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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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Brandi M Fannell, Ph.D.

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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Developing Stronger Leaders , Leadership Development

Stretch Assignments that Develop Strategic, Interpersonal, and Personal Skills

stretch assignments wiki

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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How to Use Stretch Assignments to Support Social Good

  • Mark Horoszowski

stretch assignments wiki

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 wiki

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

Partner Center

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 wiki

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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The power and purpose of stretch assignments in career advancement

January 19, 2024

stretch assignments wiki

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. So, by embracing stretch assignments with 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.

graphic shows 3 concentric circles labelled comfort zone, stretch zone, and growth zone. An arrow stretched between the comfort and stretch zones and growth zone representing stretch assignments

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Unleashing Potential: How 3 Leaders Drive Career Growth With Stretch Assignments

While the phrase “the magic happens outside of your comfort zone” has been so oft-repeated it verges on cliche, it still remains true. 

In one’s personal and professional life, the comfort zone can be a healthy, reliable place. But a refusal to step out of it can hinder growth. By balancing comfort and consistency with new challenges and responsibilities, people can realize they’re capable of more than they expected — and become more willing to embrace the unknown. 

And the good news is the leap into uncharted territory doesn’t need to be a headfirst dive. 

Conversely, research on strategy formation in entrepreneurial settings conducted by Timothy Ott and Kathleen Eisenhardt showed that the most successful breakthroughs were the result of small steps, not massive strides. 

For leaders, providing team members with growth opportunities and sustained support is essential in seeing them realize their potential. By providing stretch assignments, employees can learn from failures and successes alike, and be exposed to the exciting possibilities that lie outside of their comfort zone. 

According to a Egon Zehnder’s survey of 823 international executives, 71 percent cited stretch assignments as pivotal in unlocking their potential in their careers. 

The results may speak for themselves, but a leader’s approach to supporting team members in this process is just as important as the employee’s willingness to execute it. 

At Amount , Evive and CSC Corptax , leaders are using stretch assignments to drive professional growth — and guiding and encouraging employees as they take on new challenges. 

stretch assignments wiki

Amount provides financial institutions with a point-of-sale financing suite and digital omnichannel retail banking experiences. 

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?

An easy place to extend stretch assignments is in a project that is important to the organization and needs an additional resource. For example, one of my team members was contributing to our compensation planning process by providing raw data. As part of a stretch assignment, she was tasked with creating a new workbook that included data analysis, accruals and modeling various situations for our HR business partners to reference. This helped the HRBPs when coaching leaders on compensation decisions and conversations. I knew she was ready for this assignment because she had advanced Excel skills that weren’t being leveraged, she was eager to learn more in the compensation space and is someone who feels motivated and rewarded when helping the team.

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

First, team members should be involved in designing the assignment. That way, they consider their strengths, growth areas, work responsibilities and anything else going on in their lives to create a plan and timeline that feels energizing to execute against. From the manager’s side, support via regular check-ins is key — not just about progress and being available for questions, but also dedicating the time for team members to reflect and share what they are learning. Communicating to team members that mistakes are expected and choosing a part of the assignment to do together is also super helpful!

Support via regular check-ins is key — not just about progress and being available for questions, but also dedicating the time for team members to reflect and share what they are learning.”

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?

By nature, stretch assignments challenge employees by placing them in uncomfortable or new situations to learn and grow. So a little stress is to be expected and good! 

A thoughtful approach includes ensuring it is a well-suited development activity for that individual — typically high performers who show potential to drive impact and preparedness for a new role or promotion. It also includes shifting the responsibility of designing the assignment to the team members themselves and aligning the assignment to the team member’s career aspirations, growth areas and business needs.

Additionally, you must define the scope and expected outcomes, breaking it up into smaller pieces and tracking progress along the way. Leverage your performance system or use a shared doc for this. Finally, create accountability and provide support via coaching and feedback at regular check-ins and important checkpoints.

When there is clarity via a plan, alignment to the work, motivation to do the assignment and support from managers, stretch assignments will help employees channel the stress and discomfort of doing something new and challenging to grow.

stretch assignments wiki

CSC Corptax is a B2B software development company that provides corporate tax departments worldwide with technology-based tax solutions. 

One of my reports took on a stretch assignment to start a new design team. This was not an area he was familiar with, but I knew he was ready because he was doing a great job understanding people and helping to build camaraderie within a team. He was also asking the right questions and showing a willingness to research new information. And as I hoped, he was able to apply these talents in new ways to accomplish the stretch assignment successfully. 

His ability to understand the whole person helped him find the right people. The goal was to assemble a team, find the right people, create a new design process and foster team collaboration. I also tasked him with ensuring documentation was created to ensure future onboarding and knowledge transfer between the other teams.

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

It’s extremely important to be there for your team members. You don’t need to solve their problem for them, but you should be an available sounding board. Encourage them to talk it out, step back and break the problem into simpler parts. As a leader, it’s crucial to keep a cool head even when it seems like a lot is going on. The best way to deal with that is to step back, take a breath and simplify. Frequent check-ins like one-on-one meetings and an open-door policy ensure your team members can reach you.

It’s extremely important to be there for your team members. You don’t need to solve their problem for them, but you should be an available sounding board.”

How have stretch assignments paid dividends for team members at your company?

The most important part of a stretch goal is learning and growing. When you give team members difficult tasks, they may have incomplete information or find themselves outside their comfort zones. They will need drive, tenacity and innovation to accomplish the goal. Team members should seek to do what is difficult because even though they may fail, falling short can lead to many learning opportunities. Plus, they will grow from the experience.

If done right, even a failed stretch goal brings value and lessons learned that contribute to the team’s overall growth.

stretch assignments wiki

Healthtech company Evive helps employees take full advantage of their benefits through a data-driven platform complete with educational resources and recommendations.  

Throughout my career, I have given many stretch assignments to employees. One that stands out is a team member hired to help project manage client deliverables, who also showed an interest in our technical capabilities that went far beyond the expectations of their role. This included understanding how we received, ingested and reported on data as well as technical configurations like single sign-ons (SSOs). I assigned them the task of setting up an SSO between a client and vendor, including scheduling and leading calls, gathering requirements and submitting them to our engineering teams — all without the benefit of established processes or standard operating procedures! 

I knew this individual was ready for a stretch assignment due to a few factors. First, they excelled at managing their current workload. I never had to remind them to complete tasks within their job description and could depend on them to always hit deadlines. Second, they asked knowledgeable questions about the area of the assignment, demonstrating they had taken an active interest and would be more likely to succeed. And finally, the last was their willingness to learn and put themselves out there to do so.

It is obviously important that stretch assignments be given when there is capacity, so making sure the team member has the time and bandwidth is key. Outside of that, I find it helpful to do a couple of different things to support them. I will work closely with any outside team members that might be involved in the project — such as the project manager or mentor — and make sure that my team members are attending and participating in meetings, milestones are being met and that they remain engaged in the overall project. I will also carve out roughly 15 minutes of every other one-on-one meeting we have to check in on project progress, ask questions and see how I can help with any roadblocks that have popped up. Providing these opportunities isn’t just about handing them out and waiting for the project to get done. Checking in and actively helping when needed shows your support as their manager and will make sure the project gets completed successfully.

Checking in and actively helping when needed shows your support as their manager and will make sure the project gets completed successfully.”

The career growth of everyone on my team is a high priority for me. This means I am always trying to carve out time in our regular check-ins to ask about different areas of interest a team member may have. I find that if the stretch assignment aligns with the interests of the team member, they are not only more likely to succeed but be engaged and enjoy the additional workload. I take an active interest, whether I am the one managing the project or not, so I can lend my advice or support along the way. A large aspect of this support is helping to manage priorities, so no one is feeling overwhelmed or stressed, while also ensuring that day-to-day tasks and tasks related to other projects are still on target.

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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 wiki

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 wiki

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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stretch assignments wiki

I’m a well-regarded planning technician in the Community Development Department of a mid-sized city.  I’ve been in my current position for three years and have mastered most of the technical aspects of my job.  I want to move up in my department but need exposure to other elements of planning, building, and development services, plus the opportunity to develop new knowledge and skills.

I believe that I have good potential, but I worry that others don’t see what I have to offer beyond my current position. 

So, how do I start?   Should I take some courses and workshops?  What do you suggest?

The fundamental question is, how do you accelerate your development.  The best way to accelerate your growth and development is through a series of stretching job assignments coupled with helpful and candid feedback or coaching.

What is a “stretch” assignment?

A University of Michigan School of Medicine paper provided the following definition:

“A stretch assignment is a project or task given to an employee which is beyond their current knowledge or skills level in order to ‘stretch’ the employee developmentally.  The stretch assignment challenges employees by placing them into uncomfortable situations in order that they learn and grow.”

What are the benefits of stretch assignments?

For employees, a successful stretch experience can

  • Help you develop new technical and/or “soft” leadership skills.
  • Provide new knowledge.
  • Expose you to other areas of the department or other city services.
  • Develop new relationships with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Reshape other people’s perceptions of your capabilities.

For the organization, stretch assignments offer many benefits as well.  They provide

  • Low-cost employee development. Stretch assignments cost little.
  • Leadership “try-outs.” Special projects or team assignments can try out emerging leaders as formal or informal leaders.
  • Succession development. Since a wave of baby-boomer professionals and managers are retiring from local government, organizations can’t wait for people to develop. We need to accelerate development now and identify possible successors.

What are some examples of stretch projects?

As a plan checker in the Community Development Department, a stretch assignment for you could be any of the following

  • Participating in a department budget team.
  • Researching new “green” development practices.
  • Serving on a multidepartment team to develop a specific plan for a new growth area in the city.
  • Evaluating with other staff members potential vendors of new software that tracks development applications and activities.
  • Leading a small workgroup to identify best practices and make recommendations for a telework program or alternative work schedules for department staff.

What do I need to know about stretch opportunities?

Learn through doing. Both managers and their direct reports often believe that the best way to learn is to attend a workshop or class.  A seminar or class is an excellent way to develop a conceptual framework about new behavior, but it doesn’t create new behavior.  Only if you apply the material to your work does new behavior or authentic learning emerge.

Adults (as well as children) learn best through doing. A stretching job assignment immediately exposes you to new areas of knowledge and produces opportunities to learn new skills.  These kinds of special projects or team assignments accelerate your development if they are paired with feedback and coaching.  Constructive feedback helps you acknowledge mistakes or missteps and learn from them.

Seek the “sweet spot” of learning. When discussing a potential stretch assignment with your boss or others, seek the “sweet spot” of learning and development.  The sweet spot is when you have a 50-70% chance of success.  If your chance of success is only 40%, the project will tend to overwhelm you, and it will be too stressful.  With a 90% chance of success, the stretch project will be too easy, and you won’t learn anything new.

If a stretch assignment is in your sweet spot, you will be uncomfortable but not too uncomfortable.  Learning happens when you are uncomfortable but not overwhelmed or distressed.

Understand the ideal mix of development. The ideal mix of development is 70/20/10: 70% of your development activities should be learning through doing; 20% of your development should be getting coaching; and 10% should be classroom training or education.

Ensure adequate support. Before accepting a stretch assignment, you must ensure you have adequate support.  Adequate support comes in many varieties:

  • Management support, such as the community development director communicating to department staff the importance of the project.
  • Sufficient time for work on the project (this is a critical area of support).
  • Any budget monies needed for the project.
  • A good mix of people on your team if the project involves a workgroup.
  • Someone in management who can help you overcome any obstacles that arise or otherwise provide guidance and feedback.
  • Adequate decision-making authority within certain “guide-rails.”

Assuming you are offered a special project, you should negotiate adequate support before embarking on the project.

Ask key questions!  In her article " 15 Questions To Ask Before Accepting A Stretch Assignment " (Forbes. March 14, 2019) Jo Miller identified several themes, which include

Support from the top:  Always ensure that expectations are agreed on, and you have support from leadership. 

Work-life balance:  Work-life balance is important, especially in a career like local government that often requires after-hours investment of time. 

Is this something new?  When you take a stretch assignment, it's important that you stretch! If you're just adding more work of a similar level to your task list, that's only making more work. Make sure you're using new or different skills, or skills you want to brush up on, are meeting different people, or advancing the organization's goals beyond your usual scope. 

Keep one eye on the way forward:  If you set yourself up for success by answering all the questions in Jo's article, these assignments will be career-building. But, always ask if the investment if time will deliver a return, or otherwise "open more doors" in the paths ahead.

How do I secure a stretch assignment?

While your manager or another manager may approach you with a stretch project, don’t wait for someone to offer you the opportunity.  You must take charge of your own learning and career development.

Be on the lookout for opportunities

To seek out a stretch project, you must first ensure that you continue to handle your current job responsibilities successfully.  You won’t get new opportunities unless you are seen as a good performer in your current position.

Second, you must be on the lookout for new projects (and ask your colleagues to also be on the lookout for you).  Know the kinds of new challenges facing the city council, city manager, and the community development director, and keep your ears open for opportunities to participate as new initiatives begin to emerge.

Third, make it known that you’d like a stretch opportunity.  Have a development conversation with your supervisor and/or manager or other key managers inside and outside your department.  In a development conversation, you can discuss your career aspirations, new areas of knowledge or skills that you desire, new stretch assignments that may accelerate your development, and any support you may need.

Through these formal or informal development conversations, you want to “hook” the supervisor or manager on your development as an active supporter.  As part of the discussion, you should ask the manager to let you know of any new project opportunities.

Depending on your relationship, ask for the manager to “sponsor” or recommend you for the new team or project.

Ensure 2 + 1

To provide feedback as well as help in securing stretch opportunities, you must have support, especially from a formal or informal coach.

You should go beyond your immediate supervisor or manager who may serve as a coach.  The minimum number of coaches is 2 + 1.

For adequate coaching support, you need a formal or informal coach in your department who knows your work or the workings of the department.  You also need a coach in another city department who has a bigger picture view and a good feel for the organization and knows how things work.  These are the “2.”

In addition, you must have a coach outside the city organization who can provide advice and generally guide you.  That’s the “1.”

The coach outside your organization can suggest some involvements in professional associations in order to enhance your knowledge, skills, and network (see Career Compass #48 entitled “How Do I Benefit From a Coach?” ).

How do I maximize the stretch opportunity?

Here are some tips to leverage your stretch assignment:

1. Be an agile learner

Since you won’t be a subject-matter expert in your new assignment, be curious, ask questions, seek advice, and learn as you go.  For example, ask:

  • Why is this special project important?
  • What’s the “why” behind the effort?
  • What do we all need to learn?
  • What am I missing?
  • What else should I consider?
  • What would be a completely different approach for addressing the challenge?

2. Engage people in many conversations

Go out of your way to engage diverse people inside and outside the organization in conversation about the issue and the effort.  Listen and be open to the conversation.  By doing so, you will expand your perspectives and your network.

3. Try out new roles

As you engage in the project, try out some new roles.  For instance, if you are good at analysis, try out public speaking about the challenge and project (start in a safe environment).  Again, learning and skills-building happen when you get uncomfortable.

4. Leverage the assignment

Over-deliver if possible.  Over-delivering will get you future stretch projects and additional opportunities to learn and grow. 

(For other suggestions on how to maximize the stretch experience, see Jo Miller, “ 4 Ways To Execute a Stretch Assignment Like a Rock Star ,” , Dec 16, 2017.)

A Catalyst for Growth

Stretch experiences coupled with helpful and candid feedback are catalysts for rapid career growth.  In addition to new learning, relationships and skills-building, stretching job assignments help people see you in a new light (see also Career Compass #52 entitled “Recasting My Rep ”).

These experiences shape other people’s perceptions of you that are more aligned with your potential and career aspirations. 

stretch assignments wiki

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stretch assignments wiki


stretch assignments wiki


stretch assignments wiki


stretch assignments wiki


stretch assignments wiki


stretch assignments wiki

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

Plus a one-page cheat sheet you can use!

stretch assignments wiki

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.


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 wiki

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 wiki

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 wiki

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.

Stretch assignments are experiences that challenge and potentially broaden a person’s current capabilities; e.g., assignments that require someone to manage and negotiate change, exert influence over others, and build coalitions.

Stretch assignments play a significant role in the training of managers and in the development of a new cadre of managers.

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