Want to uncover a bigger, bolder vision for your career than you can imagine today? Try taking on a stretch assignment. That’s exactly what Tara Jaye Frank did.
In 2014, when Frank was Vice President of Consumer Platforms at Hallmark Cards, her manager asked her to take on a stretch assignment in addition to her line management role.
It was to serve as an advocate for the company to think differently in its approach to multicultural consumers. “We explored the many different models companies were using to reach multicultural consumers,” recalls Frank. “One of those models included a Multicultural Center of Excellence, and when I shared it with my boss, she asked me to write a proposal for what it could look like, and how it could enhance Hallmark’s efforts.”
Excited by the proposal and its potential, Frank created a charter with short- and long-term goals to embed multicultural insights across the entire enterprise and translate those insights into opportunities. What started out as a side project ultimately led Frank to envision, establish and lead the center in a new role as Vice President of Multicultural Strategy for Hallmark North America.
A stretch assignment requires you to step outside of your day-to-day responsibilities and take on a challenging new task, project or role. You’ll develop new networks, knowledge and skill sets. These are often very visible roles, so the stakes can be high.
Today, Frank is President and CEO of P3T Group, Inc., a company that helps organizations turn employee potential into greater performance. I interviewed Frank for a recent webinar and asked her to share some keys to success for executing a stretch assignment like a rock star.
1. Bring a beginner’s mindset
“My favorite advice to anyone starting a stretch assignment is to allow yourself to be new at it,” says Frank. “When we’re asked to do something new, many of us want everyone to believe we know exactly what we’re doing,” she says. So when we have questions or we’re unsure about how something works or whom to call, we keep it to ourselves. We just try to figure it out.” Whatever you do, don’t try to go it alone, advises Frank, or you’ll deny yourself a rich learning experience. “Starting something new is the perfect opportunity to ask all the questions that you have, which leads me to the next tip.”
2. Be inquisitive
“Be as curious as you can possibly be,” says Frank, who recommends speaking to a wide cross-section of those involved. Ask management why they felt it was important for you to devote time to this issue and what a successful execution of this assignment looks like to them. Also, speak with colleagues and stakeholders on the project to identify shared goals and challenges you may encounter. “And seek contacts beyond the specific assignment you’ve been given,” says Frank. For instance, you can also speak to people who have done this type of work before. “Being curious will only make you smarter and give you a much better perspective on what you’re trying to achieve,” she says.
Don’t lose sight of the opportunity that’s been entrusted to you. “Many people don’t get stretch assignments or, at least, highly visible ones,” notes Frank. If you are selected for a special assignment, it means someone took a risk on your behalf and put his or her reputation on the line to advocate for you. This person, along with your organization, is invested in your success and will be watching to see how you perform. “When someone gives you the opportunity to stretch, don’t just hit the status quo,” says Frank. “Give it your absolute all.”
4. Utilize the springboard
Stretch assignments can become important stepping stones on the way to your next big career milestone, so it helps to be clear on what you hope to gain from an assignment. Whether it is to develop new technical or leadership skills, strengthen relationships with colleagues and influencers, raise your profile or assure your organization you’re ready for your next role, keep your personal goal firmly in mind as you execute on the assignment.
“I always look at stretch assignments as springboard opportunities,” encourages Frank. “Use this moment to your fullest advantage. You can go on to do bigger and better things, meet more people, broaden your network and expand your knowledge base. Take this opportunity and do amazing things with it.”
Jo Miller is dedicated to helping women around the world advance into positions of leadership and influence. Jo speaks at leadership conferences, professional associations, and corporate women’s networks at companies like Amazon, Bank of America, eBay and Microsoft. Read more from Jo at Be Leaderly.
This article appeared in Forbes on December 16, 2017.