Alright, so you’ve finished your advanced degree, perhaps an MBA, but there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity for promotion in your organization. Then again, where will you get the work related experience that could be leveraged to attain a new job role in another organization? Don’t despair – take a harder look within your organization!
In fact, although there may not be an identified new role available, there are often plenty of opportunities for a so called “stretch assignment”. A stretch assignment consists of one or more special projects or tasks that allow you to solve unique corporate problems while at the same time gaining new skills beyond your current knowledge. Many times your project will allow you to work right alongside your most senior manager.
Asking for a stretch assignment demonstrates a sense of commitment and engagement to your organization and employers value this attitude. At the same time, it offers you an opportunity to demonstrate your technical and/or leadership skills all the while that you are learning new skills and working with a new team. You will also be taking a major task off the list for a manager and that certainly reduces their stress. And finally, taking on a stretch assignment allows you to gain some additional visibility within your organization.
Do you really have what it takes? To win and succeed in a stretch assignment, high potentials need to have the right motive (a willingness to have an impact on others in a selfless way), the right leadership assets (including among others the ability to learn, stay resilient, and connect), and be willing to accept the costs of a senior executive position.
The challenge for you then is how to find and choose the right “stretch” opportunity. Consider the following when making your decision:
- You need to have a good understanding of your strengths and areas of challenge. You need to know what skills need development and the type of assignments that will build that particular skill. Then work with your manager and/or another trusted advisor to determine the best type of assignments to look for;
- For your first stretch assignment, seek a unique project within your own organization as this removes the need to learn a new organization culture. You will fit in more easily, you will already have relationships within the organization and so will not have to work as hard to gain respect;
- Initially seek out a short term project because this only requires a short term commitment and it frees you up so you could move on to multiple projects within one year;
- Look for stretch assignments that give you more responsibility and allows you to work across departments where possible. This creates what is called “cross cultural” collaboration and also introduces you to new systems and new people;
- Avoid taking on an assignment that is way over your head as this creates too many risks especially if support resources are weak; seek out opportunities where there is a good chance of success;
- Seek out a sponsor within your organization that has power and influence and explain why you want an assignment. Most leaders will view a stretch assignment as a retention opportunity, so go for it;
- Develop a specific learning plan and objectives for specific skills you wish to learn as well as relationship building; create milestones so that you can measure your accomplishments;
- Stay committed to your project until completion; be sure to communicate and share the results so that your visibility within the organization is enhanced.
Seeking a stretch assignment can be a powerful experience that can strategically position you to develop your leadership skills, become more visible and recognized as a high potential employee. It will also help you to develop your self-confidence as a leader, acquire valuable feedback from a mentor and literally have the opportunity to check various roles and options within your organization. Go for it!