Kurt Schloss received the first stretch assignment of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians on a hot July day in 2010. Executive vice president of business Dennis Lehman asked him to do something that had never been done to a Major League Baseball park before: Turn Progressive Field into a winter wonderland full of family-friendly activities during the holidays.
“It was certainly outside the norm of what I would do or most people in this organization would do,” says Schloss, now 47.
But Schloss was energized by the challenge. He assembled a four-person committee to research snow-tubing runs, snow machines, and companies that install and maintain ice rinks. Four months later, Snow Days at Progressive Field opened with 10 snow-tubing lanes erected over the bleachers and a quarter-mile-long ice track encircling a field filled with decorated Christmas trees.
“We had more than 50,000 come down to Progressive Field and participate,” Schloss says of the event, which was covered by USA Today, The New York Times and ESPN.
Stretch assignments — so named because they push employees beyond their comfort zones to develop new skills and leadership ability — do more than advance the goals of an organization. “That’s how we help grow our talent,” says Steven Jones, president of University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center.
Here are three others who stepped up to the challenge.
Jason Glowczewski, 32
University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center, Chardon Position: Manager of pharmacy and oncology services tenure: Five years
Prepare a business plan to determine the economic feasibility for UH Geauga Medical Center to open a cancer center (primarily for administering chemotherapy treatments). Glowczewski, a pharmacist, was subsequently charged with opening the center.
Why he wanted it:
“I was enjoying working on my MBA. And I like business planning, anticipating what needs there are and lining up everything to implement a plan.”
Improving processes to make the patient experience better. When the cancer treatment center opened in 2008, it took as long as an hour for the lab to complete tests run right before chemotherapy to ensure the patient is healthy enough to receive it. Another hour might pass before the pharmacy could mix the drug and deliver it to the center.
How he met it:
Scheduled weekly meetings with staff to make changes such as getting doctors to submit drug orders the night before treatment and rearranging the lab and pharmacy to speed work flow. Six months after the opening, the lab was reporting test results in 20 to 30 minutes; the pharmacy delivered drugs about 20 minutes later.
Outcome: The center surpassed five-year gross revenues projections at the end of the third year.
What he learned:
“When you take something on, you find a way to make it happen,” he says.
Abby Twarek, 26
ThenDesign Architecture, Willoughby Position: Intern architect
Work with and support Dalton Local Schools in Wayne County during the pre-bond phase of a campaign to build a new pre-K-8 school. Twarek met several times with teachers, administrators and members of the district’s building advisory committee and came up with conceptual sight and building plans distributed to the public at meetings and in the media.
Why she wanted it:
“It’s important to really connect with the people who are going to be using the space so you can understand their needs and work with them.”
Developing a level of trust with the staff and community so they could work together, and speaking to large groups of people.
How she met them:
Being prepared and practicing.
The district passed a six-mill, 28-year bond issue in May. Twarek is co-managing the design and construction of the 90,000-square-foot, $15 million school.
What she learned:
“There are some things you can only learn by doing.”
Jeremy Zelwin, 29
Cliffs Natural Resources, Cleveland Position: Ethics and compliance specialist TENURE: Two years
Conduct a risk assessment regarding The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law that regulates U.S. companies’ interactions with foreign government officials. Zelwin worked with outside experts to interview senior executives in Cleveland; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Perth, Australia, about those interactions.
Why he wanted it:
“I wanted to gain more experience and exposure to the company.”
Understanding domestic and foreign law without having a formal legal education.
How he met it:
“I did a lot of research and had conversations with internal and external counsel.”
“We looked at local practices, compared them to U.S. law and put a management plan in place to [improve] our processes,” says Zelwin. That plan includes having a Cliffs lawyer put together a training program for executives.
What he learned:
“It improved my communications skills and my relationships with senior management.”