Golden Rules for Taking on Stretch Assignments
Recently, my employer asked me to lead a particular tough and ailing project. Previously, several others tried to solve the problems of this difficult project and establish a system, but no one was very successful. Nonetheless, it is a very important project for our department's credibility and future. The current state of the project was so cluttered that I was really considering to say: "No". You know, beside this project, I have other regular duties as well! So, it was tempting to just ignore this project and keep on performing my regular job duties. If asked, I could always give an excuse why it wasn't possible to give the project the needed time.
However, this was an example of what is called a Stretch Assignment – any new project, task or role that is clearly beyond one's current expertise or abilities. And believe it or not, Korn Ferry research has found that a stretch assignment is the most valuable leadership skill-building experience surpassing things like action learning
, 360° assessments
, exposure to more senior leaders and formal classroom training.
If you were ever in a similar situation like me, just like me you would wonder if there is a set of rules to accept or reject a stretch assignment
? There are at least 4 such rules which I summarize below…
- DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE RISKS: Taking on a stretch assignment isn't easy, it involves trade-offs. You have to put in your valuable time, take cognitive load, and manage uncertainties to be successful. Without making these sacrifices you are unlikely to finish this tough assignment successfully. The presence of risk is natural in any stretch assignment. But you should not overthink the risks only when considering whether to/not to accept a stretch assignment. Also consider the benefits. What really matters is the total outcome of the assignment once completed. So seriously consider all the PROs and CONs.
- MATCH YOUR INTEREST: You know yourself best. You know where your interests are. The ideal stretch assignment will fuel your interests and passions. Whenever you see a match of your interests in any stretch assignment, that is a very strong reason to ignore the sacrifice needed to put in for its accomplishment. Follow your passion and accept the assignment.
- SAY "YES" WHEN MOST SAY "NO": Stretch assignments are inherently challenging. So many people will instantly say: "No" to these projects/tasks/roles because they prefer to stay in their comfort zone. But think again, these are also the areas where your management will have lower expectations. And high potentials will easily recognize the opportunity to shine by just taking the steps to find out and experiment with what is possible.
- NEGOTIATE FOR PREREQUISITES: If you are ready to take the risk and the project matches your passion, ensure you will get enough support, the required authority, and the required resourcesto successfully complete the assignment. That's why you should negotiate for the things you will need to make this tough assignment a success. Bring everything to the table. Also don't forget to ask: "If I do an excellent job on this assignment, what can I expect as a result?"
⇨Do you have any experience with stretch projects? Or do you have an additional tip when you should or shouldn't accept or reject a stretch assignment? Share your reaction.
Source: Miller, J. (2019), "4 Rules for Accepting a Stretch Assignment", Forbes