How to Grow Your Career and Diversify Skills with Stretch Assignments

How to Grow Your Career and Diversify Skills with Stretch Assignments

Want to develop your capabilities in new fields? Leading employees who have the potential to branch out, like a web developer dabbling in graphic design or a content writer interested in coding? Expanding repertoires can take some effort but ultimately it will be worth it for both the individual and the organization. It’s what they call “stretch assignments” in corporate-speak. 
Whether you are high ranking or part of the rank and file, this is something you should definitely consider. Stepping outside of your comfort zones aids growth and development. It sounds like a lot, but the key is to do it constructively and in a structured way. So that the participants won’t be overwhelmed or overstretched. At the same time, these stretch exercises should be done in a way that failures won’t undermine the greater organization. After all, it’s part of the learning process and, as the saying goes, “failure is the best teacher.”

The Benefit of Stretch Assignments 

In this Forbes article on The 4 Vital Keys To Developing Others, the benefits of stretch assignments include:  “Data collected from more than 400,000 employees, discovered that individual development opportunities was the third most significant driver of employee engagement.” “Employees were much more likely to feel positive about their individual growth and development if their manager had done a good job of reviewing and discussing their individual performance, provided them regular feedback and giving the employees stretch assignments.” Moreover, according to a Government Finance Officers Association report, aside from enhancing employees’ skills, these activities also keep them engaged in their work so they’re less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere: More engaged and happy employees are less likely to seek employment elsewhere, minimizing costly turnover and creating a more dedicated and experienced staff. Stretch assignments effectively allow organizations to optimize resources and maximize the potential of existing employees.” “These techniques also help prevent the snowball effect of employee burnout from increased workloads caused by higher attrition. The state estimates that its turnover costs total more than $75 million per year, so while implementing these strategies takes work, the benefits gained from retaining employees greatly exceed any associated drawbacks.”  

How to Successfully Stretch?

Okay, these exercises are the best thing since sliced bread. So, how does one go about implementing it? Whether you’re the individual in question looking to grow your abilities, or the higher up who is facilitating these activities, it’s important to keep in mind several things. Stretch assignments exposes individuals to measured challenges, prompting development and growth without overwhelming them. The perfect balance between risk and opportunity. It’s the sweet spot mentioned in this Harvard Business Review article, where there’s a 50-70% chance of success. The author, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, from global executive search firm Egon Zehnder and Harvard Business School, has the following tips for those seeking to stretch:  
  • Give yourself a challenge that’s just right. Research shows that the sweet spot of development or high achievers is when there’s a 50-70% chance of success.
  • Short-term projects are a good way to stretch without permanent commitment. So consider starting small projects even without being directed to do so.
  • Ideally stretch assignments take you beyond your boundaries. The most meaningful ones don’t just give you more responsibilities, they push you into more cross-cultural collaboration. Like working across units, functions or geographies.
 

Go Get ‘Em! 

So, think you’ve got what it takes? Then seek out stretch assignments. Choose the right sponsor, supporter or mentor who has the position or the skills to help you fulfill this goal. You can’t do it alone, you’ll need someone reliable and trustworthy. A mentor or guide who can help you find your true strengths, find out where you want to go, what assignments to look for and how to get it.  Explain, to yourself and to those you’re making your case to, why you require stretch assignments. Show your capabilities. Plan out how you are going to learn new skills and work on new projects, since you’ll most likely be placed in a different department. Understand the challenges and objectives that will come before you, and define realistic goals.  And get ready to bust your butt doing hard work. It’ll be worth it!  Good hunting!  

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