Congratulations, you’ve been handed a stretch assignment. What’s that, you ask?
A “stretch assignment” is 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. – Bersin by Deloitte
Maybe the boss thinks so highly of your work that she trusts you to do something you’ve never done before. Maybe the company has never seen this issue before. Either way, it’s up to you to make it happen.
Before you collapse behind your desk in panic, take a moment. Breathe. Think. You’ll need a plan.
Ask yourself: what resources is this project going to take? How much will it cost? Who knows what I need to know? What’s the deadline? What exactly are we trying to accomplish? What risks are involved? Depending on the project specifics, you’ll have other questions.
Next, get a few minutes with the boss to go over your rough plan. Get some input. It’s your show, but your boss will be the one answering for anything that goes wrong, so let him know what you’re thinking. As well, you’re going to be using company resources, so draw up some estimates. You don’t have to be accurate, but numbers are important to illustrate what’s needed. Also, if you’re going to need to tap other departmental resources, e.g., information technology, accounting, marketing, let him know who you’re planning to talk to, and what you’re going to ask. If you haven’t already done so, discuss your signing authority for the project.
Next, start the communicating. It might be a good idea to draft a group email list. Depending on complexity, a Gantt chart might come in handy to track the deliverables. An introductory meeting/ conference call of all parties is a good idea, to get everyone started on the same page. Set an agenda, take minutes, and include deliverables. As the details mount, your boss might or might not want to be included in the conversation. If she opts out, keep her posted on events with brief, periodic summaries. I like email, because it’s easy to see what’s been said, promised, and delivered. Keep the follow up meetings to a minimum, but schedule them if the email traffic is reflecting more confusion than cohesion.
Now the project has begun, so stay on course. It will be up to you to watch out for deadlines and deliverables. Keep a copy of all communications and document drafts. If the project hits a snag, let your boss know as soon as you can. He may be able to free up resources for you, or move the deadline.
Remember, stretch assignments by definition are jobs that you can’t tackle by yourself. Do them well and you’ll gain invaluable experience in leadership and team management.
Do enough of them and you may wind up as the boss.