Job Rotation: Is it Viable Across the Corporate Structure?
Should we Know how other Roles Function?
Many years ago being acquainted with a trainee nurse I happened on a curious piece of information, as a part of his training he was required to spend a semester in each area of the hospital, the same is true for doctors during their training. The logic being that they could not specialise until they had understood what the role of each of the aspects of the profession was and how they functioned.
Another member of the party that night was a banking executive who was keen to tell us how this could not work in the 'real world' of corporations. Yet this writer has always wondered why it could not work. Business is littered with cross functional examples, the Accountant who became Chief Information Officer, the marketing expert who re-qualifies and transfers into the Legal Department etc. Clearly one of the key aspects about how any corporation functions is in our ability to collaborate across functional areas, this can certainly be a benefit if job rotation were a part of the corporate norm.
Maybe in a corporation rotation would not happen in the way that it occurs in teaching hospitals, yet there should be scope to move to new areas of specialisation.
Should Employees be Encouraged to Rotate Roles?
The basic rationale behind the rotation of jobs is that by seeing how other areas of the company function an employee becomes a more valuable asset, in addition they are able to more easily understand the "big picture" view of the workings of the organisation. It is argued that business could either rotate people on a permanent basis, or provide opportunities for secondment from their main role for a period of several months. Another added benefit is that knowledge is spread from one department to another with the employee being rotated providing extra operational knowledge in their new department by speaking of how things function in their old one.
The idea being that each employee gains additional levels of knowledge and therefore becomes more valuable. Also people bring with them a unique perspectives on how to get things done, a process used by their old department may have some relevance to the new one, perhaps causing the team to understand workplace problems in a new light, this is something that should certainly be encouraged within the workplace.
Remember that some roles have legal, or professional requirements. One of the obstacles to job rotation is the possibility that a particular role demands statutory or ongoing professional qualifications. This cannot be denied as a challenge, yet it is no different than the IT person who becomes a qualified accountant simply to enable them to perform their own job more effectively, they are not seeking a change in career.
Technologists and other business professionals already collaborate to fine-tune business operations where there is a common understanding of a problem. People are able to think and understand the same terminology, for both technical specialities. It should give a greater business acumen as each person builds their knowledge and skills through the process. The technologist can understand the problems the Finance department faces when they have seen them first hand. Indeed the person who rotates their job may make positive changes to empower their former colleagues once they return to their old job.
Of equal importance is the ability to build a network of connections across the organisation and potentially within different corporations. I have witnessed some businesses where it is demonstrated that those who gain experience of different business units are felt to be more effective managers because they are able to take a look at any problem from many different perspectives. Also as they are networked to other employees and executives they will start to know the right people to get things done, of crucial importance.
However job rotation programmes are rare, which is very unfortunate as there are many corporations that are actually looking for multi-talented people to take up leadership positions. Do these show up in job advertisements? No! That is primarily because recruiters and HR departments seem to have difficulty in understanding how to fill such a role.
Is it Time for Change?
It can be argued that people are already bridging the gap between professions: the IT professional who qualifies as a lawyer; the accountant who becomes a doctor; the paramedic who took a BSc in Computing; are all examples of real people who have been prepared to cross train and move to other professions. Providing a mechanism within the corporation that encourages cross functional movement is however vital.
It is rare today for a person to be satisfied with limiting themselves to a single profession during their lifetime. Many feel the need to move on to something else during their mid-forties. Should corporations encourage change where a professional desires it? Yes, they should! Indeed job rotation could allow a professional whose career seems to be bumbling along towards dead end to make a lateral move that reinvigorates their job goals and provides them with a new direction, yet retains valuable knowledge within the business.
In most organisations changing career paths can become a major obstacle. Yet if you look at the majority of jobs there are many common features - the ability to analyse complex business scenarios and build a clear plan of action is a crucial skill, irrespective of what department you work for. These are the skills that most senior roles demand, so it would seem obvious that we should allow for an ability for an employee to move their career in a different direction rather then leave the organisation.
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