10 steps to make the most of a professional challenge
You’ve held your current position for quite a while now and you’ve mastered all of your daily responsibilities. But being an aspirational professional, you want to grow in your job so you can advance to the next level. So lately, you’ve been asking your supervisor for more challenging assignments in order to develop your abilities.
And now finally, your manager has assigned you a difficult, high stakes project. Of course, with the promise of significant recognition and increased visibility in your company if you complete the project successfully, you want to knock this one out of the park. But at the same time, you’re also aware that it’s a stretch assignment and you don’t yet possess all of the tools and knowledge to do an outstanding job. So how should you go about this assignment in order to exceed expectations?
Follow these 10 steps to structure your workflow and make the most of a professional challenge.
- Review the assignment. Spend a couple of hours carefully reviewing the assignment. Be sure that you understand the objective(s) or desired outcome(s). Make a note of those aspects of the project where your knowledge and skills are sufficient, as well as areas where you’ll need support, additional tools, or further resources. Be completely honest with yourself: if you’re not confident about something, it’s better to admit to a lack of knowledge while you can still take action to master the skill that to wing it and make a mistake.
- Determine what type of support you need. Do you
need to gather a team to assist you? Do you need to shadow a colleague
to learn certain skills? Do you need a mentor who can advise you
throughout the project? By clearly pinpointing where you need
assistance, you can avoid taking on too much or relying too heavily on
- Determine what additional tools you need. Depending
on the project, you might need anything from a specific app to stock
images. Make a list of the tools that you need so you can arrange to get
them on time.
- Determine what additional resources you need.
Oftentimes with a stretch assignment, you’ll want access to information
you haven’t seen before. This can be anything from proprietary company
information to subscription-only industry publications.
- Approach your supervisor about your needs. As Greg Forbes points out in his BizCommunity article “The importance of a challenging work environment,”
your work environment should provide you with the space to openly
question and learn. Your supervisor has provided you with a challenge,
and you should feel empowered to ask for the assistance, tools, and
resources you need. Present your list of needs concisely and make sure
you can clarify why you need them.
- Create an action plan and a schedule. Once you know where you’ll find the support you need, it’s time to create an action plan. The AICPA article “4 Steps to Conquer the Difficult Environment”
advises outlining the assignment and breaking it up into smaller
portions with mini-goals. This will allow you to complete the project in
increments without becoming overwhelmed.
- Stick to your schedule. Staying on track is
imperative to doing well. If you go too fast, your work might lack
quality, while if you move too slowly, you’ll end up being stressed out
and rushing towards the end of the project. So make a point of adhering
to your schedule and completing each portion of the assignment according
- Address problems as soon as they arise. This will allow you calmly to look for solutions and select the best option.
- Ask for feedback. It’s always smart to ask for
feedback throughout the project. If you have a mentor, ask him or her to
review your work periodically. You can also ask your manager for weekly
check-ins to ensure you’re on the right track. By asking for feedback
during the process, you can adjust course if necessary and enhance your
chances of doing an outstanding job.
- Take note of the measurable results. When you’ve finished the project and it’s been approved, remember to take note of the measurable results it yielded for your company. Because it’s having this kind of achievement—one that clearly benefitted the company—on your résumé that will help you advance to the next level.
Following the steps above will not only help you stay on schedule with a challenging assignment; it will also give you more confidence in your abilities as the project progresses. And that in turn will empower you to perform well the next time a high-stakes project lands on your desk.