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.


Stretch Assignments in Succession Planning

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 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.