The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Support the Development of Your Early-Career Employees With Stretch Projects

At the recent CUPA-HR Association Leadership Program in Tempe, Arizona, 12 early-career higher ed HR professionals began their year with CUPA-HR’s Wildfire program, and 10 recent graduates of the program shared project outcomes as they wrapped up their year with the program:

  • William Budding of Harvard University and Abby King of the University of Kansas joined forces to explore going beyond the ADA to think about accessibility as part of an inclusive culture.
  • Mollie Blanchard of Cochise College asked how part-time staff were being engaged and made changes to improve the experience of that employee population on her campus.
  • Deborah Lee of The Catholic University of America explored how best to weave diversity, equity and inclusion into the values of her religiously affiliated university.
  • Maria Wingenbach of Concordia College launched a paid family leave policy on her campus.
  • Rachel Williams of Ivy Tech Community College System developed e-learning training for adjunct faculty, which had been underserved in the training and development area.
  • Latasha Gause of Coastal Carolina University developed a workshop to help employees on her campus understand how to find and prepare for internal career advancement at the institution.
  • Chris Dominiak of The University of Arizona researched options for on-site childcare as an employee benefit.
  • Tammi Stuebe of Williams College and Tyler Mayo of University of Florida looked toward supporting the higher ed HR community by connecting early-career and other professionals with experienced higher education HR professionals through a pilot podcast, “Time-Out With Tammi and Tyler.”

While CUPA-HR’s Wildfire program was the genesis of these projects, your HR team could benefit from similar experiences on campus that stretch their abilities. As you consider giving your early-career employees stretch projects to support their development, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Connect the project with development goals. Each CUPA-HR Wildfire participant prepares an individual development plan to identify the competencies to be developed throughout the year. As part of that plan, participants brainstorm project ideas that will contribute to the development of one or more of those competencies.

To help your early-career team members focus on development in this way, consider inviting them to take the free CUPA-HR e-learning course Creating Your Individual Development Plan and use the CUPA-HR Learning Framework to explore and understand their competencies. After having a conversation about the areas that could be developed, encourage your team members to brainstorm ideas for projects on campus that would help them work on specific areas of development and contribute to the success of your institution.

2) First make space for big dreams, then coach toward reality. One of the common themes among CUPA-HR’s Wildfire participants and other early-career professionals is the ability to think broadly and positively about what’s possible. While it may be tempting to dismiss this enthusiasm as naivety, consider the value of having your early-career staff members bring fresh eyes to an existing problem.

After creating space for big thinking during the brainstorming process and identifying a project focus, ask your employees to consider if elements of the plan seem unrealistic and coach them through planning and implementing the project. This process will help them fine tune their approach without stifling their enthusiasm and creativity.

3) Encourage paying it forward. Working on a stretch project generates a wealth of new knowledge for any professional. Just as the Wildfire participants shared with ALP attendees the outcomes and insights gained while working on their projects, your entire HR team and others on campus could benefit from the experience gained by your early-career team members.

After you’ve coached them through their stretch projects, ask them to share their successes, challenges, starts and restarts with your colleagues to broaden the impact of the project. By doing so, not only will you add value as your early-career professional learns how to effectively report on outcomes, but you’ll also encourage others to stretch themselves through development.

For more resources related to the development of early-career professionals, visit the Early-Career Professionals toolkit in CUPA-HR’s Knowledge Center.