Companies are using any number of strategies to develop effective leaders. If they aren’t already, they may want to consider using job rotation assignments to build more well-rounded employees and strengthen organizations.
Job rotation gives people experiences outside of their normal scope of work, “and on a psychological level, they learn to look at things from a different perspective,” said Niels-Peter van Doorn, head of leadership consulting at Borderless, an international leadership and executive search consulting firm.
This strategy is an effective development option for a few reasons, van Doorn said. Cross-functionality is becoming more important in today’s workplaces; people are overseeing a much larger field than just their own domain of work. During a job rotation, employees gain exposure to work that lies outside their formal field of study and job description.
Further, job rotation helps people learn how to manage differences. “Being able to manage differences and guarantee a team’s success — project team or an organization where there are different people from different geographic and cultural origins but also professional disciplines — learning to manage that type of diversity is important for business success,” van Doorn said.
A recent Borderless survey found that 44 percent of executives see leadership development at their organization as poor, and more than half of the senior executives who responded to the Borderless Leadership Development Survey 2016 said their company’s leadership development efforts were ineffective. Van Doorn and his team recommended several ways including the use of job rotation to create stronger leadership development programs, but he said job rotation deserves higher priority if organizations want to develop executives with broad-based general management skills.
Yet, according to a recent Management Resources survey — at least in the finance sector — while executives see the value of job rotation, only about half of the chief financial officer respondents report that they promoted it in their finance teams. That’s unfortunate considering job rotations not only give emerging leaders greater exposure to the business at large but also enhance recruitment and retention efforts as well as succession planning.
Van Doorn said many companies seem to have “stage fright” around implementing job rotations. The idea of someone coming to a position cold from another part of the business, without any specific knowledge about the new role, can be perceived as hazardous to business or operational continuity.
“What they all forget is that they all started at some point in their career at a new job where they did not have all the assets that were necessary to fulfill that role, but they did it anyway. They made it happen,” van Doorn said.
The concern is justified, but it doesn’t justify not implementing job rotation on a structural basis, he said. Still, for job rotations to work, there must be clarity on the length of the rotation and how to make transitions in and out of roles as smooth as possible. The manager to whom the employee will be reporting and the learning leader facilitating the assignment should identify a person the rotating employee can turn to for help or clarity. On an individual basis, managers on both sides of the relationship should be in regular communication with each other as well as be connected to the learning leader.
Van Doorn said one of the many interesting things that he’s learned about job rotations personally, as well as from research, is the different purposes it can have for employees based on their career level. For the newer employee, a job rotation can help better orient them to the different lines of business. For a more senior-level employee, the strategy might be part of the retention policy. Additionally, job rotation can help prepare employees in between those two extremes for a general management positon if they aren’t already in one.
In van Doorn’s own experience — as secretary to the board of a company at a relatively young age — he was urged to get some operational experience in the company if he wanted to move up. He landed a role by way of an operational job rotation. With a link to both the head office and operations, he said he knew the company at the strategic level and picked up some operational insights critical to the business.
The lessons learned during job rotation experiences profit not just the individuals involved but also the company. Often the lessons revolve around the fact that people don’t communicate outside their functions within their organizations, van Doorn said.
“The people who go through job rotations are actually important sources of information, and it makes sense to tap into that information not only just by their individual managers but on an organizational level,” he said.
Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.