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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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Embracing Learning through Stretch Assignments: A Guide to Success

Stretch Assignments, Upskilling, Leadership Development

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

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

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

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

9 key experiences that you should consider as stretch assignments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turnaround : Revitalizing a struggling business unit or product.

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

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

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

Element 1: Overcoming Organisational Resistance to Experiential Learning

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

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

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

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

Element 2: Securing the Right Stretch Role

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

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

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

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

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

Employee’s Reaction and Confidence Level :

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

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

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

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

Element 3: Preparing the Employee for the Stretch Role

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

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

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

Additional aspects to assess include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Element 4: Recognising and Advancing Career through Stretch Assignments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download your free copy now 

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

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4 Stretch Assignment Examples for Upskilling Your Workforce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1. Ask subject-matter experts to teach peers

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Assign employees to work on cross-functional projects

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

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

3. Have experienced employees coach junior team members

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

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

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

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

4. Increase workplace engagement with a mentoring culture

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

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

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

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

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

"Stretch" your employees to strengthen your organization

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

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

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

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

Challenging workers with new assignments and responsibilities is good for both the employee and the employer. But it requires a well-considered process.

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.  

assignment to stretch

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.

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.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and Iterative Health

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The power and purpose of stretch assignments in career advancement

January 19, 2024

assignment to stretch

What are stretch assignments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing new skills and expertise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boosting confidence and growth mindset

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enhancing visibility and reputation

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

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

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

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

Discovering new career paths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investing in employee development

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fostering innovation and creativity

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for future leadership roles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming fear and imposter syndrome

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

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

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

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

8 Tips to conquer imposter syndrome at work

Finding the right stretch assignment for your needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building support systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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How to Use Stretch Assignments to Support Social Good

  • Mark Horoszowski

assignment to stretch

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 .

assignment to stretch

  • 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.

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What Are Stretch Assignments?

Why are stretch assignments beneficial.

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

Types of Stretch Assignments

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

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

Challenge 2: Time and Resource Crunch

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

Brandi M Fannell, Ph.D.

Brandi M Fannell, Ph.D.


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Developing Stronger Leaders , Leadership Development

Stretch Assignments that Develop Strategic, Interpersonal, and Personal Skills

assignment to stretch

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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What are stretch assignments and why should you care.

March 20, 2024


Delta International

stretch, assignments, why?, how

What are stretch assignments and why should you care?

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

Common Mistakes to Avoid with Stretch Assignments

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

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

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

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Stretch Assignments: What Are They?

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

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

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

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

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Benefits of Stretch Assignments

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

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

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

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

How to Create Stretch Assignments

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

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

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

Tips for Completing Stretch Assignments

Here are some tips for completing stretch assignments successfully:

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

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

Here are six common mistakes to avoid with stretch assignments:

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

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

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

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

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

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Tackling the stretch assignment

  • People and leadership skills
  • Career development

Tackling the stretch assignment

For accountants and finance professionals, today’s workplace demands courage and technical competence — as well as the ability to wear many hats. Indeed, given the fast-changing nature of financial work, management accountants are constantly being challenged with stretch assignments.

For Michelle Janse van Rensburg, currently managing director at Pretoria-based Nimacc Business Lounge, moving out of her corporate comfort zone in South Africa saw her taking on a rather unconventional stretch assignment in Mozambique for an asset management company that was handling agricultural projects across Africa, where she was tasked with implementing new financial and operational systems.

“If we’re talking unknown territory, this was definitely it. The most I knew about systems at the time was how to draw up a set of financials and process a journal,” Janse van Rensburg said. “Managing this process was not exactly in my wheelhouse at the time. However, it taught me the underestimated value of understanding the detail in each business process and aligning these with an efficient, integrated system.”

Although this particular mission was certainly out of the ordinary and, in fact, required trips to several African countries, Janse van Rensburg said that within accounting and finance, stretch assignments are becoming the norm.

“When we look at the speed at which technology is changing, we as accountants are forced out of our comfort zone more often than not — with assignments requiring knowledge and skill that we did not exactly learn while paging through the Principles of Managerial Finance ,” she said.

For Lyndy van den Barselaar, FCMA, CGMA, her role as managing director at ManpowerGroup South Africa is “a continuous stretch assignment”.

“I was a purely financial person who was given the opportunity to lead an organisation as the operational and financial head,” van den Barselaar said. “It was something that I had never considered before, and the idea was quite daunting. But my company took a gamble on me, and I stepped up.”

According to van den Barselaar, every year as managing director brings new stretch assignments in terms of being able to deliver the required results in a very depressed South African economy. Beyond ensuring financial profitability, such assignments have included managing a diverse senior management team and keeping the business compliant in the face of key legislative changes affecting workforce solutions.

“To this day, I remain afraid, never once thinking that I have arrived,” she said. “I think this is a good thing though, as it keeps a person on their toes and does not allow you to become complacent.”

Stretch assignments can be a good way to improve your skillset and advance your career, especially amid the rapid evolution of the finance profession. While you should not take a job that you are not qualified for, here are a few tips on how to utilise stretch assignments to grow your career.

Moving forward

While the actual definition of a stretch assignment is highly subjective and up for debate, Janse van Rensburg asserted that management accountants have to actively take on certain roles and challenging projects to keep themselves professionally relevant.

“Involvement in assignments where we need to understand and improve the business processes in all areas of the business — incorporated with technology enhancements — are, in my mind, a rocket ship seat!” she said.

For van den Barselaar, there is no question as to the value of stretch assignments, and she urged finance professionals to always be ready for new challenges.

“Anyone should always be ready to take on these assignments, as they allow us to learn more and grow,” she said. “We need to be constantly learning new things and pushing ourselves to ensure that we stay relevant in a constantly changing environment.”

Wedded to perfection?

However, while some accounting professionals regard stretch assignments as a valuable ticket to growth, others may find the prospect of entering the unknown and risking failure far less enticing.

Adelle Wapnick, an executive coach and director of Futurenow Consulting in South Africa, said that the biggest challenge for today’s finance professionals is not the availability of growth opportunities — rather, it is their ability “to put themselves forward”.

A key factor is the individual’s need for learning and development, which Wapnick said relates to ambition, the flow of work, and the need to find a balance between comfort and stretch, avoiding boredom on the one hand and burnout on the other.

“Stretch assignments typically enable exposure to key stakeholders, mentors, and sponsors,” Wapnick said. “If the assignment aligns with your career goals, then it would make sense to take up the opportunity. More than anything, however, is the intrinsic motivation to opt in.”

A good indication that “intrinsic motivation” is present is when the assignment is naturally satisfying and you are not purely motivated by recognition and reward.

Janse van Rensburg echoed this sentiment and noted that stretch assignments should always be closely aligned to your career plan and objectives. “What we take on needs to be measurable,” she said. “Stick to your core and become exceptional at it!”

Even if the stretch assignment seems intrinsically motivating, relevant, and aligned with your career development plan, Wapnick cautioned against taking on challenges in situations in which there is little or no support from key leaders or peers.

Importantly, however, accounting and finance professionals have to learn to articulate and ask for the support, influence, and resources that they need — which may be a stretch assignment of its own.

— Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in the UK. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at [email protected] .

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Out of the Comfort Zone: Stretch Assignments Research Report

  • By Jo Miller

Out of the Comfort Zone: How women and men size up stretch assignments — and why leaders should care.

January, 2019 : Stretch opportunities are all the rage in the workplace. But as popular as they are, it’s unclear why some people decide to accept a stretch assignment or role – and others step aside. It’s also unclear why women haven’t benefited from stretches as much as men. This report shares our original research on how both genders decide if they are ready for a stretch, and how they make that decision. We also explore how employers can create a workplace that supports employees who step out of their comfort zones. For individuals – and women in particular – we offer advice for getting the most out of these career-making opportunities.

What is a “stretch opportunity?”

  • A  stretch assignment  is a temporary, internal learning opportunity that helps an employee acquire new expertise.
  • A  stretch role  is a new, permanent position that challenges an employee to expand responsibilities or learn new skills.

Key Research Findings

  • Men and women are equally interested in being promoted into director or vice president positions and ultimately advancing into senior vice president or C-suite roles.
  • However, the largest portion of women don’t feel their employers make it easy to gauge  if they are ready for a promotion, while the largest portion of men think their employers help them know whether they are prepared to advance.
  • Women are less engaged in and passionate about their jobs than men, another possible explanation for why fewer women take on stretch assignments and roles. A strong correlation exists between employees who feel engaged and passionate about their work and those who perceive that their employer makes it easy to assess their readiness to advance.
  • In order to apply for a job, both women and men feel that they need to meet, on average, 75% of the qualifications for the role – a surprising difference from accepted thinking about gender attitudes toward the qualifications they feel they need to try for a new position.
  • Women may hold back from taking stretches because when assessing 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.
  • For both men and women, the top criteria for deciding whether to take stretch assignments are having the influence to create a positive outcome, and getting an assignment that lines up with their career goals. Both genders say office politics is the biggest practical challenge to taking on stretch assignments, with lack of time a close second.
  • Money matters. Men are 3.5 times more likely than women to cite pay as an important factor in evaluating their readiness for a new assignment, job or level.

Download the Report

Media coverage.

Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM):  How HR Can Increase Women’s Access to Critical Stretch Opportunities Association for Talent Development (ATD):  3 Attributes of a Standout Stretch Opportunity The Gazette:  Women need to “stretch” for success Payscale Career News:  Use Stretch Assignments to Get a Raise, a Promotion and Anything Else You Want at Work Business Record:  Study: Women less likely to ‘stretch’ for career advancement Emerson Women in STEM:  Want to Reinvent Yourself in 2019? A Stretch Assignment May Be the Answer HR People + Strategy:  Unleash Potential With a Stretch Assignment Program TD Magazine:  Stand Up and Stretch

About Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s an award-winning author, speaker, and researcher who has dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

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Navigating the Final Stretch of the School Year Empowered Educators formerly Educators with Oil

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In this episode, teachers dive into crucial discussions as they approach the end of the school year. From assessing student progress and planning final assignments to reflecting on teaching strategies and professional development opportunities, this episode offers insights into the dynamic conversations that shape the last marking period. Tune in to gain valuable perspectives on navigating the final stretch of the academic year with purpose and efficacy..

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Chicago Bears Q&A: Possibilities of trading the No. 9 pick vs. staying put? Who could be on the roster bubble?

T he Chicago Bears have entered the stretch run to the 2024 NFL draft. In eight days, we’ll learn whether Caleb Williams indeed is their choice at No. 1 and what general manager Ryan Poles decided to do with the No. 9 pick.

As he does every Wednesday, Brad Biggs reaches into the mailbag to answer readers’ questions.

Biggsy, could you assign your subjective probabilities to the following options at No. 9?

  • a. Bears trade up
  • b. Bears trade down
  • c. Bears stay at 9

— @danno561

That’s the million-dollar question we’ve been wondering about for a couple of months and have another week to kick around. How does Bears general manager Ryan Poles approach a second pick in the top 10 in what could be a transformational draft for the organization?

I took a comprehensive look at the options last week, and the way I see it, chances are greatest the Bears will choose from a pool of players at four positions: wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive end and defensive tackle. And there’s only one player in the last group, Texas’ Byron Murphy.

Handicapping how this will shake out on draft night is a guessing game. I fully expect Caleb Williams to be the first pick by the Bears, and most signals point to the Washington Commanders choosing Jayden Daniels at No. 2. After that it will be a scramble with potential trades and some terrific prospects at quarterback and the positions listed above.

I’ve maintained for a while that the Bears need to come out of this draft with difference makers, players who can ascend to an elite level. They’re going to take a shot with Williams at quarterback and they need another “blue,” the term personnel folks use to describe the upper crust. In a draft with high-end talent, why not stay put at No. 9 and get a player you believe profiles as a future star?

There’s a certain attraction to trading down and adding draft capital, but the farther down you move, the harder it might be to land a special talent. The tradeoff is you get more ammunition in later rounds; the Bears currently hold only four picks.

If I had to assign a probability to the three scenarios you laid out, my guess would be staying put is the chalk play. Trading up also has a certain appeal and has created a buzz the last couple of weeks, but then the Bears would be playing with a shorter deck in 2025. Trading down is complicated because we don’t know how much interest teams will have in moving up to No. 9, and Poles might not know until the day before the draft or even until the Bears are on the clock.

  • a. Bears trade up: 15%
  • b. Bears trade down: 30%
  • c. Bears stay at 9: 55%

With this being the year of the QB, why are the Bears so enamored with Caleb Williams? I am not sure if he will be Tom Brady or Peter Tom Willis, but I do know that history is rife with “can’t miss” busts in the draft. I cannot understand not trading down at least to No. 2 and garnering some other draft capital. If Williams turns out to be Hall of Fame worthy and the QB the Bears take at No. 2 is only good, but they also are able to get more picks for the draft this year or next, what’s the foul? — Scott B.

In basketball terms, you’re looking at a technical foul. In hockey terms, you’re looking at a match penalty. In baseball, it would be an ejection, the ol’ heave-ho.

I don’t care what kind of draft capital the Bears could acquire from the Washington Commanders for moving down from No. 1 to No. 2 if it’s a difference between “Hall of Fame worthy” and “only good.” A Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback could have the Bears positioned to be a Super Bowl contender for a decade. A good quarterback could help put them in the playoff mix when the rest of the roster is pretty good and healthy.

Elite quarterbacks raise the level of play of everyone around them. I don’t know how Williams will perform as a rookie. I don’t know how developed his game will be in 2026. I do know the Bears have royally screwed up the position time and time again, and this opportunity comes at the intersection of a calculated move by Ryan Poles last year and some serial mismanagement by the Carolina Panthers. That’s good fortune that needs to be put to use.

Early in the offseason, we saw mock drafts with Bears going to No. 2 and then selling even again to No. 3. Imagine the draft capital for not only this year but the following year and possibly after. If the Bears are as good as we are led to believe they will be with a “franchise QB,” those draft picks being early in 2025 or 2026 could be quite good. What am I missing? — Scott B.

What you’re missing is the Bears — and I believe most other teams — see a pretty wide gap between Caleb Williams and the remainder of the quarterbacks in this draft class. What the Bears are missing — and have been for the longest time — is a bona fide elite quarterback.

It’s exciting to talk about the possibilities in a series of trade-down scenarios, and you can get dizzy imagining all of the additional draft capital that could bring. What’s lost by some is the reality that you still have to hit on those extra picks, and in making that move, you’re no longer in control of the quarterback board. Especially if you move down a second time, you’re staring at quite possibly having the third choice of quarterbacks in this class.

Could that third quarterback, likely North Carolina’s Drake Maye or Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, develop as a franchise QB? Sure, that’s possible. Could one or both of them eventually be better than Williams? Anything is possible. But if the Bears have a superior grade on Williams and believe he is head and shoulders above the other prospects, how can they afford to pass on the best player at a position that has been a glaring weakness?

The surrounding cast is improved, far better than most teams choosing a quarterback at No. 1 have, so it’s a pretty straightforward and simple decision to me. Choose Williams at No. 1 and do everything possible to put him in a situation to succeed from Day 1.

The Bears simply aren’t in a position to play around because there’s no telling where they will be in the draft order in the future or what the QB classes in 2025, 2026 and 2027 will look like. They’ve thoroughly bungled the quarterback position far too many times over the years to pass on a prospect who many believe is elite. When you look at the short list of teams that are perennial contenders, they all have one thing in common: a top-notch quarterback.

Is the reason most people don’t keep Brock Bowers’ name in the talk about the No. 9 pick because of the rookie pay scale for top-10 picks? As a follow-up, could you explain the scale for us heathens? I know it’s complex, just a spitball kind of explanation is good enough. — Tim G.

The issue is positional value. If Bowers is the 10th pick, he would command a fully guaranteed salary of roughly $21.3 million over four years. Compared with what the elite tight ends earn (the top five average about $15 million per year), there isn’t as much surplus value as you’d get if you drafted a wide receiver, an offensive tackle or certainly a quarterback when you look at what the top players at those positions are paid.

It’s an interesting discussion and it comes down to how teams value Bowers. Do they believe he can be as productive as the league’s top players at the position?

If the Panthers had drafted C.J. Stroud like they should have and won roughly seven games and the Bears got the No. 12 pick, what are they doing now? Trading Nos. 9 and 12 to move up for Jayden Daniels, I guess? — @nick_bpss

Hindsight makes all of us shrewd evaluators when it comes to quarterback play. Stroud was fantastic last season with not a ton around him in Houston, and there’s no question the Panthers would have had a better season with him instead of Bryce Young. It’s a mistake that could haunt them for seasons to come.

It’s difficult to assess a hypothetical, but I can’t imagine the Bears would have reached a consensus to keep Justin Fields for a fourth season and they almost certainly would have declined the fifth-year option in his contract. There just wasn’t enough on-field production last season that pointed to necessary improvement.

I think they’d either be eyeing a trade up to position themselves for Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy or perhaps crafting a plan to draft Oregon’s Bo Nix at some point. Jumping to No. 2, where I believe the Washington Commanders will choose Daniels, probably would be a stretch. I don’t think the Commanders want to pass up that opportunity.

If one of the top three receivers, Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers or Rome Odunze, is available after Tennessee picks at No. 7, do you think it’s likely that the Jets or some other team with a lower pick will try to trade up and beat the Bears to such WR? — Jerry L., Chicago

That’s an interesting question and my hunch is one of those receivers will be on the board at No. 8. I would be pretty surprised if three came off in the top seven picks. Bear in mind, three wide receivers never have been selected in the top eight picks in the history of the draft.

Figure three quarterbacks, two receivers and one offensive tackle will go in the top seven picks. That means one more quarterback, one more O-lineman, one defensive player or a wild card such as Georgia tight end Brock Bowers has to come off the board to leave a receiver sitting there at No. 8.

Could someone be motivated to move ahead of the Bears? Sure. Would the Atlanta Falcons be willing to trade out of No. 8 with a team seeking to move up for a receiver? You have to think the Falcons would listen. Could the Bears jump up one spot in that scenario? It depends on who the receiver is and the price of the move. You present a compelling scenario, and it’s possible we’ll see a good bit of wheeling and dealing in the top 10.

Barring injuries, is Larry Borom this season’s Kindle Vildor? What are the odds he is on the roster in September when the Bears have better depth and can save cap space? — @gregfeltes

Borom got enough playing time in his first three seasons to hit the escalator in his rookie contract that boosts his base salary to $3.116 million, and that might be more than the Bears want to pay him, especially when you consider they signed Jake Curhan for $1.055 million on a one-year deal. Curhan will have to win the job as the swing offensive tackle, and who knows what that competition looks like right now. It could become crowded if the Bears draft a tackle.

If Borom doesn’t figure in the team’s plans, the best-case scenario would be finding a trade partner. His salary might make that a little challenging, but if another team likes him, Borom has ample experience with 39 games played and 23 starts. Maybe the Bears could flip him for a late-round pick or involve him in some type of pick swap.

Borom also has the flexibility to play inside at guard. But he’d be a guy to keep an eye on in training camp, and if he performs well, the salary wouldn’t make keeping him prohibitive.

At this point of the offseason, which Bears are on the bubble and vulnerable of making the 53-man squad? In your estimation, who does this apply to? — @mred315

Outside of Larry Borom, whom I mentioned above, I don’t think a lot of players who have gotten significant playing time are potentially in jeopardy of losing a roster spot. That could change based on what the team does in the draft.

At minimum, I expect the Bears to create legitimate competition for punter Trenton Gill, who had an uneven 2023 season. Defensive end Dominique Robinson would be one to keep an eye on and potentially wide receiver Velus Jones. The team seemed adamant about creating opportunities for Jones in 2023. We’ll see how a new offensive coaching staff utilizes him.

Hypothetically speaking, if one of the QBs after Caleb Williams — Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels or J.J. McCarthy — makes it to the ninth pick, would the Bears entertain the in-division Vikings with the pick (and a low-round sweetener) for Minnesota’s 11th and 23rd? — @fgrunder3

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That’s an interesting question. Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has shown no hesitation in cutting deals with other NFC North teams, and I don’t think Ryan Poles has a general aversion to trading with rivals. This is a little different. Do you really want to assist the Vikings in their quest to replace Kirk Cousins?

I seriously doubt the Vikings would need to package the 23rd pick to make that climb. You’re talking about a move of only two spots. The Bears picked up a fourth-round pick from the Philadelphia Eagles last year to drop from No. 9 to No. 10. You’re talking about one more spot. So while the premise is interesting, your compensation is heavily tilted to Halas Hall and not realistic.

I think there’s a good chance all four quarterbacks are off the board in the first six picks. It would really be something if they go 1-2-3-4.

Do you see the Bears releasing WR Velus Jones and RG Nate Davis? I don’t believe they have any value for how the Bears are moving forward . — Rex K., Machesney Park, Ill.

Jones should have to compete for a roster spot. It will be interesting to see how his skill set applies to the new kickoff rules. I’d imagine the Bears will try him again throughout the offseason as a punt returner, but will they develop enough faith and confidence to actually give him a shot in the regular season? He’s not really in the mix at wide receiver, in my estimation, as he’s pretty clearly a gadget guy. Who knows? Maybe new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has some new ideas.

As far as Davis, he’s not going anywhere. His $8.75 million base salary is fully guaranteed for this season. The hope is with a more consistent offseason and summer that he will get off to a better start in 2024.

Everyone seems to think WR Keenan Allen is only a one-year deal barring an extension. The Bears spent more than a franchise tag would cost for a WR in 2024. So couldn’t they tag him next year if they don’t draft (or have success with) a WR? It would equate to about 2 years and $45 million total. — @duhbearscar

Anything is possible, but if you look at the history of the franchise tag, it’s hard to find many examples of players entering Year 13 getting that treatment, especially wide receivers. The tag for wide receivers could get a decent bump in 2025 if players such as Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and Brandon Aiyuk, among others, sign new contracts.

If Allen has another super-productive season, and certainly that’s the hope, the Bears could entertain the idea of a one-year deal. They’d be paying for future production — not past performance — and would have to feel strongly that he would be worth north of $20 million in 2025. There would have to be some kind of gap in negotiations for it to lead to a tag situation.

Keep in mind the Bears could desire at least the availability of the tag for left guard Teven Jenkins. Of course, that would be hugely dependent on his performance in Year 4 and the state of negotiations (assuming there is an attempt at them). I’d say chances of Allen being tagged in 2025 are low.

©2024 Chicago Tribune. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles answers a question during a news conference at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.


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

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

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

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

  3. Why You Should Take on More Stretch Assignments

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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 ...

  5. Stretch Assignments

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

  7. 4 Ways To Execute A Stretch Assignment Like A Rock Star

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  9. 4 Stretch Assignment Examples for Upskilling Your Workforce

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

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    Talk to your manager about a project you have identified and offer a solution. 1. Stretch in the right direction. Make certain that your stretch aligns with your current job responsibilities and/or future career goals. 2. Take the time to plan your stretch. Stretch assignments can be time intensive and energy consuming.

  14. 3 Attributes of a Standout Stretch Assignment

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    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.

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