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The Right Duration for a Job Rotation

December 17, 2013

Dear Time Sensitive,

A job rotation is a short- to medium-term job assignment with dual goals of getting important work done while developing an employee’s capabilities. The most common and impactful of all job rotations are “development rotations,” which in addition to the obvious development component can also have goals for increasing the exposure of for high-potential individuals. This helps you boost retention and better assessing their leadership or promotional capabilities.

Start by avoiding these common time-related development rotation errors

There are several common errors to avoid when setting the duration of an employee’s job rotation. They include:

·       Sticking to a fixed length for a rotation. A fixed time option may seem desirable because it makes business, succession and career planning easier. However, a fixed time can actually be a mistake because predicting in advance how long it will take an individual to complete their goals during the rotation is extremely difficult. As a result, the best approach is to start by setting “a range of time” for the rotation.

·       Having a rotation that is too short. If the job rotation is too short, all of the key learning and experience goals and objectives may not be met. Not allowing enough time to develop each skill may result in the organization inadvertently setting up this “under skilled” employee for failure in their next assignment.

·       Having a rotation that is too long. The firm risks frustrating the rotated employee if they begin to feel “abandoned” because nothing appears to be planned for them at the end of a long rotation.

·       Focusing on the time rather than the objectives – rather than dwelling on whether artificial time deadlines are met, a more strategic approach is to stay focused on whether the goals of the rotation are being met. Goal completion should be the primary determinant of when rotation should end.

There are action steps in the process for determining the appropriate length of a job rotation.Unfortunately, there is no universally recognized standard length for development rotations. However there are several steps that you should consider including in a rotation length determination process:

1.     Start with benchmark duration numbers – review recent rotation successes and failures to set minimum and maximum times for typical rotations. As a general rule, I have found that most development rotations at the same facility now last between six and 18 months.

2.     Realize that most rotations are now shorter – in a fast-moving world, most corporate development rotations are now “accelerated”: which means that while in the past a development job rotation could last up to three years, 18 months is now becoming more of a norm.

3.     Consider what will happen after the rotation – if the rotated employee is to be placed in another follow-up rotation or in a new permanent job, the times when that next placement can possibly start should influence the ending time of this rotation.

4.     Consult the employee – is critical that you give the rotated employee input into both the goals and the duration of the rotation. Before accepting a rotation, be aware that most employees will want to be made aware of the range of possible options that could happen to them after the rotation is completed.

5.     A bailout option is essential – in a complex business world, you should start by assuming that the initial rotation plan will probably need to be modified. Therefore the rotation plan should include a midpoint reassessment and an abandonment option if the rotation is not meeting its goals.

6.     Consider a flexible “avocado” time plan – if there is a lot of uncertainty involved in a particular rotation, a superior approach is to use “an avocado approach”. Under this hybrid approach, an initial fixed time period for the rotation (the hard nut) is set in concrete (usually 50 percent of the assumed needed length). But after that fixed component is nearing completion, the length of the remaining time period (the soft flesh) is negotiated between the parties, based on the results achieved so far.

 SOURCE: Dr. John Sullivan, San Francisco State University, December 16, 2013