HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Stretch Assignment
While regular assignments focus on daily tasks within an employee's comfort zone, stretch assignments intentionally push them beyond that, challenging them to develop untapped potential and unleash hidden talents.

What Are Stretch Assignments?

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.

Why Are Stretch Assignments Beneficial?

Stretch assignments offer numerous benefits. By venturing into uncharted territories, employees gain valuable experience and broaden their skill sets. Here are some specific benefits.
  • 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

Let’s dive into the different types of stretch assignments you can offer to your talented employees. Think of it as a buffet of growth opportunities where everyone gets to pick their favorite dish.

The Skill-Building Extravaganza

This type of assignment is like training camp. Whether it's mastering a new software, learning a foreign language, or honing leadership abilities, these stretch assignments are like power-ups for their skill sets. Encourage them to take on challenges that expand their horizons and give them a chance to level up their superpowers.

The Cross-Functional Adventure

This stretch assignment is like sending your employees on an expedition to explore different areas of your organization. It's all about breaking down silos and fostering collaboration. Encourage your employees to step into different roles or work with teams outside their usual sphere. It creates a dynamic synergy that sparks innovation and breaks down barriers.

The Project of Epic Proportions

Epic assignments require your employees to go above and beyond their usual tasks. It could be launching a new product, revamping a process, or spearheading a company-wide initiative. These assignments allow your employees to showcase their problem-solving skills, take ownership, and make a lasting impact.

The Innovation Challenge

Encourage your team members to come up with innovative ideas, explore new markets, or find solutions to complex problems. These assignments nurture a culture of creativity and push your employees to think outside the box.

The Client-Facing Expedition

Put your employees on the front lines to interact directly with clients or customers. Whether it's managing key accounts, handling customer escalations, or leading a sales pitch, these assignments develop essential customer service and relationship-building skills. It's an opportunity for your employees to become customer champions and enhance the organization's reputation.

How to Implement Stretch Assignments in the Workplace

Now that we've got you revved up about stretch assignments, it's time to learn how to implement them effectively. Consider these four key ingredients for success.

Step 1: Align Assignments with Development Goals

Get to know your employees' aspirations and interests and design stretch assignments that align with their professional growth trajectory. This customized approach ensures the assignments are meaningful and truly impactful.

Step 2: Provide Support and Resources

Give employees the tools they need to conquer their stretch assignments. Offer additional training, mentorship programs, and access to resources that bolster their chances of success.

Step 3: Set Clear Objectives and Expectations

Set clear objectives, defining what success looks like for each assignment. Communicate expectations and establish realistic timelines. Regular feedback and guidance are essential to help employees navigate challenges effectively.

Step 4: Recognize and Celebrate Achievements

It's time to bring out the confetti cannons. Publicly recognize and celebrate the achievements of employees who conquer their stretch assignments. By showcasing their accomplishments, you reinforce the value you place on their efforts and inspire others to embrace these challenges.

Challenges Associated With Stretch Assignments

Let's talk about the challenges that come along with stretch assignments.

Challenge 1: The Comfort Zone Conundrum

Ah, the sweet comfort zone, where everything feels cozy and familiar. One challenge with stretch assignments is getting employees to willingly step out of that warm, snug zone. Some employees might resist change or fear the unknown, making it a task to encourage them to embrace these new challenges with open arms. Here are some tips to deal with this reluctance.
  • 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

You have a brilliant stretch assignment in mind, but then reality strikes: limited time and resources. Allocating sufficient time and resources for employees to tackle these assignments can be a challenge, especially when juggling other priorities. It takes careful planning, coordination, and support from all levels of leadership to ensure everyone has the support they need to succeed.

Challenge 3: Skills Gaps

Stretch assignments are all about pushing boundaries and developing new skills. However, sometimes employees may not have the exact skills required for the assignment. This calls for a thoughtful approach to bridge the skills gap. Providing training, mentorship, or additional resources can help employees acquire the necessary skills and level up their superpowers.

Challenge 4: Balancing Act

Stretch assignments need to strike a balance between being challenging enough to promote growth but not overwhelming to the point of causing burnout. It's like walking a tightrope—too easy, and it's a snooze fest; too difficult, and it's a recipe for disaster. Finding that sweet spot requires understanding employees' capabilities, setting realistic expectations, and providing support along the way.

Challenge 5: Ensuring Equity

While stretch assignments offer growth opportunities, it's important to ensure a fair distribution of opportunities across the team. Balancing the workload, considering individual development needs, and providing equitable access to stretch assignments can be challenging. It requires careful planning and communication to avoid any feelings of favoritism or exclusion.

Evaluation and Reflection

So, you've implemented stretch assignments, and your employees are conquering new frontiers. How do you ensure continuous growth? Evaluation and reflection are your secret weapons.

Assess Progress and Outcomes

Regularly evaluate the progress and outcomes of stretch assignments. Seek feedback from employees, supervisors, and stakeholders to gauge the impact and identify areas for improvement.

Support Reflection

Encourage employees to reflect on their experiences, celebrate their accomplishments, and set new development goals. Provide opportunities for knowledge-sharing among employees who have completed stretch assignments to foster a culture of continuous learning.

Refine and Improve

Document and use the insights gathered from evaluations and reflections to refine your approach to future stretch assignments. Fine-tune your strategies, provide additional support where needed, and optimize future assignments to ensure maximum impact.
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Brandi M Fannell, Ph.D.

Brandi M Fannell, Ph.D.

Brandi has spent over 15 years in mid-to-large size companies and startups overseeing and leading the employee experience. She has led and managed several areas within the HR function including talent acquisition/recruiting, employee engagement, employee recognition, learning + development, performance management, and internal communications. In every position she has held, she purposed to “do HR differently” by focusing more on behavior and culture, rather than policy and procedure. Eventually, Brandi started to leverage her academic prowess in I/O psychology and her extensive training in leadership development to help colleagues and friends analyze their own work cultures and create action plans to help make their organizations healthy and profitable. A firm believer in a company grows only as its people grow, Brandi considers herself a lifelong learner and professional student. She is a certified facilitator and coach, and when not cultivating leaders she serves as Board Vice President of the JMF Memorial Foundation, that was started in memory of her late brother. The foundation supports community programs that help develop youth with creative talent and grant scholarships to students in the performing arts.
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Other Related Terms
Adult Learning Principles
Career Coach
Career Pathing
Cross Training
E-Learning
Employee Development
Employee Empowerment
Employee Leadership Development
Group Training
Individual Development Plan
Job Shadowing
Learning & Development Statistics
Lunch and Learns
Manager Training
Mentoring
Networking
Reskilling
Rotational Program
Skills Gap Analysis
Skills Inventory
Soft Skills
Time Management Training
Training Needs Analysis/Assessment
Upskilling
Virtual Team Building
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