Speeding Up Rotations and Internal Movement for Development, Retention and Profit (Part IV)

(Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in Dr. Sullivan’s series. Here are Part 1Part II, andPart III. Next week, installment five of this series will address tools and tips you can use to improve your job rotation program.)

This series of articles started out listing the pain points that many organizations are experiencing today as a result of rotation-based development initiatives rooted in history and antiquated by Henry Ford’s standard.

It then progressed into program goals and key elements that characterize more modern second-generation programs under development. Last week’s installment explored the many program variations that are expanding the scope of rotation programs, making them more relevant as tools capable of addressing retention, motivation, and productivity improvement.

This week’s installment looks at emerging best practices and program metrics that can be used to assess your program’s performance.

Best Practices in Job Rotations and Internal Movement

Over the years, many firms have used job rotations in a variety of formats.

The most famous firm that has used internal movement for development is General Electric, but other firms have developed some best practices that can also provide learning.


(As HR leaders change, not all opt to retain programs installed by their predecessors no matter how successful the programs may have been. As a result, some of the programs mentioned here may no longer be in operation.)

  • Proactive intraplacement. This best practice increases the speed and accuracy of internal movement by assigning a team of recruiters to recruit for key roles using only the existing employee population as their talent pool. The key to this concepts success is that it identifies individuals who might not move on their own, or might not be visible to traditional succession planning processes for any number of reasons, including talent hoarding by managers. The goal of this type of program is to move top talent from areas of lower return to areas of higher return, ultimately improving the performance of the entire enterprise. Firms that have used this approach include Booz Allen and Microsoft.
  • Redeployment. The business needs of organizations change on a regular basis. As a result, have a permanent process that works to redeploy valuable talent from areas of the business being discontinued to other ongoing areas throughout the enterprise. The concept of rapid redeployment has been honed to near perfection by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Other firms like Intel have developed redeployment processes that allow not only “surplus” talent to be effectively redeployed, but that also allow great hires who prove unproductive in the initial roles to find a more suitable role internally.
  • Movement related to business cycle. Most large organizations have business units in various life cycle stages from seed to exit. In the first few years of this century, Microsoft used a model partly attributed to the work ofClayton Christensen that helped to ensure that talent most appropriate for a particular stage of business life didn’t get stuck in a unit that had progressed beyond that stage. In other words, it didn’t keep developers capable of bringing next-generation products to market stuck in irrelevant business units. This type of rotation program helps ensure that talented individuals never need to search for work more relevant to their skills and desires outside the organization by making sure they are deployed to business units and projects with work in the right life cycle stage.
  • Competition for employees. While every firm competes externally for talent, a few have brought the same level of competition inside, allowing managers to openly recruit from within the firm or to have a bid or “draft” process. National Oilwell Varco developed such a process for college hires, where after a one-year initial placement, the hires’ next placement was determined by an internal draft for talent.
  • Right job placement. Firms like Motorola, Valero, and Microsoft have in the past developed an internal movement process that I call “right job” movement. The premise is simple…you can’t have a successful rotation into a job if the employee and manager are not a proper fit. An “A-level” top performer can’t be expected to work well with a “C-level” manager. Other “right job” placement factors include whether the employee and the job “match” with regards to innovation, available motivators, the strength of coworkers, and the track record of the team.
  • Involve your recruiters in retention. It’s quite common for firms to hire a great individual but to place them in the wrong job. The best firms extend onboarding for a period of up to six months in order to ensure that the initial placement of the new-hire is maximizing their output. Other firms like Intuit, Valero, and Memorial Care Health have developed programs that keep the initial recruiter tied to the new-hire for up to six months in order to ensure that top performers don’t leave the firm as a result of a bad initial job placement. Placements that are not working out can be remedied a majority of the time by rotating the individual into a similar role with a different manager.
  • Interest and skills inventories. Numerous firms use “skills” inventories for use in identifying individuals who could fill a vacant slot with the right skill set. However, the best firms expand their inventory to include employee interests in order to be able to identify individuals for rotations who are interested, but not necessarily highly skilled in a job or project where training or development can increase the skill level in a relatively short period of time. IT Consulting giant EDS has leveraged this approach and found that adding this dimension helped entice employees to keep their skill profiles more current.
  • Return ticket for internal transfers that don’t work out. One of the primary reasons individuals who could deliver more to the organization opt out of development rotations that follow a non-standard path is fear of failure. They fear that, should the job change, be too dramatic, or too much of a stretch, they may lose seniority, friendships, and “ding” their career with the organization. To counter these issues, Becton Dickinson created a program called “take a risk” that enabled top performers to opt into a rotation that would develop them in a new function (i.e., marketing to finance or operations to IT). Top performers making the switch were provided a six-month period in which to master the new role. If they or their manager felt that the change wasn’t working out, they could rotate back into their previous role with no negative impact on their career.

Benchmark Firms to Learn From

Whether you are developing or improving your internal movement program, it’s important to study the successes and failures of other firms. The following is a list of firms that have at one time been recognized publicly for excellence in internal movement or job rotation programs:

  • GE
  • Becton Dickinson
  • Booz Allen
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • HP
  • Eli Lilly
  • General Mills
  • IBM
  • Intel
  • National Oilwell Varco
  • U.S. military (rapid deployment forces)
  • EDS
  • Aviall
  • U.S. Census Bureau
  • Henkel
  • Air Products
  • RJR Nabisco
  • Motorola
  • American Greetings Corporation
  • Mobile Valero Energy
  • Intuit

Metrics for Assessing Internal Movement Activities

All effective programs rely heavily on metrics in order to continually improve. Rather than overdoing metrics, it’s best to use a small number of powerful metrics. The key is to tie your metrics to program goals. You need to have a success measure for each major goal that you set, so before you begin selecting metrics, go back and make a list your program’s goals.

Some metrics to consider include:

  • Goal: improving employee performance. The percentage increase in the actual performance, forced-ranking placement, or performance-appraisal ratings of those who complete rotations versus those who don’t.
  • Goal: to increase promotion speed. The percentage increase in promotion rates of those who complete rotations versus those who don’t (alternative: the percentage of promoted employees who had a rotation during the last three years).
  • Goal: high participation rates. The average percentage of employees, managers, and departments that participate in the rotation program each year.
  • Goal: to have satisfied rotatees. The average percentage who rate the experience as “very effective” or above when asked, “How effective was your rotation in improving knowledge, skills, contacts, and performance?”
  • Goal: to have satisfied managers. The average percentage of home and sponsoring managers who rate their experience as “very satisfying” or above when asked in a survey.
  • Goal: to retain rotatees. The average percentage of rotatees who remain with the firm for at least three years following a rotation compared to the retention rate of non-participants.
  • Goal: to increase diversity participation. The average percentage of diverse rotatees compared to the percent who are diverse in the entire employee population.

Other Measures Related to Quality

  • Quality of the participants. The average quality of rotation participants as judged by their average performance appraisal scores, bonus percentages, position levels, or 360° appraisal scores.
  • Correlation with business success. The statistical correlation between the percentage of employees in a business unit of that participate in the program and the percentage of the business units goals that were successfully met.
  • Succession plan participants. The number (or percentage) of people who are on the corporate succession plan who participated in a job or project rotation.
  • Leadership development plan participants. The number (or percentage) of people who are part of the corporate leadership development plan who participated in a job or project rotation.
  • Superior results. The percentage of program participants who rate on-the-job rotations as superior to other leadership and training options.
  • Ratio of internal hires. The percentage of all open positions filled internally (versus external hiring) as an indication of the preparation levels provided by all development programs.
  • Cross-business rotations. The percentage of all rotations and project assignments that occurred between different business units or geographic regions.

Other Measures Related to Volume

  • Number of hours. The total number of hours that program participants spent on their projects and in their rotations during this program year.
  • Number of stops. The total number of “stops” or job placements that program participants passed through during the program year.

Other Measures Related to Process Effectiveness

  • Failure rate. The percentage of participants who dropped out or are removed from the program.
  • Time to fill. The average number of days it takes to fill an internal transfer, job rotation, or project assignment.
  • Rotation “stop” quality. The average number of rotation stops that individuals must complete before they received a promotion.
  • Postponed placements. The percentage of individuals who apply for a rotation that are not placed during the program year.
  • “Non-obvious” choices. The percentage of all individuals selected for a job, rotation, or assignment who were “non-obvious” choices (not a direct report on the organizational chart of the supervising manager).
  • Remote projects. The percentage of rotations, jobs, and assignments that can be completed remotely.
  • Complaints. The percentage of participants who filed a complaint about the process.

Other Measures Related to Process Cost

  • Cost per participant. The total program budget divided by the number of disciplines this year.
  • Program ROI. The dollar value of the program’s benefits and results compared to the total program costs.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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