It potentially provides visibility to higher ups who can open doors for you.

If nothing else, a stretch assignment can add bullets to beef up your resume and prepare for an HR future outside of your organization.

Need some specific examples?

Check out this one-page cheat sheet.

CLICK HERE To DOWNLOAD this “CHEAT SHEET.”

To squeeze the most juice out of this one-pager:     

(a) Use it as a reminder of the types of assignments you may want to pursue.  

(b) Keep it handy on your all devices (phone, laptop, tablet) to access quickly for future reference.

(c) Forward it to HR colleagues who might welcome having this information to aid in their career advancement efforts.

(d) Use it any way you want!

Here’s a case study to illustrate.

Gabrielle Lewis-Smith was frustrated.

As a senior HR manager with one of the largest hospitals in Chicago, she didn’t feel she was moving fast enough in her career.

She loved the organization, didn’t want to leave, but was clueless about what to do.

However, a career-defining moment arrived when she was suddenly thrust into a highly visible leadership role.

When a colleague of hers resigned in the middle of planning the annual organization-wide talent review process, involving 225 leaders in 45 departments, Gabrielle received an unexpected visit from her manager.

“My boss came to me sweating, in a breathless panic,” she recounts.

“And he said, ‘Gabrielle, I need your help. You’ve been doing a great job. I know you’re swamped, but I need you to step up, lead and facilitate this whole thing. Can you do it?’”

In that moment, she felt terrified and out of her comfort zone, having never led something this big and visible to the senior management team.

But, she also had the self-awareness to realize, “This might be my opportunity. Someone sees more leadership potential in me than frankly I see in myself. And trusts me to do this.”

So, with her boss’ 100% assurance that he’d support her all the way, she agreed to bail him out.

And, the experiences and exposure she gained from this “stretch assignment” changed everything.

“It was a turning point in my HR career, and changed forever how I saw myself as a leader. In the end, this project helped me bond with my boss and showcase skills he didn’t know I had.

“I also got great feedback from the higher ups on my role in planning and facilitating many of the reviews.

“And, in the months that followed, I started getting calls and all kinds of opportunities opened themselves up to me, both within… and outside of the hospital.

“My boss promoted me to HR director eight months later.”

So, how do you obtain a stretch assignment?  

Here’s what not to do…

Don’t sit on your butt, waiting to be asked.

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

Instead, take charge! 

Get proactive and seek out projects that would add value to the organization, but can’t get done because of insufficient resources, money or time. 

Or you might also dig into areas within HR or the larger organization where you’ve noticed problems, inefficiencies or dysfunction.

Or it also be as straightforward as raising your hand and volunteering to tackle a project no one else wants to do.

In any event, once you’ve identified an issue or project you’d like to take on, talk to your boss, offer your help and get the ball rolling.

Finally, here’s how to maximize the experience. 0

0 #1:  Stretch in the right direction .

Make certain that your stretch aligns with your current job accountabilities and/or your future career goals.

#2:  Take time to plan your stretch.

Stretch assignments can be time intensive and energy consuming. Make sure what you’ve selected inspires and excites you.

#3:  Where possible, include others.

Engaging others will offer you new leadership opportunities by allowing you to delegate tasks and coordinate assignments with colleagues.

Teaming up with peers, or possibly a mentor, can also cause the endeavor to seem less daunting.

 #4:  Seek guidance. 

Stretch assignments take you out of your comfort zone which means you are not expected to have all the answers. So do don’t be afraid to ask questions, request direction and ask for assistance when you need it.

#5:  Cross organizational boundaries.

Stretch assignment are often most effective when they include working with individuals from another area of your organization.

Such assignments can give you insights that can build your total business perspective and insight.

#6:  Market what you accomplish.

Even if you knocked the project out of the park, it won’t mean much if no one knows what you’ve accomplished.

In your pre-deal negotiation, request that your stretch assignment be marketed internally.

For example, ask that it serve as a best practice story and be shared through appropriate HR or company channels, whether it’s via an internal newsletter, social network, webinar or even in a brown-bag information session.

All this helps you publicize and maximize the value you gain from the experience.

Have you taken on a stretch assignment recently?

Now may be the perfect time to tackle one.

If you’re like Gabrielle, it may be exactly the kind career-defining move you need to launch your career forward.

Got comments, thoughts and additional insights?

Post them in the comments below by clicking HERE.

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

Then check out: STAY INSPIRED IN HR: 21 Positive Reminders To Keep You Motivated, Encouraged, Confident & Committed To Success in Human Resources.   Get more details here.

stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling books for HR professionals.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

How to Develop Employees With Stretch Assignments

Uncover the essence of stretch assignments, their profound benefits for employers, and strategies to identify employees poised for maximum growth. Learn the art of crafting impactful stretch assignments and defining success criteria upon completion. Guiding us through this exploration is Yuri Kruman, HR Expert, and Executive Coach. Don’t miss this opportunity to enhance your employee development strategies.

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What are stretch assignments and why should you care.

March 20, 2024

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Delta International

stretch, assignments, why?, how

What are stretch assignments and why should you care?

  • 1.1. Benefits of Stretch Assignments
  • 2.1. Tips for Completing Stretch Assignments

Common Mistakes to Avoid with Stretch Assignments

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Stretch assignments are challenging tasks that are designed to help employees develop new skills and grow in their careers. They are often given to employees who are ready for a challenge and who have the potential to learn and grow from the experience.

Stretch assignments can benefit employees in a number of ways. They can help employees to develop new skills, increase their confidence, and take on more responsibility. They can also help employees to see their own potential and to set ambitious goals for themselves.

In this article, we will discuss what stretch assignments are, why they are important, and how to create and complete them successfully. We will also provide tips for avoiding common mistakes with stretch assignments.

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Stretch Assignments: What Are They?

Stretch assignments are challenging tasks that are designed to help employees develop new skills and grow in their careers. They are often given to employees who are ready for a new challenge or who are looking to take on more responsibility.

Stretch assignments can be used to improve employee performance, increase employee engagement, and help employees achieve their career goals. They can also be used to identify high-potential employees and develop them into future leaders.

When creating stretch assignments, it is important to consider the employee's skills, experience, and interests. The assignment should be challenging, but it should also be achievable. It should also be relevant to the employee's current role and future goals.

Stretch assignments can be given to employees in a variety of ways. They can be assigned as part of the employee's regular work duties, they can be given as part of a special project, or they can be offered as part of a formal development program.

Image Source:  ccl.org

Benefits of Stretch Assignments

Stretch assignments offer a number of benefits for employees, including:

  • Increased skill development
  • Improved job performance
  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Increased career opportunities
  • Enhanced motivation
  • Greater sense of accomplishment

When employees are given the opportunity to stretch themselves and take on new challenges, they are more likely to develop new skills and knowledge. This can lead to improved job performance and greater career opportunities. Additionally, stretch assignments can help employees to feel more challenged and engaged in their work, which can lead to greater job satisfaction.

It is important to note that stretch assignments should be challenging, but not impossible. If an assignment is too difficult, it can lead to frustration and burnout. However, if an assignment is too easy, it will not provide the same benefits. The key is to find the right balance of challenge and difficulty.

How to Create Stretch Assignments

Stretch assignments can be a valuable tool for employee development, but it's important to create them in a way that is challenging and rewarding. Here are a few tips for creating stretch assignments:

  • Start with the end in mind. What do you want the employee to learn or achieve from the assignment?
  • Make sure the assignment is challenging, but not impossible. The employee should be stretched, but not overwhelmed.
  • Provide the employee with the resources they need to be successful. This may include training, mentorship, or access to experts.
  • Set clear expectations and deadlines. The employee should know what is expected of them and when they need to complete the assignment.
  • Provide feedback throughout the process. This will help the employee stay on track and make sure they are meeting the expectations of the assignment.

By following these tips, you can create stretch assignments that will help your employees grow and develop in their careers.

Tips for Completing Stretch Assignments

Here are some tips for completing stretch assignments successfully:

  • Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • Break down the assignment into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Seek out support from your manager or colleagues.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
  • Stay focused and motivated.
  • Celebrate your successes, big and small.

While stretch assignments can be a valuable tool for employee development, there are some common mistakes that can be made when creating or assigning them. Avoiding these mistakes can help ensure that stretch assignments are effective and beneficial for employees.

Here are six common mistakes to avoid with stretch assignments:

  • Not providing enough support
  • Setting unrealistic expectations
  • Micromanaging
  • Failing to provide feedback
  • Not recognizing success
  • Creating a culture of fear

By avoiding these mistakes, you can help ensure that stretch assignments are a positive and productive experience for employees.

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Stretch assignments can be a valuable tool for employee development and growth. By providing employees with challenging opportunities, stretch assignments can help them to learn new skills, take on new challenges, and grow in their careers. When used effectively, stretch assignments can benefit both employees and employers.

If you are an employer, consider offering stretch assignments to your employees as a way to help them develop their skills and grow in their careers. If you are an employee, be open to taking on stretch assignments as a way to challenge yourself and learn new things.

Stretch assignments can be a great way to achieve your goals and reach your full potential.

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  1. Stretch Assignments to Develop Leadership Talent

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  2. Stretch Assignments to Develop Leadership Talent

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  3. Stretching In The Workplace

    stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

  4. 5 reasons why you should use stretch assignments

    stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

  5. 3 Simple Stretches for Desk Jobs

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  6. Stretches for Office Workers [Infographic]

    stretch assignments are best used for what type of employee

VIDEO

  1. Desk Workers: How to Stretch with Bad Posture

  2. Stretch Money Type Beat Good Planning

  3. Off the Shelf: Using Stretch Assignments (November 2020)

  4. Truthing the Stretch

  5. 10-Minute Straight Back Stretching Routine for Office Workers

  6. TOXIC WORK CULTURE I Why I Quit my Job?

COMMENTS

  1. Stretch Assignments: What Are They and Is Your Employee Ready For One?

    Most commonly, stretch assignments are implemented to prepare an employee for an upcoming promotion, engage a high-performing employee, encourage skill development, or evaluate an employee's level of interest or aptitude for another role. As the name implies, stretch assignments mean they "stretch" or challenge an employee to think and ...

  2. How To Make a Stretch Assignment (Plus Template and Example)

    Following are the seven steps for designing a stretch assignment: 1. Analyze employee experiences. Before creating your stretch assignment, evaluate the candidate in comparison to your succession plan. Determine what skills, knowledge or experiences an employee could develop prior to taking on an advanced role at the company.

  3. Stretch Assignments: Going beyond regular assignments l Eddy

    Stretch assignments are opportunities that go beyond an employee's regular tasks and responsibilities. They require the employee to step out of their comfort zone and do something that they may not actually know how to do. It forces them to leverage the knowledge and skills that they do have to learn or acquire what they don't.

  4. What Is a Stretch Assignment? (With Benefits and Tips)

    A stretch assignment is a project that's beyond your current level of knowledge or skills. It gets its name from the idea that it allows employees to "stretch" themselves developmentally, enabling them to learn new abilities and grow professionally. Stretch assignments help you prove your adaptability to your management team, who may then ...

  5. Stretch Assignments and Examples

    Stretch assignments are essentially short-term projects or assignments that provide unique and challenging experiences for the purpose of developing employee/leader skills and abilities. Although the use of on-the-job development is clearly on the rise, it is often applied without consideration of the necessary planning and support mechanisms.

  6. Decoding Stretch Assignments: Insights from an HR Expert

    Conclusion. Decoding stretch assignments requires a nuanced understanding of their diverse forms and applications. Insights from HR experts shed light on the pivotal role these assignments play in individual skill development, organizational innovation, and the overall growth of businesses. By incorporating strategic and thoughtful stretch ...

  7. Use Stretch Assignments to Get Ahead at Work. Here's How.

    7. Focus on Learning as Much as the Outcome. Don't be quick to judge the gaps in your knowledge when you take on a new role or project. Embrace your newcomer status and find joy in your learning ...

  8. Stretch Assignments For Employees

    Stretch assignments can help employees develop new skills, and building a great team can only make you look better. Managing people takes a lot of finesse. Being in charge of employee development requires even more skill, but the payoff is worth it. Investing in and supporting employees tends to lead to higher productivity and more loyalty on ...

  9. The power and purpose of stretch assignments in career advancement

    In summary, the power and purpose of stretch assignments in career development are undeniable. These experiences offer many benefits, from skill development and boosted confidence to enhanced visibility and unexpected career paths. Despite the challenges, individuals are encouraged to embrace stretch assignments as opportunities for growth ...

  10. 4 Stretch Assignment Examples for Upskilling Your Workforce

    A leadership coaching survey showed that 72% of companies offer some type of leadership coaching to improve the leadership skills of their employees. This type of stretch assignment is well-suited for employees who want to guide others in reaching specific goals, and to develop leadership skills like emotional intelligence, empathy, and self ...

  11. Why You Should Take on More Stretch Assignments

    Summary. Stretch projects require skills or knowledge beyond your current level of development and are great opportunities to shine in a new arena. This is also why they can feel so scary ...

  12. Embracing Learning through Stretch Assignments: A Guide to Success

    One significant obstacle in implementing stretch assignments is overcoming organisational resistance to experiential learning. This resistance often stems from a lack of understanding of the practical benefits of 'learning by doing,' apprehension about the outcomes, or a preference for more traditional, structured learning methods such as classroom-based or e-learning modules.

  13. Stretch Assignments 101: Maximize Opportunities for Growth With

    She also advises assigning the employee a project area and client with whom that person is familiar. Provide close supervision and plenty of support at the beginning of the stretch assignment, tapering back as the trainee scores more points in the win column, said Mantell. And always offer support, even in the latter stages.

  14. PDF Stretch Assignments as an Opportunity to Develop Employees

    How can stretch assignments be sized appropriately? Stretch assignments should be used to gently push employees forward in the learning process. It shouldn't be too challenging or too easy. If an assigned task is too difficult for the employee, the supervisor risks frustration or burnout on the part of the employee. On the other hand, if a

  15. How to Use Stretch Assignments to Support Social Good

    November 13, 2015. KENNETH ANDERSSON FOR HBR. A proven way to get ahead in your career is to take on stretch assignments. These projects can develop your skills and confidence, as well as prove to ...

  16. How to Use Stretch Assignments for Career Development

    1 Identify potential stretch assignments. The first step is to identify the types of stretch assignments that align with the employee's career goals, interests, and strengths. You can use various ...

  17. 30 HR Stretch Assignments That Can Enhance Your Growth, Development

    A stretch assignment is simply a project or task you take on that falls outside your typical duties and requires you to step outside your comfort zone and learn new skills. There are lots of benefits of tackling one of these assignments: It can accelerate your growth and development without changing jobs. It can infuse more joy, excitement or ...

  18. Empowering Employee Growth: The Impact of Stretch Assignments

    The impact of stretch assignments on skill development can be profound, as they: Enhance Problem-Solving Abilities: Tackling unfamiliar challenges prompts employees to think creatively and develop effective problem-solving skills. Build Resilience: Navigating outside one's comfort zone builds resilience and adaptability, qualities crucial in ...

  19. Stretch Assignments

    In its most basic sense, a stretch assignment is any kind of project or task that is beyond your current skill set or expertise. Usually, it can be a short-term activity or even a permanent venture into a new field that will provide you with challenging experiences meant to expand your growing list of abilities. The keyword here is "stretch," which means that stretch assignments can extend ...

  20. Ignition Guide to Developing Employees Through Stretch Assignments

    Summary. Experiential learning is three times more effective in improving employee performance than formal training. IT leaders can use this guide to provide employees with experiential learning opportunities through stretch assignments and ongoing coaching.

  21. 4 Rules For Accepting A Stretch Assignment

    When deciding whether to say "yes" to a stretch assignment, women are more likely than men to prioritize exposure to key mentors and sponsors (18% vs. 11%.) Meanwhile, men are 3.5 times more ...

  22. How to Develop Employees With Stretch Assignments

    Uncover the essence of stretch assignments, their profound benefits for employers, and strategies to identify employees poised for maximum growth. Learn the art of crafting impactful stretch assignments and defining success criteria upon completion. Guiding us through this exploration is Yuri Kruman, HR Expert, and Executive Coach.

  23. What are stretch assignments and why should you care?

    Stretch assignments can be a valuable tool for employee development and growth. By providing employees with challenging opportunities, stretch assignments can help them to learn new skills, take on new challenges, and grow in their careers. When used effectively, stretch assignments can benefit both employees and employers.