Use Stretch Assignments in Succession Planning

To Develop your Candidates

One of the biggest challenges to effective succession planning is creating and maintaining a pool of qualified candidates to take over a role when the time comes. Even in the most prepared organizations, there are often gaps between the knowledge, skills, and abilities of candidates and the qualifications needed 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 (IDP) for each candidate. This is critical for turning the development needs of your bench from broad limitations to concrete objectives. One of the most potent ways to facilitate this transformation are stretch assignments.

A Powerful Tool for Developing Your Bench

Stretch assignments are projects given to employees that require them to perform beyond their current expertise to promote growth and development. They are the equivalent of a trainer asking an athlete to push for one more rep or 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 asks them to perform just beyond them. When designed well, stretch assignments challenge employees without putting them at risk of certain failure.

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

  1. Communicate Trust and Belief in Candidate: Stretch assignments are real tasks in a real situation and can be highly motivating because the performance of the candidate has meaning for the organization. Giving a candidate a stretch assignment communicates that the organization trusts the employee and believes in their potential to grow and perform beyond their current abilities.
  2. Provide Value Now: Unlike in-class training, workshops, and other ways of addressing development needs, stretch assignments add value to an organization immediately because they involve completing projects and tasks that the organization has a need for. The employee receives an opportunity to learn important skills and the organization points the focus and dedication of a high-potential employee at a project of value.
  3. Uncover Greater Insights: Following a thorough development needs assessment, stretch assignments can provide greater insight into strengths and areas for growth as the candidate tackles a project with evolving obstacles and difficulties. This can complement an initial assessment by providing greater context and allowing for a deeper understanding of a candidate’s needs as they continue to grow. Further, the insights learned from a successful or difficult stretch assignment can help identify better development activities in the future.

Getting Started with Stretch Assignments

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

To alleviate this, we recommend you encourage the candidate to take charge of identifying potential stretch assignments that can be integrated into their IDP. High-potential candidates often have a strong understanding of the kind of experience they need and the skills they want to learn. Then, with the results of a development needs assessment at hand, a candidate’s aspirations can be matched to find relevant stretch assignments.

Linking these stretch assignments to a candidate’s development needs provides the organization and candidate with objective markers to assess progress. Consistently checking in on movement towards IDP objectives encourages the organization and employee to focus on the critical reason for a stretch assignment: 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 your company a personalized succession plan in just 30 DAYS with only 8 hours of time from your senior leadership team. For more information on our SIMPLE Succession Process, Launch Series, or Succession Planning solutions, contact us and learn more about how we can help your organization plan for the future.