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What Are the Pitfalls of Job Rotation Programs?

What are some "caution items" before we launch into job rotation? We aren't sure whether it should start at our home office or across departments, and also aren't sure what percentage of our employees should be rotated.

Cautious but Curious, manufacturing/production, Bangkok, Thailand

October 15, 2013
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Dear Cautious but Curious:

Job rotation programs are an outstanding tool for employee recruitment and retention and typically serve one of two purposes:

  1. Grooming future leaders.  Rotation programs can give top talent a broad experience that will serve them well in senior management roles down the road.
  2. “Cross training” employees.  Once completed, a rotation program ensures participants can do their “regular jobs,” better with a strong understanding of perspectives from several functions.

In either case, the experiential nature of the learning excites, challenges, and motivates employees, who are constantly bringing a fresh perspective and new ideas to separate entities within the company.  However, there always are caution items to consider before launching into a job rotation.  Here are some tips to consider:

  1.  Determine your goals for a job rotation program.  Like everything else in business, a job rotation program initiative must begin with answering the question: ‘Why?’ Pinpoint desired goals and outcomes that will be achieved as a result of the rotation program. Remember that these goals and outcomes should result from the organization’s human resources and business strategy.  The percentage of employees you have involved will be dependent on your goals. Typically, most rotation programs include relatively small percentage of employees. As for where to start, it’s typically easier to start in one location. In addition to lower start-up costs, this enables you to pilot the program and see what works before rolling it out across the entire organization. 
  2. The devil is in the details.  Rotation programs sound amazing, but there are a lot of details to think through.  How long will each rotation be?  Who will be included?  What manager training is necessary in advance of each rotation?  How will you manage participant expectations?  The list goes on and on.  If your program is not well-thought-out, it’s destined to fail.  As such, ensure you have the support in place to tackle all of the details.  Appoint a line manager from each function to sit on a task force and own the rotation process in their function from start to finish.   
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Job rotation isn’t always met with initial excitement from every employee. An employee who loves his or her existing role may not be eager to move around. Some employees could be reluctant to pass along a project in which have a vested interest to someone else when their rotation is up.  It’s critical to communicate the goals, intentions and logistics of the rotation program to ensure employee buy-in – and that includes senior leadership. 

SOURCE: Brad Karsh, JB Training Solutions, Chicago, October 3, 2013

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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