Stretch assignments are one of the most powerful formats for learning and development. Dropping employees into new situations expands their experiences and works brilliantly to develop rising leaders. But traditionally it is a nonscalable format. It requires planning, orientation, oversight and often significant resources.
There is a new model for stretch assignments that is deeply scalable and has an additional benefit: commitment to corporate social responsibility.
Consider OneSight, the corporate foundation of Luxottica, which provides eyewear and eye care under brands like LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut. Luxottica employees can volunteer — with pay — to work for one to two weeks for OneSight. They travel to Third World countries or to low-income areas within the U.S. and set up clinics to provide free eye exams and glasses.
I traveled to one of these clinics this summer, at a Fresh Air Camp outside of New York. Luxottica employees at every level took on new roles within the OneSight mobile clinic. Store clerks managed the mission while senior executives did clerical work, and it became clear that these stretch assignments were a major part of their work and were seen as opportunities for career development. Store employees and managers developed new skills, competencies and attitudes during their service weeks, which they brought back to their stores.
Corporate commitment to OneSight has incredible brand value for Luxottica. From used eyeglass donation boxes in stores to the visibility of senior executives “walking the talk” of social responsibility, the impact on their brands and learning strategies is clear.
I was even able to track a pair of eyeglasses that I donated in the LensCrafters store in Saratoga for reconditioning and redeployment. I saw a video of a young woman in Ghana proudly wearing them as her first pair of eyeglasses. I felt a wave of emotion about the impact of my small contribution, which was echoed over and over by Luxottica employees serving on these missions.
Learning is a deep part of the stretch service project. Each associate goes through training on these missions that will increase his or her skills and readiness. The participants debrief other employees who did not take part in their missions. As a whole, Luxottica is provided with another level of team building and executive-associate interaction.
For these programs to provide high impact for learning and development, make sure they include:
• Deep corporate commitment: Either create a service foundation or become a sponsor of an existing service organization. The deep commitment that Luxottica makes to OneSight — from funds to staffing to supplies — allows the process to be managed for deep alignment with corporate goals.
• Extended assignments: While a one-day service project is great for morale, an impact on learning and development requires longer periods, ranging from one week to one month.
• Parallel universe of work settings: Create structures in the service projects that allow new skills and responsibilities to emerge. Don’t just leverage current skills in a service project: mix up the levels, reporting lines and more.
• High visibility for colleagues and customers: Give these projects internal and external branding to create exposure and help spur talent rises.
• Evaluate learning impacts: Create an evidence model, gathering impact data on individual employees’ career paths and on skill development patterns resulting from service stretch assignments.
Luxottica has drawn in its partners and suppliers to support OneSight, and The Masie Center hosted its Vision Van at our recent conference. I was so impressed with the impact of the OneSight project that our staff will have the opportunity to volunteer on a future mission.
Learning truly takes place outside the classroom and beyond the e-learning module when we allow for service-based learning in this scalable and high-impact model of employee engagement.
Elliott Masie is the chair and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium. He can be reached at email@example.com.