developmental assignments

Developmental Assignments – Who’s the Better Person for the Job?

Assigning Tasks

When you have a task to assign, should you get it done with Old Reliable?  Or should you give a stretch assignment to an up & comer?  We’ll lay out the situation, then invite your thoughts. Finally we’ll share ours in the hopes of helping you make a better decision next time you have potential developmental assignments.

The Situation

As director of operations for a regional bank, you need someone to head up a special task: Streamline a number of forms used by your bank’s branches, making them shorter and more user-friendly. You have two candidates in mind for the job:


This 15-year-veteran is a logical choice. Since she’s worked in a number of departments, she would bring lots of experience to the task. She even played a key role in a similar project a few years ago. She did excellent work, but she’s actually more of a people person. That’s reflected in her current position as assistant manager of banking relations. However, she’s a loyal employee and will do what is needed.


She has only been with the firm for three years. In that time, though, she has made an impression and shows potential. However, she has not yet been in charge of a project for your firm. Although she doesn’t have Regina’s experience, Rachel is familiar with the various financial transactions that use the forms that will need to be changed. Plus, Rachel seems willing to take on developmental assignments.

Assign Responsibility

Who should you assign responsibility for this task to?  Should you go with the safe choice who you can rely on to get it done well?  Do you give it to the newer person as a developmental assignment to help her grow? Or perhaps have them work together on it with the experienced person mentoring the new one?

Your Choices:

Click the best answer below. Our answer will then highlight with an explanation below.
A. Give the task to Rachel. It will be a good stretch assignment that will help develop her managerial potential. Make an extra effort to monitor her progress so that she succeeds.

Stretch Assignment

Developmental Assignments Show Confidence in Your People

Bringing out the best in others is an important Q4 leadership trait you should practice. Choice A is the clearest way to signal your investment in the development of the people who work for you.

While there is some risk in putting Rachel in charge, this assignment doesn’t gamble with the profitability or success of your company. The upside is worth it. What she lacks in experience, Rachel makes up for with intelligence and potential. Give her the opportunity to shine. If not on this project, when?

Of course, you will have to monitor more closely and, perhaps, check Rachel’s work more frequently to be sure she is on track. But if she runs with it as you think she will, ease up on monitoring. With you as a safety net, she will gain the experience and confidence of completing a successful task. That experience can be applied to future projects. And it’s sound leadership development.

Are you looking for ways to help your employees grow in their jobs? Giving people with potential the opportunities to grow will add to your staff’s competence.

Playing It Safe

Choice B is the safest way to go, and Regina will undoubtedly do a fine job. But remember that somewhere along the line, Regina gained experience to handle these kinds of projects.

As a Q4 leader, you should push yourself to make opportunities for others to do the same. It’s too easy for managers to decide that an employee can get a chance another time, when the company isn’t so busy, or when the project isn’t as important. But when will that be? This internal task is the right opportunity for a promising employee. A is the best decision.

Shadowing is Good. But Doing on Your Own if Often Better.

C isn’t a bad decision, but it’s not as strong as A. This choice gets Rachel involved in a developmental assignment. But allowing an employee to take charge and lead usually builds their leadership skills more solidly. Too often, when an employee is assigned to look over someone else’s shoulder, scheduling breaks down and the two people can’t find time to get together.

In this case, the task is right for Rachel to lead on her own — with extra supervision from you, if needed. You could even see if Regina might be available to Rachel for consultation. But the best decision for this task is A.

B. Give the assignment to Regina. Your firm can’t afford to let this important assignment be handled poorly. At this time, it’s better to give Rachel a smaller assignment that develops her managerial skills.

 No, please try again.

C. Put Regina in charge and make Rachel her shadow. That way, Rachel can learn valuable managerial skills for managing a future project.

 No, please try again.

More Developmental Assignments for You?

Now that you have learned about developmental assignments, we invite you to take on some developmental assignments for yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about leadership skills, our Learning for Leadership page is your destination.  You’ll find 40 additional leadership case examples, white papers, books,… There is even a Do You Work with a Difficult Person page that will give you actionable advice to help you work more effectively with your challenging individual.

If you are ready to move from learning about leadership to doing leadership, check out our leadership development page. You’ll find a variety of tools to support your development–leadership skill workshops, 360 feedback, executive coaching, and more.

Finally, be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter to stay current on people leadership tips and upcoming events.