How to Do a Great Job on a Stretch Assignment

Nov 11, 2014
5 Min Read

What do you do when you're assigned a project that feels like a real stretch and where you don't have experience?

If you’ve been handed a new responsibility and are nervous about your ability to deliver, here are four steps to help you tackle a stretch assignment without a crisis of confidence or a major disaster.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Just because you’re the one leading the project doesn’t meant that you have to go it alone. Top performers are often top performers because they’re not afraid to ask for help and advice. Reach out to people who have done similar work before (or who have seen it done well) and ask for advice. What do they wish they knew the first time they were in your shoes? What insight and guidance can they offer? What are the pitfalls you should watch out for? Most people are delighted to be asked for advice. (Remember, you’re not asking them to do the work for you; you’re asking them to share their insights, which is generally flattering.)

2. Check in with your manager more frequently than usual. Don’t assume that you’re on your own until the work is completed. Check in with your manager regularly to make sure that you’re on track and to get the benefit of her input while there’s still time to course correct if needed. You don't want to overly lean on her, of course, but it’s perfectly reasonable to do things like run your initial plan by her, check in about particular challenges that crop up, and report back periodically on what results you’re starting to get. Ideally your manager would check in on her own, but you don’t need to wait for that to happen, and if she’s busy, it might not happen if you sit back and wait. (If you feel weird about doing this, try saying at the outset, “Since this is new for me, is it okay if I check in with you at key points during the work?”)

3. Think about what could go wrong, and put a plan in place to guard against those possibilities. Having a vague sense of worry and trepidation won’t serve you well at all. But figuring out specifically what could go wrong can serve you very well indeed, because it allows you to come up with a plan to either prevent those things from happening in the first place or to handle them if they do. So spend some time thinking through what could stand in the way of your project’s success, and then figure out what to do about those possibilities. And –in keeping with steps #1 and #2 – don’t be afraid to enlist your manager or others with expertise in helping you plan for those contingencies.

4. Remember that pushing past your comfort zone is how you learn new skills. If you never took on anything new or anything that made you a little uncomfortable, your skills would stagnate and you’d never grow professionally. Plus, your manager probably trusted you with this work for a reason and sees in you the skill and ability to get it done. It might not go absolutely perfectly, but that’s a normal part of learning something new. But you only have to do something once for it not to be brand new to you anymore, and that’s how you learn.

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