Berger Leadership Blog

Categories: Leadership

How to structure effective stretch assignments

Dan BergerAs we look to bolster our organizations and teams, we recognize that we can't stick to the status quo. We've got to take advantage of new opportunities. We've got to develop new skills and pursue knowledge that'll take us to the next level.

You can set high expectations and work to motivate your team the right way, but an important component of that is ensuring the projects and responsibilities you develop to push your employees are developed in ways that set them up for success.

Leadership guru Julie Winkle Giulioni has a recent piece on stretch assignments. These assignments are intended to push employees past their comfort zone, but not so far that it breaks them. While each person will have varying tolerance levels for the discomfort and be motivated in different ways, she outlines four questions for leaders to consider in order to develop successful stretch assignments:

  1. What is the developmental purpose of the stretch assignment? One of my recent blogs covered the power of purpose. Understanding the "why" behind a stretch assignment is important. But you can't just detail how this assignment will benefit the company. Leaders must demonstrate how the skills and knowledge gained from completing it will be good for the employee long term. Work with the employee to identify their professional goals and connect those to the task at hand.
  2. What is the current level of skill, motivation, and resilience of the employee? It's important to understand the starting point. Think about your fitness goals – if you want to run a marathon by the end of the year, but you haven't worked out in weeks, you can't expect yourself to be able to run all 26 miles on Day 1. If you try, you'll likely become discouraged and give up on your goal. The same is true for stretch assignments. Recognize the gap in an employee's current skillset and where they want to be, as well as their resilience when facing obstacles.
  3. What experiences might offer the appropriate (but not excessive) level of challenge needed to grow? Establish checkpoints during the assignment that demonstrate growth. As the employee hits certain points, identify areas that can be enhanced to keep progressing. Giulioni offers options like adding complexity to a current task, increasing the level of responsibility, imposing new constraints, and challenging them to take on developing a new product or a project that has a sense of uncertainty.
  4. What resources will the employee need to ensure that the stretch delivers its desired developmental outcomes? There is an emotional toll of facing challenges, in addition to the organizational cost. Be ready to be a sounding board and offer your employee the guidance and encouragement needed to overcome obstacles. Leaders must also be willing to invest the resources – whether it's a new budget item, additional staff, or reconfiguring current responsibilities so they have time to devote to the stretch assignment.

Pushing your team and organization to new heights requires intentional effort to ensure it is done constructively and not to the detriment of your people. Considering these questions as you encourage growth and development will help you be successful in doing so.

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About the Author

B. Dan Berger, President and CEO, NAFCU

Dan BergerB. Dan Berger first joined NAFCU in 2006 and helped turn the association into the premiere advocate for the credit union industry.

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