Executives know it takes some time to get your team together. Especially in times of war for talents, it has become even more difficult to recruit the most promising candidates. Once you have managed to do so, the last thing you want to do is let your best people go. Nevertheless, job rotation – the timely limited exchange of working places within companies - is a hot topic for decision makers in organizational and human resource development.
McKinsey already stated in 2006 that „[…] intangible assets (such as skills, reputations, and relationships) generate the highest value” (source: McKinsey) in a modern business environment that is based on networks and knowledge. Looking at today’s business, it becomes obvious that these two guiding values– network and knowledge - are even more important in the present than they were twelve years ago. If we acknowledge this to be true, how can we argue not to let our best people go? The opposite is the case; it is rather our duty to do so in order to let them gain exactly these assets. And, taking a closer look, we can see a win-win-win-win situation:
Winner – The Company
For a few years now, the acronym VUCA has been on everyone’s lips. It describes four challenges – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – today’s businesses are struggling with. Or, as the Harvard business review put it once, “Hey, it’s crazy out there!” (source: Harvard Business Review).
Thus, it is even more important to adapt quickly. But how can we adapt to new situations if we have never faced them? How can we see the big picture if we are always in the same place?
If companies have to operate more flexibly and agile, their employees should, too. In modern businesses, effective resource allocation goes along with mobilizing people to prepare them for today’s and future challenges.
From a company’s perspective, rotation - crossing borders, functions and breaking silos, reaching undiscovered fields - creates the mindset necessary to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Moreover, job rotation programs can be used as an employer branding instrument. Today, people strive for continuous change, be it the city, country, or culture. This is exactly the mindset needed and thus, offering respective programs increases a company’s attractiveness for those applicants they want to reach, but also its retention rate.
Winner – The Employee
You only need to ask people who have made this experience. There’s only positive feedback and strong recommendation. Why? Because you grow - personally and professionally.
What’s most fascinating is getting a feeling for other parts of the organization, especially in large companies. Giving an example from my own unit, the HR development at Deutsche Telekom: we develop products for the whole organization, which means 217.000 people in 31 countries. How should we know what a colleague in Greece, South Africa or Albania really needs if we’ve never been there? Even though we are one organization, the circumstances are still quite different between cities, units and even more so between countries. Gaining an understanding of and for each other, facilitates one’s work and increases the outcome’s quality. That’s why I strongly support rotation in my unit.
Besides, employees build up an international network they would otherwise never have access to. That does not only widen one horizon but also opens attractive career paths.
Winner – The Receiving Unit
The receiving unit not only gets additional manpower, it also benefits from an external view. Being stuck in one’s daily business, units often struggle with blind spots. Employees entering a new team for a limited time have the chance to serve as external consultants questioning existing processes and implementing innovative ideas.
Winner – The Giving Unit
The giving unit’s role is especially important. Considering all the advantages for the other involved parts, executives should want their employees to go. But, as we all know, people don’t act as rationally as companies would like them to. Also, there is a high incentive to keep one’s team together. As the line manager has an important role in this process, convincing arguments are indispensable.
Firstly, job rotation increases one’s own flexibility, preparing you for changes ahead. Nowadays, employees do not stay at the same position their whole working life. Especially the most talented either get promoted or leave the company. Others get sick, or take parental leave. Therefore, rotation is inherent anyways. Introducing continuous rotation into your workforce only makes you much better prepared for it.
Secondly, taking a higher perspective. job rotation is a cycle. On the one hand, it is you giving away your high-potential workers, while on the other hand, it is also you winning another department’s high-potential, in addition to a fresh perspective.
Needless to say, job rotation only works if it is implemented effectively and organization-wide. There are some difficulties making job rotation challenging for an organization. In order to get the cycle of talent rotation rolling it requires a well working succession management. Besides, for managers as well as employees, it is tough to find the most appropriate candidates for a rotation position. Thus, internal marketplaces should be easy to use without bureaucratic hurdles and accessible to everybody.
Moreover, employees often have specific, line-based target agreements. This makes it more attractive to focus on one’s short-term line achievements instead of investing time in one’s professional and long-term development. To counteract, job rotation must be somehow rewarded by the company.
Nevertheless, job rotation programs are not appropriate for every company and every job. Smaller, less global companies or those not struggling with many silos do not necessarily need to foster job rotation in their company, as information is more evenly distributed anyways. The same applies to jobs with clearly defined tasks and defined processes, e.g. in sales areas.
Job rotation is, however, a must-have in large and complex organizations, such as Deutsche Telekom, where it is not possible to base decisions on the big picture without continuous exchange. When innovation is part of the daily business, one needs to experience new things, new colleagues, and new challenges, daily. Thus, even though executives (including me) always try to have the best people around them, we should continuously encourage them and us to leave our cozy nests from time to time and seize the opportunities given by a large organization.