Using Stretch Assignments to Develop Leadership Talent
What is A Stretch Assignment?
Bersin & Associates defines a stretch assignment as a project or task given to employees which is beyond their current knowledge or skills level in order to “stretch” employees developmentally. The stretch assignment challenges employees by placing them into uncomfortable situations in order to learn and grow.
Benefits of Stretch Assignments
Three benefits of stretch assignments are:
- Real-World Opportunities To Lead – Provide leadership candidates with the real-world opportunities to lead and sends a message to the candidate (and others) that the organization sees them as a leader.
- Low-Cost Development – Stretch assignments are typically cost neutral. The leadership candidate develops skills while adding value to a project that needed the additional resource.
- Leadership Tryout – Stretch assignments can be used to expose the leadership candidate to different areas of the organization as well as potential future roles.
Stretch Assignment Challenges
While the benefits of stretch assignments are obvious, few organizations exploit this leadership development opportunity to the fullest due to a variety of challenges. While scalability and leadership support are among those roadblocks, the largest challenge appears to be simply connecting leadership candidates with opportunities. As many have experienced, it can be an onerous enough task to simply manage the opportunities available without adding the complexity of matching those opportunities to the leadership candidates.
A Simple Approach to Stretch Assignments
Many of our clients have had success with shifting the responsibility for identifying and selecting the opportunities to the candidates themselves. The advantages to having candidates drive this process includes:
- Reducing the resources required from the Learning & Development team.
- Ensuring the assignment is something the candidate is motivated to do.
- Identifying hidden gem assignments that may have been missed otherwise.
Linking to Results
It is impossible to overestimate the potential of the right Stretch Assignment to contribute to the development of your leadership candidates. However, to ensure that potential is realized, any development opportunity (including stretch assignments) should be linked to specific competency improvements.
Defining the expected outcome before beginning a stretch assignment will serve as a way of qualifying opportunities and make it easier to measure the impact on the candidate and the organization.
Getting Started with Stretch Assignments
Hopefully, the above will give you a better understanding of how you can easily incorporate stretch assignments into your leadership development programs. But where do you start?
Having an objective way to quantify your leadership candidates’ strengths and opportunities for development is a good place to start. This data provides a great foundation to help each candidate to:
- Demonstrate a greater degree of self-awareness as it relates to their personal Leadership Skills
- Explore what motivates them
- Prioritize development opportunities with the best chance of success
They can then use this information to identify stretch assignments that will benefit them and their organization.
Interested in using SIGMA’s tools and coaching services to stretch your employees? Visit our coaching information webpage, or contact Glen Harrison for details.
Just popping in real quick to share a simple but, I think, meaningful activity I did with my students a few weeks as part of “Digital Citizenship Week” at our school…
Kids hear a lot today about being responsible with their social media accounts. We warn them that potential employers and college admissions counselors look at what they post and tell them horror stories of people having their lives ruined because of one stupid tweet or thoughtless Facebook rant. BUT, the truth is, most of them still have the “that wouldn’t happen to me” or “my stuff isn’t that bad” attitude when it comes to their personal accounts… This activity at least attempts to personalize the concept of digital citizenship for them. Here’s how it works:
– I started by introducing the concept of digital citizenship (basically being a responsible user of social media and other forms of technology) and talking about the impact that the things they post NOW can have on their futures etc. We subscribe to Upfront Magazine by The New York Times (which I highly recommend by the way), and they had an awesome article in their October 5th edition titled “Guess Who’s Looking at Your Facebook Page?” that sparked some good conversation and debate among my students. (If you don’t have access to this magazine, I’m sure you could easily find something about this topic out there on the internet.)
– Once they seem to have a good grasp on what other people are doing, I tell them that we will spend the next class taking an inventory of their own social media usage… Basically, I students have to choose one or two forms of social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, whatever) that they use the most and look back as far as they can go (at least 100 entries) to see what they’ve been posting.
– Then, yes, I allowed them to use their smart phones etc. (Our school computers don’t allow students access to most of these sites, and every one of my students had a smart phone they could use. An alternative, of course, would be to have them do this at home and bring the results to class.) to start scrolling through their old posts and keeping track of what they found. Before we started, we made the following chart as a class to help them keep track of and categorize what they found
Social Media Self Inventory (Word Document)
*I did this with eleventh graders and consider them a pretty mature group. Therefore, I tried to give them free-reign as much as possible in the things they were looking for. HOWEVER, I did intentionally leave off categories like “drug use” or “illegal activity,” because – although those would obviously not be good to have on their accounts, I didn’t want the responsibility of knowing that kind of thing. I said that information could go under “Wouldn’t want _____ to see” in their records. Other than that, I encouraged students to be as honest as possible in their data collection and to remember that I only wanted to see tally marks – NOT the actual content.
– Once all the data was gathered, my students actually worked in their graphic design class to create visual representations of what they found/ infographics like the ones shown below. They used Photoshop, but there are lots of other free resources for doing this online. It addition to showcasing the data found in their inventory, they were also encouraged to make a statement about their social media use and/or digital citizenship in general related to their findings…
– Overall, the kids really enjoyed the activity (who doesn’t love a class period – or several – devoted to scrolling through Twitter?), and it made them think. I made it a point not to force them to edit their information or delete anything, but simply to make them aware of what was out there. While the vast majority didn’t come up with horrifying results, most of them were still surprised how negative, snarky, or just plain mean they could be through the safety of the screen. LOTS of students told me after the fact that this activity made them think more about what they publish and spend some time “cleaning up” some of their accounts.
*I did have two (out of 17) students who claimed they didn’t use social media. For those students, I simply offered an alternative assignment and had them work on calculating all the data/ producing a visual for the whole class’s combined results. This worked out fine.
This was an easy activity to implement in the classroom and had real-world implications and connections. I call that a teaching win.
P.S. I did this with my own Facebook account and – although I try to be very careful about what I post and how I present myself online – even I was surprised by some of what I found. I definitely recommend the exercise, even if it is only for you.