Rotating into leadership

Job rotations train and identify future execs

Truly great leaders have been in the trenches at some point during their rise to the top.

Whether it’s a top-ranking general in the Armed Forces or the chief executive officer of a multinational company, leaders who know what their subordinates are going through and what is happening across the organization are best equipped to make decisions.

Fred Pamenter, a managing partner with Toronto-based consulting firm Pamenter, Pamenter, Brezer and Deganis, said companies with job rotation programs have an advantage because employees aren’t working in a vacuum and they get a better sense of the whole business.

“It gives you a better thinking staff,” he said. “People don’t work with a silo viewpoint as much. They are more inclined to be broader in their perspective.”

It can also help with succession planning by giving an organization the chance to see high-potential employees working in a variety of situations before handing over the keys to the executive washroom.

“It’s also a means of doing internal recruiting as you’re putting people into jobs without having to go outside, and you have people trained to take over when the need arises,” said Pamenter.

But that doesn’t mean implementing a job rotation program is a no-brainer. There are some serious cost issues involved. Every time a person is moved it costs to train that person to do the new job and training another staff member to do that person’s old job — which adds up to a loss in productivity, especially in the short term, said Pamenter.

“Some people take the position that if we train that way then the people are going to be better equipped to take off and go to work for somebody else,” he said. “I think that’s a short-term and narrow view.”

There’s no magic formula in determining how long a job rotation should last, said Pamenter, but it should be a long-term endeavour.

“It’s a broadening of a person’s perspective,” he said. “In some cases, particularly today when you have flatter organizations and less opportunities to go up a ladder, it does give an enrichment to a person’s job. I am somewhat negative of tying times to those kinds of programs and the reason for that is the person doesn’t make a commitment to the job if you’re doing it that way.”

John Sullivan, head of the human resource program at San Francisco State University, said job rotation programs are far more effective than classroom training because they increase the interest in learning.

A side-by-side comparison of normal classroom learning with on the job learning will show that job rotation learning lasts longer, has a bigger impact on productivity and, since staff see the immediate results of their learning, they are more likely to develop a passion for learning more, he said.

Having to explain work processes to others also forces managers to analyze their own processes and this can make these processes more effective, said Sullivan.

For more information about Sullivan and his research, check out his Web site: www.drjohnsullivan.com.

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