Having a professional role that both engages and challenges you is a cornerstone of job fit. Savvy managers are aware of this, and make team members’ professional development a priority.
Glassdoor’s recent report "Why Workers Quit" implicates career stagnation as a leading cause of turnover. Morgan Smart, Glassdoor Data Scientist who authored the report, writes: “It should come as little surprise that employers who offer attractive culture and values and provide clear upward career paths for employees are more likely to retain workers who are looking for the next job in their careers.”
A stretch assignment is one way your employer can provide that path and keep you engaged in your role. It’s a nod that management recognizes your diligence, skill and talent and has confidence in your ability to take it to the next level. Mikaela Kiner, founder and CEO with uniquelyHR, explains that “A stretch assignment might be deliberately created to advance talented employees, or it may be the result of organizational growth, an unexpected vacancy, or a new product or initiative.”
Whatever prompted you to earn the nod, you’ll recognize a stretch assignment because it seems a bit lofty. Kiner further explains: “The assignment should help you do one or more of the following: Build new skills, increase your visibility, try out a new discipline or geography, or gain an experience like managing people that you haven’t had before.” While this may seem a bit intimidating, Kiner assures: “Leadership will only ask you to take on a stretch assignment if they believe that you can do the work and that it will develop your skills.”
If you’ve been invited to take on a stretch assignment, and it stands to drive your career in a direction that excites you, consider taking the leap.
"How can I be sure it’s a stretch assignment?"
Kiner asserts: “A higher volume of work is not a stretch assignment, it’s just more work!” To actually be a stretch assignment, it should enable you to grow in a new direction. Kiner explains: “The stretch should be interesting and challenging and include skills you want to learn or an opportunity to do something new. . . It’s ok to feel a little intimidated but you should also be excited.”
"How can I tell if I’m ready?"
You’re probably not totally ready for this, but that’s the point. Management believes that you have the ability to stretch into this. It’s a vote of confidence in your abilities, an investment in your potential.
Kiner advises: “Don’t be a perfectionist and pass up an opportunity just because it’s something you’ve never done before. You may worry that your performance rating will go down, and it might. But if you feel like this role is going to help you meet your long term career goals, then it’s worth it.”
Compare the possibility of taking too big a chance or not taking a big enough chance, which sounds more daunting?
"How should I prepare?"
Taking this professional leap reciprocates the trust that your leadership team has shown in you. It shows leadership that you trust them too. In order for this to be a good experience, you need to ensure that management understands and supports you. Kiner points out that “Taking on a stretch assignment is like being thrown in the deep end, and you don’t want to be there without a life preserver.”
Your management team functions as that life preserver. It’s important to discuss that as you work through the logistics of the assignment.
Kiner shares these tips:
- Make sure goals and deliverables are clear
- Find someone who can mentor you in this role (that may be different than your current mentor)
- Check in early and often with your manager for direction and feedback
- If the assignment is dramatically different from your current role for example you’re moving abroad or inheriting a large team, see if your company will pay for an executive coach.
- Remember we all make mistakes when we’re learning something new to be ready to make mistakes and learn from your failures.
- A new role can be exhausting! Plan some down time and make sure you’re sleeping and eating well, exercising, etc.
"What if I can’t stretch at this time?"
There are times in every career when stretching is simply not possible, maybe there are child or elder care responsibilities that limit the number of hours you can work or another factor renders you spread too thin. There’s no shame in this. It’s better to be clear about your limitations than to risk taking on more than is manageable.
Kiner advises: “You have to be true to yourself. There may also be room to negotiate the details. . . Recognize and appreciate the opportunity by thanking the person who offered it to you. Acknowledge it as a vote of confidence and let them know how much that means to you. Be honest about why it’s not the right choice for you now.”
Remember, if you have the bandwidth, consider embracing the opportunity. Kiner assures: “Most learning happens on the job, so these are some of the best chances you’ll get to broaden your skillset.”