Stretch assignments are useful for learning and personal growth and development, because they purposefully contain elements that are challenging in areas where the assignee needs to develop. Designed correctly, a stretch assignment confronts one with the necessity to get out of your comfort zone in order to succeed.
The starting point for designing such an assignment can be multiple data sources:
the person’s own development needs compared to established leadership competencies,
key proven areas of mastery that a company requires from their leaders to advance to the next level,
a mindset or mindset shift that is required to move the company and its leaders into a new way of operating; or
to build competency in specific important areas that are or will be important to the future of the company.
A stretch is not defined in a general way, but rather it is very specific to a person. While a stretch could mean that one requirement is for the person (plus family, if appropriate) to move to an international location, it inevitably would also include other job-related challenges. Examples include supervising more people, having financial performance targets (for someone who has only had functional roles in the past) or having more complexity such as multiple geographical areas to manage. The key balance to maintain when designing stretch assignments is to ensure that the assignee is put under a certain amount of pressure to learn and grow, but not so much pressure that he or she fails.
Mitigating failure risks
There are a few things you can implement to help monitor how things are going with each assignee and to provide a “safety net” for an assignee to get support from.
Assign subject-matter experts as coaches – depending on the scope of the assignment.
Assign a leadership development coach to help the assignee reflect on experiences, frame up challenges and cognitively choose best solutions and explore new ways of operating to be more successful in the assigned areas of responsibility.
Set up internal-company networking events for the assignees to meet, have opportunities to mingle and share experiences and also include a pre-determined learning event tied to overall leadership development objectives within the company.
Set up a structure of communication moments with the “home” organization supervisor and colleagues – this is especially important if you plan to return the assignee to the same organization at the end of the assignment. Maintaining ties would greatly improve a successful return and reintegration after an assignment. Communication moments like these can also greatly help colleagues NOT on assignment to learn from the experiences and best-in-class solutions their colleague on assignment is mastering.
New and challenging assignments often cause assignees to experience some stress. Supporting assignees to successfully navigate through the new challenges means you should pay attention to a change in behavior or performance which could indicate that he or she is stuck on the learning curve. Signs that things are going wrong are important to notice early-on to maximize chances of turning things around and avoiding an assignment disappointment and/or incurring an assignee retention risk. Pre-departure training should be provided to both assignees and their coaches to understand and recognize signs that things may not be going well and to understand ways to become unstuck in every situation.
Some warning signals:
Expectations for goal achievement by assignees must be specifically captured in a plan and communicated to an assignee along with available rewards for over-achievement of goals. The specific strategic importance of the assignment should also be highlighted as well as the developmental needs to be addressed during the assignment.
Tips for stretch-assignment coordinators:
Ensure that there is a structure that enables assignees to succeed and always follow-through with the check-in points and feedback activities to ensure all is well.
Ensure that all those involved in assignments are clear on the role of management, role and responsibilities of supporting coaches, the role and responsibilities of assignees and the role and responsibilities of assignment supervisors and “home office” supervisors.
Adequately prepare assignees for their assignments: cultural awareness training (for international assignments), language skills (where needed) and if accompanied by family members – consider a session to discuss the practicalities of moving to a new location with those family members present.
Ensure that the assignees get interim feedback on how their assignments are going -at least 3 times per year, but more often if this can be managed. This provides opportunities to refocus and apply new approaches as needed to ensure the assignment is successful.
Provide assignees and stakeholders in assignments ample notification about the end date of an assignment. This assures minimum surprises and helps everyone to plan actions leading to a well-organized return upon assignment completion.
When assignments are successful in achieving or exceeding on all the objectives, assignees should return from their experiences with increased confidence, leadership skills, and maturity. The personal growth and development they experienced should enhance their ability to make better decisions and build stronger interpersonal relationships with those they lead and follow. Being mindful of how to setup and manage stretch assignments can make all of that a reality.
Unexpected employee resignations can often be alarming. More so if the resignations come from star employees whom you had high hopes for in terms of future expert or leadership roles at your company. How will it impact your project and your team, you may wonder? The question I would ask is, was it avoidable?
The Exit Interview helps with gathering feedback on employees’ decisions to leave the company and what next steps they are planning to further their careers elsewhere. This structured interview can greatly support your ability to narrow down the reasons for the exit and whether you have any large internal issues to address to avoid more people leaving the company.
While it appears to be a written survey, it works well as an interview conducted in person and then the interviewer (usually from HR) can complete the survey later in order to capture the answers from exiting employees in a structured way. Based on your company set-up and employee conditions you may want to add some questions or statements to be rated. Just avoid overloading the employee with too many questions. Perhaps you can remove some of the existing questions if you decide to add any?
You could choose to use this as a survey which the departing employees complete independently. I would however recommend that you ask these questions as part of an exit interview conducted in person as it offers the opportunity to ask follow-up questions to clarify answers to make sure you really understand the factors that led to the decision to leave the company.
There is a good chance that the departing employee may not tell you the truth. Sometimes they are afraid you may give them a bad reference in future if a prospective employer called you up. Other times they may be worried about being the whistle-blower on an existing organizational issue in terms of potential impact on any friends they still have at the organization. It may be worth considering the use of an outsourced vendor to gather feedback from departing employees before or just after they have left.
Do take the time to review feedback received from exit interviews to determine whether you or anyone else at your company may need to take actions to improve a situation, revise benefits, improve communications to employees on specific topics etc. These actions may be exactly what is needed to avoid other employees from leaving for similar reasons.
Mind confidentiality around these interviews. Be sure to be honest with the departing employee on who will get to know about the information shared and stick to the agreement.
Talk to those employees who remain with the company and make sure they understand how much you value their continued service and loyalty to the team/organization. When a prominent person leaves – whether a subject matter expert or a much-liked leader – people may start wondering about their own careers and consider leaving too. Taking employee retention actions and communicating especially to those in key roles will go a long way towards putting people’s minds at rest.
It is never easy when you lose good employees and respected leaders and experts to the competition. The best you can do is make sure you learn from the event and take the actions you need to avoid recurrence of an unplanned exit.
A New Employee survey is key to capturing feedback on how well your hiring and on-boarding processes are adding value to the early part of the employee’s experience in your company.
The objective of the survey is to capture data over time from various new employees to see if the changes you are making to improve on-boarding is gradually increasing the scores and yielding more positive trends in responses. If you track responses from more than one location you can compare the results to understand if there are any location-based differences in new employee experiences and how you can ensure a consistently great on-boarding process across all locations.
These kind of surveys can be run on a number of online platforms some of which are free to use and others need to be subscribed to. If you find it too daunting to setup such a survey online, use a paper copy of the New Employee Survey. The important part is to gather the data needed to help identify early employee experience improvement opportunities .
Don’t make the survey very long or you will risk lower response rates, questions skipped or repeated answers.
Watch out for questions that seem similar which frustrates survey respondents.
Make sure you are asking questions which would generate answers that are actionable. For example I advise against asking “Did you feel good on your 1st day at the office?” If the survey respondent answered “no” you would have limited ability to avoid getting that response from future new employees.
Do take the time at least once per quarter (or shorter time periods if you are hiring several people) to review, analyze and summarize the results obtained from the New Employee Surveys. That way you will be able to spot trends and identify specific focus areas for you and your HR/Learning and Development teams to address and improve upon going forward.
A successful on-boarding process ensures that a new employee is able to deliver top performance (creating value) at your company as fast as possible.
A successful new employee on-boarding process starts before the new employee is due to arrive and it is a structured process vs an afterthought. Some HR platforms include an on-boarding module which supports communication with the expected new employee and key stakeholders at the company who play a role in the on-boarding process. On-boarding activities can include training to be completed, forms that need to be finalized and submitted etc. Coordinating all of these activities and documenting the on-boarding plan is often the responsibility of HR.
This template is a basic version and you should add your own additional items to help new employees understand your industry, office building and business better. If the new employee will be in a customer-facing role you may need to include introductions to customers too.
I would say the signing off by the manager and new employee is optional – depends on your company culture and how you would prefer to run things at your office. The important part is THAT you have a structured process to bring someone new into the company and that this process is run in a consistent manner. That way you can be sure that each new employee has received all of the support needed to as quickly as possible understand the way things are done at your company and who to talk to about specific topics and ideas. This is a vital part of ensuring the newly hired employee gets to the top of their performance potential in the shortest possible time period and feel welcome – engaged – from day 1.