Stretch assignments don’t always come to those who wait.
There are many reasons why people seek stretch assignments in their current work environment. Maybe you’re someone with high growth needs, or you’re looking to expand your responsibilities at work. The key to getting that opportunity and being really successful is to identify and create it yourself.
You do your best work when you feel personally committed and connected to the work, and no one will be better at identifying the most personally rewarding opportunity than you. As one of my client realized, “I have so much more energy for this since I discovered it myself.” According to HBR, the sweet spot of development for high achievers is when you have a 50-70% chance of success, so you should also pick something that will challenge you enough and push you out of your comfort zone.
Follow these steps to identify and create a stretch assignment where you feel connected to the work, and therefore set up for success:
- Look for change or improvement opportunities. Organizations love problem solvers, and there are always lots of areas for improvement in organizations. A team leader I work with is interested in social media strategy and realized that her team would benefit from an in-depth training on how the changing social media landscape impacts their work. This was the first step in creating her own stretch assignment: pitching, creating and leading a (successful) training.
- Pick the need that’s fulfilling to you. There is so much you can do, but what do you want to do (provided you’re taking care of what you have to do)? Match this with a real need or opportunity, and you’ve got a recipe for success. In the social media example above, she was particularly interested in growing her social media skills, so this was a great match. Be strategic about what you choose as it relates to your career trajectory and where you want to focus your energy and build your brand. I talk a lot about creating your own reality because it’s where you can really capitalize on your values and what excites you the most. Your best work is done when it’s aligned with your values and passion.
- Tell someone who will care and support you. Just like selling any good idea, think smartly about who would be most interested in and supportive of your idea or project. Maybe this is your manager, a leader on an adjacent team or the CEO. It’s important to appeal to someone who cares about this and sees the value in what you’re proposing or recommending. Energy is contagious, so if it’s a well-thought out idea and you bring the energy, you will receive it in return.
- Come prepared with more than just a good idea. This is such a key step, and a real differentiator. You can’t expect that just showing up with an idea is enough. You need to be a little more proactive, especially in a low-attention-span and time constrained world. Show that you’ve done your due diligence to support why this is important, and paint a vision for what’s possible in terms of the outcome. What’s the extra step, key insight or improved future state that you can put forward that helps illustrate why this is something we must do? Your goal is to immediately build trust with #3 (above). If this person is your direct manager, tie the work to your career development and goals.
- Follow through. Whether you walk away with a green, red or yellow light - keep on it and follow up. Some of the best ideas and talented leaders weren’t successful right away, and timing is sometimes everything.
There is probably opportunity for change and improvement everywhere you turn, and that alone can be very overwhelming at work. So much to do, so little time. But if you’re really craving a challenge in your work - one that will push you personally and help you forward your career - I say, take the initiative and find or create one that is fulfilling to you where you can really shine.