Job Rotations: Overcoming Obstacles and Developing Staff to Their Full Potential

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879 – April 18, 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist and philosopher of science. He developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics.

Job Rotation 2014-12-16

Joe felt stuck in his job. He had applied for a new role in another group, but was passed over for another employee working in that group. The other candidate had direct experience that Joe didn’t have and couldn’t acquire in his present role.

Sarah was offered a position by another team’s manager who saw her potential. Yet she was blocked from accepting that post by her own manager who deemed her strengths “too valuable” to lose.

Danny, a department manager was constantly frustrated by a supporting organization’s refusal to modify their business systems, which Danny believed would improve working relationships between the two teams.

Know someone like Joe, Sarah or Danny? Perhaps you’ve lived their experiences? I’ve witnessed these situations many times and learned they can stunt people’s careers, negatively impact their organizations, or both. Fortunately, each can be improved or even remedied with an effective program of job rotations. In this blog, I’ll recommend a system for managing job rotations, and just as importantly, highlight perceivable obstacles during implementation and how to overcome them.

Job rotations can be done at any level of the organization, from individual contributors up to high levels of management. Job rotations benefit not only the employee. They also promote the health and effectiveness of the overall organization in several ways:

  • Participants gain broader experience, skills and relationships. Well-rounded staff are poised for larger leadership roles.
  • A growing base of employees with broad-based skills enables the organization to more quickly adapt to change when required.
  • Any “us versus them” mentality breaks down when employees better understand the workings of different teams. Cooperation and work efficiency between organizations improves.
  • Employee retention and morale improve as a result of staff seeing career-growth opportunities.

While benefits of job rotations seem apparent, why do many organizations either make little effort or not embrace them as a strategy? I’ve found several perceived obstacles often in the way and recommend the following means to overcome them:

  • Can’t afford to lose a highly skilled person from the team: Overcome this concern by arranging training for the person rotating into the group. Pair-up that person with the one exiting. With appropriate management oversight, establish a training plan between the pair to be completed before the transfers occur. The number of sessions and duration will depend on the complexity of the position.
  • Employees fear a loss of job security: This is a real concern, especially in organizations with a history of volatility. Employees need to be coached and reassured that being selected for a job rotation increases their value. As they witness the successful outcomes for others, the overall program can grow.
  • People don’t want to move: Really? It’s true many are perfectly content in their roles. Yet my personal experience as a mentor and manager reveals that many people don’t speak up about desiring a change. Either they are afraid of appearing disloyal, or aren’t aware of opportunities in which they would excel and benefit. Managers should encourage open “career development” discussions during one-on-ones to help employees see beyond their current roles.
  • Don’t know how (or don’t have the time) to start a job rotation program. Read on to see the answer to this concern.

Job rotations at different experience/organizational levels call for different approaches. With the implicit assumption that executive-level management and HR are supportive, I’ll focus on the “how to”:

Individual Contributor level:

  • Awareness and Buy-in: Communicate the program plan to all first level managers and their staffs.
  • Participation: Each manager identifies interested candidates to whom they share likely rotation opportunities and gather information on the candidates’ specific interests. Candidates should understand that eventually they may not be selected as a participant or get their desired role.
  • Rotation Assignments: A team of managers is formed to determine rotation assignments, taking into account the interests of the candidates and the needs of the overall organization.
  • Training: Each ‘receiving’ manager must agree to allocate time and provide guidance for the incoming replacement and exiting staff member to put together a training plan to transfer skills and job responsibilities.

Management level (the process is similar to the aforementioned with two key differences):

  • Directors (and higher levels) are involved in identifying management level candidates and determining the rotation assignments.
  • Managers should be capable of establishing their own training plans without guidance. Training should include opportunities for the incoming manager to develop relationships with their new staff.

Does this all sound good but unrealistic when there aren’t any ‘executive champions’ within your company? Even if you don’t have positional power to make rotations happen, consider becoming an advocate – lobby other managers and HR. You’ll find allies to help make it happen.

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Brian D Strayer



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