We’ve all had those stalled career moments. Maybe you’re feeling like you’re not progressing. Perhaps you’re not challenged enough by your work. Maybe it feels like you’ve maximized the opportunities available to you. Whatever the case, a stretch opportunity may be just the antidote to reignite your career and uncover a bigger, bolder vision of yourself. A stretch assignment is a trial project or new experience that helps prepare a professional for future roles. Stretch assignments can last a matter of days, or extend for months or through multiple phases. Some are part-time projects performed in addition to an existing workload. Others require temporarily stepping away from regular duties to devote attention to the assignment full time.
Mounting evidence confirms the unique power of stretch opportunities to transform professionals into leaders. 71% of senior leaders identified stretch assignments as their biggest career enabler. Other research identified the most valuable developmental experience is rotational or stretch assignments. Stretch assignments - which are essentially tryouts - not only offer visibility and exposure, but allow learners to shape how they are known. A stretch assignment might include turning around a failed product, convening a task force to solve a tough problem, or moving a manual process to an automated one.
While stretch assignments can lead to meaningful results for individuals and organizations, they’re relatively under discussed and not well understood. That’s what led Jo Miller and I to conduct original research on stretch assignments, providing new insight into how people size up stretch assignments - and why it matters. For example, women have the same aspirations as men to reach top level roles, yet women are more likely to report that their organization's criteria for advancement is unclear.
We all want the personal influence to effect a meaningful change, yet strategies for succeeding at stretch opportunities have been murky. What should you keep in mind as you take on new assignments outside of your comfort zone?
By putting these strategies into place, you can not only deliver on a stretch assignment (and then some), but can permanently change how people think of you and your capabilities. In the words of IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.”
Have you recently completed a stretch assignment or are you looking to start one? Reply below to comment and share your experiences.