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

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 “stretch” or challenge an employee to think and act outside of their comfort zone or day-to-day job. But what exactly makes a stretch assignment challenging?

  • It presents employees with an unfamiliar challenge

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.”

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:

  1. 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.

2 Major Things to Be Aware of With Stretch Assignments

  1. 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.

Conclusion

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!

Originally published at https://www.niagarainstitute.com.