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How ADP TotalSource Can Simplify HR Management for Small Businesses

Small businesses often face a multitude of challenges when it comes to managing their human resources. From hiring and onboarding new employees to managing payroll and benefits, small business owners often find themselves stretched thin trying to keep up with their HR responsibilities. That’s where ADP TotalSource comes in – a comprehensive HR management solution designed specifically for small businesses.

What is ADP TotalSource?

ADP TotalSource is an all-in-one HR management solution that offers small businesses access to a wide range of services, including payroll processing, benefits administration, compliance management, and employee training and development. With ADP TotalSource, small business owners can streamline their HR processes and free up more time to focus on growing their business.

Benefits of Using ADP TotalSource

One of the biggest benefits of using ADP TotalSource is the ability to outsource many of your HR responsibilities. This means that you can rely on a team of experts to handle everything from payroll processing and tax filings to compliance management and employee training. This not only saves you time but also helps ensure that your HR processes are being handled correctly.

Another benefit of using ADP TotalSource is access to a wide range of employee benefits. With this solution, you can offer your employees comprehensive health insurance options, retirement plans, and other perks that may be difficult for small businesses to provide on their own. This can help you attract top talent while also improving employee retention rates.

How Does ADP TotalSource Work?

To get started with ADP TotalSource, small business owners simply need to sign up for the service and provide basic information about their company and employees. From there, they will have access to a dedicated team of HR professionals who will handle all aspects of their HR management.

ADP TotalSource also offers an online portal where employees can access their pay stubs, benefits information, and other important HR-related documents. This helps streamline communication between employees and HR professionals and makes it easier for everyone to stay on the same page.

Is ADP TotalSource Right for Your Small Business?

If you’re a small business owner looking to simplify your HR management processes, then ADP TotalSource may be the solution you’ve been searching for. With access to comprehensive HR services and a team of experts at your disposal, you can free up more time to focus on growing your business. Plus, with a wide range of employee benefits available through the service, you can attract and retain top talent in your industry.

In conclusion, ADP TotalSource is an excellent solution for small businesses looking to streamline their HR management processes. With its comprehensive services and dedicated team of professionals, it can help take the stress out of managing your human resources while also providing valuable benefits to your employees.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


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Developing Stronger Leaders , Leadership Development

Stretch Assignments that Develop Strategic, Interpersonal, and Personal Skills

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Given that most development occurs through experience (McCall, Lombardo, & Morrison, 1988), stretch assignments can provide a great vehicle for driving employee learning and/or leadership development. Stretch assignments are essentially short-term projects or assignments that provide unique and challenging experiences for the purpose of developing employee/leader skills and abilities. Although the use of on-the-job development is clearly on the rise, it is often applied without consideration of the necessary planning and support mechanisms.

The first thing to keep in mind if you’re thinking about leveraging stretch assignments for developmental purposes is the common-sense notion that different stretch assignments develop different abilities (e.g., public speaking skills cannot be developed through writing policy statements or crunching numbers). Because of this, it is important to first identify the specific skill(s) to be developed. Once you have a list of skills, the next step is to identify the available assignments that provide relevant exposure. This article will help you with this first critical stage of using stretch assignments – that is, thinking about competencies and identifying assignments. Below is a list of stretch assignments that have been shown to develop competence in the following three areas: strategic skills, interpersonal skills, or personal effectiveness.

If you would like to share this list, check out our reference guide which contains the same information in a PDF format.

Strategic Skills

These assignments will help develop competencies related to expanding one’s awareness of organizational functions and strategy ( e.g., coping with ambiguous situations, gaining a strategic perspective, influencing others, working with customers, problem solving )

  • Spend 3 days with clients and report back (presentation or written report)
  • Conduct a customer-needs analysis
  • Write a policy statement
  • Interview external stakeholders about their opinions of the organization
  • Analyze and compare a competitor’s product or service
  • Put together a presentation for a senior employee (i.e., supervisor or manager)
  • Evaluate a training program
  • Join a cross-functional team
  • Join work on a project that has been unsuccessful
  • Put together a task-force to solve a tough problem
  • Monitor a new product or service through its entire life cycle

Interpersonal Skills

These will help develop competencies that increase one’s effectiveness to work with and manage other employees or teams ( e.g., communication, listening, managing conflict, managing relationships, teamwork, negotiation, trust, approachability, delegation, leadership )

  • Lead a team meeting
  • Become a mentor to a new employee
  • Train a new employee in a particular skill
  • Represent team concerns to supervisor
  • Join a team that’s dealing with conflict
  • Negotiate a new customer contract
  • Take responsibility in resolving a team conflict
  • Troubleshoot a performance issue
  • Become a campus recruiter
  • Interview customers and report back
  • Work with a peer on a developmental opportunity
  • Delegate 2 tasks to a peer and ask him/her to delegate 2 to you

Personal Effectiveness

These are oriented around competencies most closely related to your performance and personal development ( e.g., organizing, planning, intellectual acumen, creativity, composure, time management, work/life balance, decision quality, customer service )

  • Help launch a new product or service
  • Re-launch a product or service that previously failed
  • Learn a new tool, process, or approach and give a presentation on it
  • Work with someone from another department on a tough issue
  • Handle a difficult negotiation with an internal or external client
  • Take on a project that others have failed in
  • Write a press release
  • Teach a seminar on an unfamiliar topic
  • Create a customer satisfaction survey
  • Take on a task that you do not like to do
  • Take on an employee’s tasks who is on vacation
  • Conduct interviews with employees on their work/life balance experience & present findings

Note: This list is informed by research presented in Lombardo & Eichinger’s (1989) book entitled “Eighty-eight assignments for development in place,” and Yost & Plunkett’s (2009) book entitled “Real time leadership development.” I highly recommend both books as resources for any organization that currently applies stretch assignments or plans to in the future.

Going Forward…

Going forward, keep in mind that this is only a single piece in effective use of stretch assignments for developmental purposes. There are a number of mechanisms that are critical for actually translating experience into learning and development. Employees who will be given stretch assignments need the active support ant participation of their supervisor before, during, and after:

  • Before – to meet with the employee and discuss what skills to develop, then chose a stretch assignment and identify learning goals
  • During – to give immediate feedback, support and encouragement, and provide access to resources (e.g., time to participate in assignments, introductions to other people who can provide guidance)
  • After – to reflect and debrief on what was learned during the assignment and how that can be applied to their current job or future development

Happy Development!

– Scontrino-Powell

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Stretch Assignments: What Are They and Is Your Employee Ready For One?

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Stretch assignments are a cornerstone of a strong employee development plan. A statement that is backed by a number of research studies. In one conducted by the Harvard Business Review of 823 executives, it was found that 71% of respondents said stretch assignments had the biggest impact on unleashing their potential. In another, this one conducted by Korn Ferry , stretch assignments were named the most valuable developmental experience, ahead of things like mentoring, classroom training, 360-degree assessments, and even exposure to senior leaders.

An intentional and strategic stretch assignment can go a long way in accelerating an employee’s development or supporting the trajectory of their career at your organization, though their success relies heavily on the one assigning the task - their leader.

In the following article, you will learn more about what stretch assignments are, what they are not, how to tell when an employee is ready for one, and more. Let’s begin.

What are Stretch Assignments?

While there are countless ways to define a stretch assignment, the following definition from BeLeaderly perfectly sums it up for the purposes of this article: “Stretch assignments are temporary, internal learning gigs that simultaneously offer an employee a chance to develop new skills while helping the organization solve a real business problem.”

Most commonly, stretch assignments are implemented to prepare an employee for an upcoming promotion, engage a high-performing employee, encourage skill development, or evaluate an employee’s level of interest or aptitude for another role.

As the name implies, stretch assignments mean they “stretch” or challenge an employee to think and act outside their comfort zone or day-to-day job. But what exactly makes a stretch assignment challenging ?

  • It presents employees with an unfamiliar challenge
  • It challenges an employee to create change
  • It gives an employee a high level of responsibility
  • It challenges an employee to work cross-functionally

At this point, it is important to define what stretch assignments are not. Stretch assignments are not a chance for you to hand off work you do not want to do. They should also not be what Korn Ferry calls “glass-cliff projects.” According to them, “stretch assignments and glass-cliff projects both involve some risk and often include crisis situations, but one is about building your skills and the other is about proving your worth, despite your many successes. One is encouraging; the other is an affront.”

Are you struggling to decide what to delegate and whom to delegate to? If so,  this guide will help!

4 Signs Your Employee Is Ready For a Stretch Assignment

Of course, there is a fine line between “stretching” or challenging an employee and overwhelming them. To help you distinguish if an employee is ready for and can handle a stretch assignment or not, here are a few key things to consider: 

  • Their Track Record An employee who is ready for a stretch assignment and can handle it will not only have a history of successful projects and good performance, but will have a track record of asking for help when they need it, respecting boundaries, proactively seeking learning opportunities, and taking accountability for their actions (whether good or bad). These behaviors show a level of discretion that is imperative to the success of a stretch assignment, where an employee is outside of their comfort zone.
  • Their Engagement According to Gallup , “engaged employees are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are psychological ‘owners,’ drive high performance and innovation, and move the organization forward.” Whereas, “actively disengaged employees aren't just unhappy at work - they are resentful that their needs aren't being met and are acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers potentially undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.” Fortunately, stretch assignments are an ideal chance to further engage already engaged employees and those bordering on disengaged. You should be quite certain that the individual you will give the assignment to will see it as a positive opportunity and be willing to do their best work, not just because they have to, but because they want to.

An employee who has been given a stretch assignment is going to need your support more so than they would for their everyday job. Therefore, before you give a stretch assignment, be sure you have the availability and capacity to proactively support your employee from start to finish. 

  • Your Relationship Given the nature of stretch assignments, there is always a risk of failure and for some employees, failure is hard to handle even if it is a valuable learning experience. That is why it is so important to have a relationship built on trust before delegating a stretch assignment. Your employee needs to feel comfortable sharing their challenges and questions without fear of judgment, or else they might try to “go at it alone,” which is ultimately where people get themselves into trouble.

2 Major Things to Be Aware of With Stretch Assignments

  • Stretch Assignments Should Not Impede An Employee’s Day-to-Day Job As a leader, you need to closely monitor the progress of a stretch assignment, the well-being of your employee, and the health of their day-to-day roles and responsibilities. If your employee is suddenly working an exorbitant amount or is showing signs of burnout , then you need to be prepared to step in. While the stretch assignment is important, it should not put your employee's core roles and responsibilities , not to mention their wellbeing, at risk. If this becomes an issue, use it as a learning opportunity to help the employee identify their signs of burnout and set boundaries .
  • Stretch Assignments Need to be Fairly Distributed The unfortunate reality is stretch assignments are not always fairly distributed and accessible to all employees. This was highlighted in a study from BeLeaderly , which found that “women are less likely than men to receive challenging stretch assignments.” The report noted that “when stretch assignments are unclear, unadvertised, and unevenly offered, it makes women hesitate even more to pursue them. On the other hand, taking an open, equitable approach to stretch opportunities can create a thriving internal gig economy - one that’s accessible to all. This not only helps employees advance in the short term, but it can also set the course for diversifying, and therefore strengthening, your leadership ranks in the long term.” So, how can you ensure the distribution of stretch assignments is fair? According to a report by Catalyst , they recommend leaders link the distribution of stretch assignments to performance reviews, review the allocation of stretch assignments to ensure equitable distribution among women and equity-seeking groups, as well as consider providing new hires with a stretch assignment or assigning new hires to a team working on a stretch assignment. 

Employees who are given a stretch assignment will require more support, guidance, and encouragement than an average employee. Though the effort is well worth it as stretch assignments contribute to employee engagement, morale, satisfaction, productivity, and success, which in turn contributes to your success as their leader. It’s a win-win!

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30 HR Stretch Assignments That Can Enhance Your Growth, Development & Promotability

Plus a one-page cheat sheet you can use!

hr stretch assignment

by Alan Collins

Want to take your career to the next level with your current employer?

Taking on a stretch assignment in your current role may be your ticket.

A stretch assignment is simply a project or task you take on that falls outside your typical duties and requires you to step outside your comfort zone and learn new skills.

There are lots of benefits of tackling one of these assignments:

  • It can accelerate your growth and development without changing jobs.
  • It can infuse more joy, excitement or challenge into your current role.
  • It sends the message that you’re ready for more responsibility.
  • It prepares you for future leadership or promotional opportunities.
  • It potentially provides visibility to higher ups who can open doors for you.

If nothing else, a stretch assignment can add bullets to beef up your resume and prepare for an HR future outside of your organization.

Need some specific examples?

Check out this one-page cheat sheet.


To squeeze the most juice out of this one-pager:     

(a) Use it as a reminder of the types of assignments you may want to pursue.  

(b) Keep it handy on your all devices (phone, laptop, tablet) to access quickly for future reference.

(c) Forward it to HR colleagues who might welcome having this information to aid in their career advancement efforts.

(d) Use it any way you want!

Here’s a case study to illustrate.

Gabrielle Lewis-Smith was frustrated.

As a senior HR manager with one of the largest hospitals in Chicago, she didn’t feel she was moving fast enough in her career.

She loved the organization, didn’t want to leave, but was clueless about what to do.

However, a career-defining moment arrived when she was suddenly thrust into a highly visible leadership role.

When a colleague of hers resigned in the middle of planning the annual organization-wide talent review process, involving 225 leaders in 45 departments, Gabrielle received an unexpected visit from her manager.

“My boss came to me sweating, in a breathless panic,” she recounts.

“And he said, ‘Gabrielle, I need your help. You’ve been doing a great job. I know you’re swamped, but I need you to step up, lead and facilitate this whole thing. Can you do it?’”

In that moment, she felt terrified and out of her comfort zone, having never led something this big and visible to the senior management team.

But, she also had the self-awareness to realize, “This might be my opportunity. Someone sees more leadership potential in me than frankly I see in myself. And trusts me to do this.”

So, with her boss’ 100% assurance that he’d support her all the way, she agreed to bail him out.

And, the experiences and exposure she gained from this “stretch assignment” changed everything.

“It was a turning point in my HR career, and changed forever how I saw myself as a leader. In the end, this project helped me bond with my boss and showcase skills he didn’t know I had.

“I also got great feedback from the higher ups on my role in planning and facilitating many of the reviews.

“And, in the months that followed, I started getting calls and all kinds of opportunities opened themselves up to me, both within… and outside of the hospital.

“My boss promoted me to HR director eight months later.”

So, how do you obtain a stretch assignment?  

Here’s what not to do…

Don’t sit on your butt, waiting to be asked.

hr stretch assignment

Instead, take charge! 

Get proactive and seek out projects that would add value to the organization, but can’t get done because of insufficient resources, money or time. 

Or you might also dig into areas within HR or the larger organization where you’ve noticed problems, inefficiencies or dysfunction.

Or it also be as straightforward as raising your hand and volunteering to tackle a project no one else wants to do.

In any event, once you’ve identified an issue or project you’d like to take on, talk to your boss, offer your help and get the ball rolling.

Finally, here’s how to maximize the experience. 0

0 #1:  Stretch in the right direction .

Make certain that your stretch aligns with your current job accountabilities and/or your future career goals.

#2:  Take time to plan your stretch.

Stretch assignments can be time intensive and energy consuming. Make sure what you’ve selected inspires and excites you.

#3:  Where possible, include others.

Engaging others will offer you new leadership opportunities by allowing you to delegate tasks and coordinate assignments with colleagues.

Teaming up with peers, or possibly a mentor, can also cause the endeavor to seem less daunting.

 #4:  Seek guidance. 

Stretch assignments take you out of your comfort zone which means you are not expected to have all the answers. So do don’t be afraid to ask questions, request direction and ask for assistance when you need it.

#5:  Cross organizational boundaries.

Stretch assignment are often most effective when they include working with individuals from another area of your organization.

Such assignments can give you insights that can build your total business perspective and insight.

#6:  Market what you accomplish.

Even if you knocked the project out of the park, it won’t mean much if no one knows what you’ve accomplished.

In your pre-deal negotiation, request that your stretch assignment be marketed internally.

For example, ask that it serve as a best practice story and be shared through appropriate HR or company channels, whether it’s via an internal newsletter, social network, webinar or even in a brown-bag information session.

All this helps you publicize and maximize the value you gain from the experience.

Have you taken on a stretch assignment recently?

Now may be the perfect time to tackle one.

If you’re like Gabrielle, it may be exactly the kind career-defining move you need to launch your career forward.

Got comments, thoughts and additional insights?

Post them in the comments below by clicking HERE.

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Then check out: STAY INSPIRED IN HR: 21 Positive Reminders To Keep You Motivated, Encouraged, Confident & Committed To Success in Human Resources.   Get more details here.

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About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling books for HR professionals.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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Stretch Assignment

Brandi M Fannell

Table of Contents

Take care of your people and protect your business with eddy, what are stretch assignments.

Stretch assignments are opportunities that go beyond an employee’s regular tasks and responsibilities. They require the employee to step out of their comfort zone and do something that they may not actually know how to do. It forces them to leverage the knowledge and skills that they do have to learn or acquire what they don’t.

Why Are Stretch Assignments Beneficial?

Stretch assignments offer numerous benefits. By venturing into uncharted territories, employees gain valuable experience and broaden their skill sets. Here are some specific benefits.

  • Catalyzes growth. These dynamic projects or tasks are designed to propel employees out of their comfort zones and catapult them into the realm of professional growth. By taking on unfamiliar responsibilities, employees are exposed to fresh challenges and opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge. It’s like strapping a rocket to their career trajectory.
  • Supercharges engagement and motivation. We all know that engaged employees are the heart and soul of any thriving organization. Stretch assignments inject a much-needed dose of excitement and purpose into the work lives of your employees. By entrusting them with challenging projects, you’re sending a clear message: We believe in you. Their commitment, initiative, and creativity skyrocket, resulting in a turbocharged organization firing on all cylinders.
  • Builds confidence and resilience. Stretch assignments give employees the perfect training ground for building confidence and resilience. As they conquer challenges and complete demanding projects, their sense of accomplishment skyrockets, boosting confidence levels and fueling a can-do attitude. Plus, the resilience developed through stretch assignments equips employees to navigate change and uncertainty with ease, making them valuable assets to your organization.

Types of Stretch Assignments

Let’s  dive into the different types of stretch assignments you can offer to your talented employees. Think of it as a buffet of growth opportunities where everyone gets to pick their favorite dish.

The Skill-Building Extravaganza

This type of assignment is like training camp.  Whether it’s mastering a new software, learning a foreign language, or honing leadership abilities, these stretch assignments are like power-ups for their skill sets. Encourage them to take on challenges that expand their horizons and give them a chance to level up their superpowers.

The Cross-Functional Adventure

This stretch assignment is like sending your employees on an expedition to explore different areas of your organization. It’s all about breaking down silos and fostering collaboration. Encourage your employees to step into different roles or work with teams outside their usual sphere. It creates a dynamic synergy that sparks innovation and breaks down barriers.

The Project of Epic Proportions

Epic assignments require your employees to go above and beyond their usual tasks. It could be launching a new product, revamping a process, or spearheading a company-wide initiative. These assignments allow your employees to showcase their problem-solving skills, take ownership, and make a lasting impact.

The Innovation Challenge

Encourage your team members to come up with innovative ideas, explore new markets, or find solutions to complex problems. These assignments nurture a culture of creativity and push your employees to think outside the box.

The Client-Facing Expedition

Put your employees on the front lines to interact directly with clients or customers. Whether it’s managing key accounts, handling customer escalations, or leading a sales pitch, these assignments develop essential customer service and relationship-building skills. It’s an opportunity for your employees to become customer champions and enhance the organization’s reputation.

How to Implement Stretch Assignments in the Workplace

Now that we’ve got you revved up about stretch assignments, it’s time to learn how to implement them effectively. Consider these four key ingredients for success.

Step 1: Align Assignments with Development Goals

Get to know your employees’ aspirations and interests and design stretch assignments that align with their professional growth trajectory. This customized approach ensures the assignments are meaningful and truly impactful.

Step 2: Provide Support and Resources

Give employees the tools they need to conquer their stretch assignments. Offer additional training, mentorship programs, and access to resources that bolster their chances of success.

Step 3: Set Clear Objectives and Expectations

Set clear objectives, defining what success looks like for each assignment. Communicate expectations and establish realistic timelines. Regular feedback and guidance are essential to help employees navigate challenges effectively.

Step 4: Recognize and Celebrate Achievements

It’s time to bring out the confetti cannons. Publicly recognize and celebrate the achievements of employees who conquer their stretch assignments. By showcasing their accomplishments, you reinforce the value you place on their efforts and inspire others to embrace these challenges.

Challenges Associated With Stretch Assignments

Let’s talk about the challenges that come along with stretch assignments.

Challenge 1: The Comfort Zone Conundrum

Ah, the sweet comfort zone, where everything feels cozy and familiar. One challenge with stretch assignments is getting employees to willingly step out of that warm, snug zone. Some employees might resist change or fear the unknown, making it a task to encourage them to embrace these new challenges with open arms. Here are some tips to deal with this reluctance.

  • Understand the employee’s perspective. Recognize that employees may be hesitant to take on stretch assignments due to various reasons such as fear of failure, lack of confidence, or concerns about work-life balance. Take the time to listen and understand their concerns before addressing them.
  • Communicate the value . Clearly explain how the assignment can enhance their skill or  broaden their experience and highlight the positive impact it can have on their career trajectory.
  • Provide support and resources. Assure employees that they will receive the necessary support, guidance, and resources to succeed in the stretch assignment. Offer training, mentorship, and coaching to help them build the skills and confidence required for the task. Reassure them that you are invested in their success.
  • Set realistic expectations .Ensure that employees understand the expectations and scope of the stretch assignment. Clearly define the goals, deliverables, and timelines involved. Break down the assignment into manageable steps and provide a roadmap for success. This will help alleviate concerns and make the assignment less daunting.

Challenge 2: Time and Resource Crunch

You have a brilliant stretch assignment in mind, but then reality strikes: limited time and resources. Allocating sufficient time and resources for employees to tackle these assignments can be a challenge, especially when juggling other priorities. It takes careful planning, coordination, and support from all levels of leadership to ensure everyone has the support they need to succeed.

Challenge 3: Skills Gaps

Stretch assignments are all about pushing boundaries and developing new skills. However, sometimes employees may not have the exact skills required for the assignment. This calls for a thoughtful approach to bridge the skills gap. Providing training, mentorship, or additional resources can help employees acquire the necessary skills and level up their superpowers.

Challenge 4: Balancing Act

Stretch assignments need to strike a balance between being challenging enough to promote growth but not overwhelming to the point of causing burnout. It’s like walking a tightrope—too easy, and it’s a snooze fest; too difficult, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Finding that sweet spot requires understanding employees’ capabilities, setting realistic expectations, and providing support along the way.

Challenge 5: Ensuring Equity

While stretch assignments offer growth opportunities, it’s important to ensure a fair distribution of opportunities across the team. Balancing the workload, considering individual development needs, and providing equitable access to stretch assignments can be challenging. It requires careful planning and communication to avoid any feelings of favoritism or exclusion.

Evaluation and Reflection

So, you’ve implemented stretch assignments, and your employees are conquering new frontiers. How do you ensure continuous growth? Evaluation and reflection are your secret weapons.

Assess Progress and Outcomes

Regularly evaluate the progress and outcomes of stretch assignments. Seek feedback from employees, supervisors, and stakeholders to gauge the impact and identify areas for improvement.

Support Reflection

Encourage employees to reflect on their experiences, celebrate their accomplishments, and set new development goals. Provide opportunities for knowledge-sharing among employees who have completed stretch assignments to foster a culture of continuous learning.

Refine and Improve

Document and use the insights gathered from evaluations and reflections to refine your approach to future stretch assignments. Fine-tune your strategies, provide additional support where needed, and optimize future assignments to ensure maximum impact.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Stretch Assignments

Still have questions? Send them here – we promise we’ll answer them.

How do stretch assignments differ from traditional job assignments?

Stretch assignments are all about pushing boundaries and expanding horizons. They provide employees with the chance to tackle projects or tasks that require them to develop new skills, acquire fresh knowledge, and take on additional responsibilities

Can stretch assignments be used for all employees, or are they only for high-performing employees?

Limiting stretch assignments to high-performers may create a missed opportunity for other employees to develop their skills and contribute at a higher level. Additionally, allowing all employees, no matter their background or skill level, to participate in a stretch assignment promotes inclusivity.

How long should a stretch assignment last?

Ideally, they should be long enough to allow individuals to delve into the assignment, learn, and make a meaningful impact, but not so lengthy that they become overwhelming or hinder other responsibilities. 

Brandi M Fannell

Brandi has spent over 15 years in mid-to-large size companies and startups overseeing and leading the employee experience. She has led and managed several areas within the HR function including talent acquisition/recruiting, employee engagement, employee recognition, learning + development, performance management, and internal communications. In every position she has held, she purposed to “do HR differently” by focusing more on behavior and culture, rather than policy and procedure. Eventually, Brandi started to leverage her academic prowess in I/O psychology and her extensive training in leadership development to help colleagues and friends analyze their own work cultures and create action plans to help make their organizations healthy and profitable. A firm believer in a company grows only as its people grow, Brandi considers herself a lifelong learner and professional student. She is a certified facilitator and coach, and when not cultivating leaders she serves as Board Vice President of the JMF Memorial Foundation, that was started in memory of her late brother. The foundation supports community programs that help develop youth with creative talent and grant scholarships to students in the performing arts.

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Viewpoint: How HR Can Increase Women’s Access to Critical Stretch Opportunities

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hr stretch assignment

​Imagine you could read the minds of 70 CHROs and business leaders to glean their most urgent HR priority today. What do you think it would be?

The Institute for Human Resource Professionals recently found out in its survey of the top 2019 HR initiatives . When researchers queried the leaders on what most keeps them up at night, the need to reskill employees and build "skills transferability" ranked highest out of 22 factors.

Stretch assignments are one underleveraged vehicle for promoting skills transferability. Stretch assignments are a way for employees to gain new experience and "skill up" in preparation for future roles while solving a real issue designated by the business. Organizations benefit from stretch assignments by disseminating skills and knowledge more broadly, increasing agility and vetting leadership pipelines. Employees gain visibility and exposure to new areas, services and leaders. 

In fact, there's strong evidence to confirm the career-transforming power of these opportunities. When executive search firm Egon Zehnder surveyed 823 international executives , asking them to reflect on what had helped unleash their potential, no other form of career development came close: 71 percent cited stretch assignments. And research from Korn Ferry named stretch or rotational assignments as the most valuable skill-building experience in the leadership development journey, ahead of action learning, mentoring, exposure to more senior leaders and formal classroom training. 

Knowing that stretch assignments are a proven way to propel a career to new heights and that women are less likely than men to receive these opportunities , we at Be Leaderly launched a new study in 2018. We sought to uncover if men and women differ in their perceptions of the enablers, challenges and roadblocks that come with taking on a stretch. What makes them want to say yes? And what actions can HR and business leaders take to create more-equitable stretch assignments? 

Men and Women Approach Stretch Assignments Very Differently

Here are some of our most illuminating findings from Out of the Comfort Zone, our survey of more than 1,500 professionals:

  • Women are less passionate and engaged in their work. One of the most remarkable perceptions we uncovered is that fewer women feel engaged in and passionate about their job (67 percent of women compared to 77 percent of men)—a provocative statistic, though one that may not surprise HR, given growing movements like #MeToo, Time's Up and the global movement for women's rights. Interestingly, there's a strong correlation between employees who feel engaged and passionate about their work and those who perceive that their employer makes it easy to assess their own readiness to advance.
  • Men perceive a clearer path to advancement. Women have nearly the same ambition as men to move into vice president and C-level leadership roles (48 percent of women versus 51 percent of men). Yet despite having similar career aspirations, women and men experience different levels of support in attaining them. The largest portion of women in our survey (45 percent) disagreed with the statement, "My company makes it easy for me to gauge my readiness to advance internally," while the largest portion of men agreed (40 percent). This underscores that men see a clearer route to advancement.
  • Women feel they need to arrive great, not become great. Our findings support previous research that shows women are more likely than men to underestimate their abilities. We found women less likely than men to be comfortable applying for a new role that's a stretch while meeting only the "bare minimum" requirements (55 percent versus 65 percent, respectively). Women are also less likely than men to overestimate or "round up" their skills when assessing how ready they are for a new job. A number of workplace dynamics may contribute to these differences. For example, women receive less specific, actionable feedback in performance reviews . Also, although women ask for informal feedback as often as men do, they say they receive it less often . HR can train managers to deliver more structured, accountable and unbiased performance feedback that supports employees in objectively sizing up their readiness to tackle a challenging new assignment or job.
  • The genders tend to agree on the factors that must be present before they will agree to attempt a stretch assignment. Women and men factor in similar motivations and roadblocks when deciding whether to accept a stretch assignment. For both genders, the top criteria for saying yes to a stretch are having the personal influence to drive a successful outcome and alignment with their career goals. Women and men agree that office politics, not a lack of time, is the biggest practical challenge to taking on a stretch assignment.

There are also some differences. When deciding whether to agree to a stretch assignment, women (18 percent) are more likely than men (11 percent) to prioritize exposure to key mentors and sponsors. Meanwhile, men are 3.5 times more likely than women to cite pay as a factor that makes a stretch assignment appealing. 

How Can HR Level the Playing Field?

In the midst of what Gallup has named " the worldwide employee engagement crisis ," employers and HR professionals can't afford to wait to articulate a clearer path to advancement for women. Our research suggests that when career opportunities and promotions are unclear, unadvertised and unevenly offered, women hesitate more to pursue them. 

What can your HR team do to offer these career-transforming opportunities more uniformly? 

  • Create an open "marketplace" for stretch opportunities. By creating an internal website or jobs board dedicated to stretch assignments, you gain the equivalent of an internal gig economy . This stretch marketplace helps more employees get cross-training and new skills from varied assignments. This marketplace can standardize the way stretch assignments are described to make it easier for employees to objectively evaluate their fit and readiness. It can also encourage managers to post assignments and roles in a way that's transparent and searchable.
  • Initiate more stretch conversations. HR can institute a flagging system that alerts managers when it's time to discuss interest in stretch assignments with a given direct report. Creating such an alert could stop stretches from going only to individuals who are good self-promoters and boost individuals who tend to round down their own readiness for a stretch (something our research shows women are more likely to do). While HR's at it, it can track which employees actually take on stretch assignments and offer more high-potential women opportunities that put them in front of leadership.
  • Enable a growth mindset. The value of stretch opportunities comes less from hard outcomes and more from giving someone the chance to learn. Cultivating a culture that allows for learning and growth—complete with epic fails—is in any organization's best interest. This is especially important given that women in our study report being less comfortable taking on a stretch with the bare minimum requirements. For HR to promote this kind of supportive, coaching culture means alerting women when a stretch assignment comes along and sharing information about the resources, authority and influence needed to be successful. While an employee is working on a stretch assignment, HR can also reduce obstacles by matching stretch assignees with influential supporters and mentors who can champion their decisions and help them navigate office politics.

 When an organization has a well-thought-out plan for offering and overseeing stretch assignments, they are less likely to be seen as political, biased or promoting favoritism. Becoming more purposeful about how stretches are offered is an important way for HR to close gender gaps, help employees reskill for the future and maximize talent contributions.

Jo Miller is CEO and Selena Rezvani is vice president of consulting and research for Be Leaderly, a research and consulting firm on women's leadership.

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Stretch Assignments in Succession Planning

Home » Blog » Stretch Assignments in Succession Planning

One of the biggest challenges of effective  succession planning  is creating and maintaining a pool of qualified succession candidates to take over a role when the time comes. Even in the most prepared companies, there are often gaps between the abilities of candidates and the necessary qualifications to perform a role. Assessing the development needs of your  succession bench  can make these gaps painfully clear and make them feel especially difficult to overcome. To begin closing these gaps, consider creating an  individualized development plan  for each candidate. This is critical for turning your succession bench’s development needs from broad limitations to concrete objectives. One of the best ways to facilitate this transformation is by using stretch assignments.

Video Transcription

Succession planning is all about preparing for your company’s future. One of the best ways to do this is to develop a pool of qualified candidates in your organization. This means when a senior leader leaves your company, it’s a smooth transition for someone else to step into their role.

If you feel like your pool of candidates is small, don’t worry. Even the most prepared organizations have gaps between the current skills employees have and the ones that will be required for a new role. To close these gaps, you can create employee development plans for each employee, focusing on their best opportunities for growth.

Today, we will discuss how stretch assignments can play a critical role in your employee’s development plans.

What are Stretch Assignments?

Stretch assignments are projects given to employees that require them to perform beyond their current expertise. It promotes growth and skill development by asking employees to try out new tasks, explore different problem-solving techniques, and change their ways of thinking. Although extremely important, skill development is not the only benefit of using stretch assignments.

Communicates Trust in Your Candidates

First, stretch assignments communicate trust in your candidates. By assigning your employee new responsibilities, you demonstrate faith in their abilities and in their ability to learn. It also shows the dedication to their growth and development which is motivating for performance.

Valuable to the Company Now

Next, stretch assignments have the benefit of being valuable to the company now. Many development opportunities such as courses or training sessions take time to arrange and even more time to see the benefits from. Stretch assignments do double duty by developing your employees and ensuring critical tasks are completed. It means getting work done while simultaneously providing on-the-job training.

Valuable Sources of Information

Finally, we can consider performance on stretch assignments as valuable sources of information. By using stretch assignments as part of a development plan, you can track employee performance across tasks and contacts. You can evaluate how they perform on different teams or on a range of capacities. Use this information to gain a deeper understanding of not only employee strengths and weaknesses but also their interests and their preferences. You can also use this data to determine who might be a suitable candidate for future roles, increasing your ability to plan long-term.

These are just a few of the benefits stretch assignments can have within your company and within your succession plan. For information on using stretch assignments within your organization, visit our blog at sigmasuccession.com and contact us today for more information on how you can make the most of succession planning.

What are Stretch Assignments ?

Stretch assignments are projects given to employees that require them to perform beyond their current expertise. These assignments promote growth and talent development. They are the equivalent of a trainer asking an athlete to push for one more rep, or to run an extra mile. Pushing our abilities is the only way to get stronger or faster. Stretch assignments take into account an employee’s current limits and ask them to perform just beyond them. When designed well, stretch assignments challenge employees without putting them at risk of certain failure.

Benefits of Stretch Assignments

Besides being an invaluable tool to address your succession bench’s development needs, stretch assignments also have additional benefits:

Communicate Trust and Belief in Succession Candidate

Stretch assignments are real tasks in real situations that will benefit the company now. When an employer assigns responsibility in this way, it communicates that they trust their employee. This can be highly motivating. Not only that, because stretch assignments are intended to be challenging, they also show that the company believes in the candidate’s potential to grow and perform beyond their current abilities.

Provide Value Now

Unlike in-class training, workshops, and other ways of  addressing talent development  needs, stretch assignments add value to an organization immediately. They involve completing projects and tasks that the organization has a need for. Furthermore, the employee receives an opportunity to learn important skills, and the company points the focus and dedication of a high-potential employee at a project of value.

Uncover great insights

Following a thorough  development needs assessment , stretch assignments can provide greater insight into strengths and areas for growth. This is evident as the succession candidate tackles a project with evolving obstacles and difficulties. This complements an initial assessment by providing greater context and allowing for a deeper understanding of a candidate’s talent development needs. Finally, the insights learned from a successful or difficult stretch assignment can help identify better future development activities.

How to Create Stretch Assignments

Despite their potential for addressing candidates’  talent development  needs and adding value to an organization, stretch assignments can be a daunting development activity to implement into a candidate’s development plan. They are generally not obvious in the larger scheme of operations, and few companies track the types of talent development opportunities that might make good stretch assignments.

We recommend you encourage succession candidates to identify potential stretch assignments that can be integrated into their development plan. High-potential candidates often have a strong understanding of the kind of experience they need and skills they want to learn. Then, with the results of a development needs assessment at hand, they can match their aspirations to relevant assignments.

Linking stretch assignments to a succession candidate’s development needs provides both them and the company with objective markers of progress. Consistently checking movement towards development plan objectives encourages focus on the stretch assignment’s critical purpose: honing the candidate’s potential for succession.

How SIGMA Can Help

At SIGMA, we want to help your company develop strong candidates with succession planning. Our Launch Series will deliver a personalized succession plan in just 30 DAYS, with only 8 hours of time from your senior leadership team. For more information on our  Succession Process ,  Launch Series , or Succession Planning solutions,  contact us  and learn more about how we can help your organization plan for the future.

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Sharon brings our tests and assessments from the development stage to marketable product. She ensures quality control at every step of a project, edits technical documents and manuals, and artistically enhances reports and resources. She also manages contracts with clients across the globe and answers technical questions.

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4 Stretch Assignment Examples for Upskilling Your Workforce

photo of Jocelyn Ho

There’s a reason why doctors and fitness experts encourage regular stretching. Doing so improves your performance, increases your range of motion, and builds flexibility. 

Likewise, employees can improve their performance and expand their skills when they stretch their abilities in the workplace. 

This can be done by taking on stretch assignments: projects or tasks that are beyond their current skill set or expertise. Stretch assignments play a critical role in upskilling programs by strengthening employees’ career prospects, enhancing performance in the workplace, and extending an individual’s range of knowledge.

Here are several types of stretch assignments you can assign employees to help them upskill for career development and internal mobility :

  • Teaching a class or developing a course
  • Leading or working on a cross-functional project
  • Coaching or mentoring a teammate 

Sound interesting? Next we'll jump into more detail on each type of stretch assignment and what kinds of skills they help employees develop.

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1. Ask subject-matter experts to teach peers

The protégé effect states that the best way for a person to learn is to teach. Therefore, empowering your internal subject matter experts to teach a class or create a course allows them to refresh existing knowledge and learn new skills in the process.

These employees learn how to better communicate their thoughts clearly and precisely, so colleagues who are taking the course can pick up the material quickly. This type of exercise also requires subject-matter experts to use their imagination and creativity to work out how to best deliver the content in an engaging and effective manner.

Take for example, a senior graphic designer who is creating a beginner Photoshop course for her organization. Even though she knows how to navigate the software like the back of her hand, she will still need to learn how to explain design concepts in a manner that non-designers can easily and quickly pick up.

To encourage more frequent peer training in your organization, consider investing in an LMS with an authoring tool that enables anyone to create internal courses in minutes. The most flexible employee training programs enable users to create and participate in both employer and employee-led learning remotely and asynchronously. 

Google, for example, has a formal employee-to-employee training system called “G2G” (Googler-to-Googler), in which employees volunteer to teach and train their peers. They can create a course on any topic that they’re interested and experienced in, which has covered topics as diverse as coding, cooking, and ballroom dancing.

This initiative has also created tangible benefits for volunteer teachers, such as improved performance and new hard and soft skills. A Google engineer even taught his co-workers how to fly airplanes , and in the process, he largely improved his skill and confidence in public speaking and presentation.

2. Assign employees to work on cross-functional projects

Although online learning and remote work give employees greater autonomy on how they learn and work, they can also be isolating . One way to offset this is to have your employees upskill and challenge themselves by participating in or leading cross-functional projects within your organization. For example, you could have an employee in product management work with the marketing and customer success teams on a new product launch. 

When employees collaborate with other teams or departments, they can share their expertise and learn from fellow colleagues, while expanding their own knowledge and skills. This could mean gaining tactical skills and discovering helpful new tools, but also developing communication and interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and teamwork. This transfer of knowledge and expertise also allows team members to exchange ideas and share different perspectives, which can help stimulate creative thinking and problem-solving.

3. Have experienced employees coach junior team members

Becoming an effective leader isn’t as easy as just reading a book or taking a course. It requires hands-on experience acquired through interpersonal interactions in the workplace. Help your employees gain this experience with an internal program teaching them how to coach their peers .

In the workplace, a coach is a person involved in the instruction, direction, or training of an individual or team to help them grow and develop their skills. A leadership coaching survey showed that 72% of companies offer some type of leadership coaching to improve the leadership skills of their employees. This type of stretch assignment is well-suited for employees who want to guide others in reaching specific goals, and to develop leadership skills like emotional intelligence, empathy, and self-awareness. 

There are two ways to support your employees with a coaching program:

  • One-on-one coaching : This occurs when a more knowledgeable or skilled employee works with a more junior team member in the same field to guide them on their professional development. This method allows the coach to follow their trainee’s work and habits to determine how they can help improve their performance. For example, in a design agency, a lead designer can coach a junior designer and help them plan and strategize their work.
  • Peer-to-peer coaching : This is a more informal method where two or more employees with similar levels of experience and seniority work together to help each reach their goals. It can be as simple as connecting to ask questions, review work, provide feedback, or help someone join a new project or team. For example, assigning onboarding buddies to new hires helps the latter acclimate to the company and their role–and gives the former an opportunity to take on more responsibility and engage with their work in a new way. 

4. Increase workplace engagement with a mentoring culture

Research from Gallup found that a whopping 60% of workers are emotionally detached at work. Giving your employees rewarding opportunities to become mentors can increase their engagement and satisfaction in the workplace. A study from the Harvard Business Review revealed that employees who served as mentors “described their job as more meaningful than those who did not mentor.” And mentors also experienced lower levels of anxiety than their non-mentoring counterparts.

Like coaching, mentoring is a relationship in which employees learn from someone else’s experience. Coaching is more performance-driven and often designed to help trainees reach milestones and achieve specific goals. On the other hand, mentoring is more focused on passing a mentor’s knowledge onto the mentee, rather than following direct instructions.

For example, desired outcomes of a mentor-mentee relationship are often: helping an individual realize their potential, accelerating their development, or supporting them in furthering their career. A mentor looks at their mentee’s holistic improvement, rather than specific skills that can be learned through practice. 

Mentorship also enables mentors to transform their individual knowledge into institutional knowledge . And this process of sharing their skills and ideas with others helps them improve their interpersonal and communication skills.

To make your mentorship program a greater success, pair mentors with mentees who have different experiences, knowledge, and skill sets. This encourages mentors to get outside their comfort zone and challenges them to think or see things differently. As part of its four-step mentorship program , Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution matches mentees with mentors who work in different locations. This approach creates more opportunities for interesting conversations and fresh perspectives because employees can interact with team members they wouldn’t normally encounter in their day-to-day work.

"Stretch" your employees to strengthen your organization

It’s easier for employees to excel at stretch assignments in a collaborative learning environment. A collaborative learning culture ensures that your employees are regularly sharing knowledge and building new skills, whether through peer-learning opportunities or mentorship and coaching programs.

Investing in a comprehensive learning platform like 360Learning allows employees to declare their learning needs in real-time–enabling L&D teams and SMEs to create courses that address the most immediate skills gaps within your organization.

Want to read about more upskilling strategies to develop a highly skilled, engaged, and loyal workforce that’s ready to take on new challenges and propel your business to greater heights? Explore more articles on the topic below, or book a personalized demo of 360Learning here .

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