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

(Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment in Dr. Sullivan’s series. Here are Part 1Part IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V.)

No matter how enthusiastic your employees are about participating in an internal movement program, they are bound to be somewhat frustrated if there aren’t a wide variety of assignments available for them to choose from. Even if you successfully excite your managers and other rotation program participants, you can’t automatically assume that they know how to identify or develop exciting assignments or rotations.

As a result, the rotation program manager needs to design a process and provide managers with a variety of suggestions and tips in order to make it easy for them to create internal movement projects, assignments, and rotations. This section highlights over 20 of the approaches that I have found to be effective in helping managers create more and better rotations.

Approaches to Help Managers Identify New Projects and Assignments

The various approaches that can help managers either identify or develop rotation projects can be classified into four broad categories that include:

  1. Piggybacking off of existing business processes
  2. Soliciting help from individuals and groups
  3. Creating information sources and events
  4. Other miscellaneous approaches

Category I — Piggybacking Off Of Existing Business Processes

The basic premise here is to take existing business processes and tools and to use them to identify potential short and medium-term projects. Some of the approaches to consider include:

A manager’s “to do” list — every manager creates some variation of a “things to do list,” so this list is a great place to start when looking for projects. Encourage managers to go over their list once a month. They should identify the things that need to be done that employees from other areas or functions might be able to carry out — things that they simply do not have the resources to complete. By providing managers with a checklist of factors for identifying potential projects, it will make it easier for them to “visualize” the projects that are most likely to help them achieve their business goals. The factor list for identifying new rotation projects should include:

  • Projects related to their high-priority goals
  • “Things that are not getting done” and that will likely languish without outside help
  • Problems that require a relatively small number of hours to complete
  • Projects that can be done by outsiders with less experience or knowledge of the function
  • Projects that can be done remotely
  • Assignments that require few resources or budget dollars
  • Projects or assignments where “outside thinking” (that would more likely come from an outside the function person) would be most beneficial
  • Planning and research-related projects that are almost always “put off” until there is adequate time to begin them

Goals, budgets, and strategic plans — managers should be periodically encouraged to review their list of yearly goals and their budget in order to identify potential problems or opportunities that might be amenable to rotation assignments. They should also be encouraged to look at plans and forecasts to identify upcoming opportunities that could be “started on” by outside individuals participating in a rotation assignment.

Converting contractor, part-time and internship projects — managers should be encouraged to periodically look at both their current and their past list of short-term projects that they have assigned to contractors, part-time individuals, or even interns. Managers should first consider reassigning some of these projects to rotatees. In addition, managers should be encouraged to look at these lists of previous projects in order to stimulate their thinking toward developing similar or even follow-up projects that can be done by current employees who need growth opportunities.

Teaching assignments — because one of the best ways to become an expert is to develop the capability for teaching others what you know, the development function should be asked to identify a number of teaching and coaching assignments each quarter for rotatees.

Category II — Soliciting Help from Individuals and Groups

Ideas and suggestions that fall under this category relate to providing direct help and support to managers.

Assignment development consultants or mentors — consider providing managers with a list of “assignment development consultants,” i.e. other managers who have volunteered to help others find and develop assignments. In my experience, most managers who have had success with job rotations are more than willing to help their peers develop similar assignments. The list might also include some individuals who have been trained to be peer mentors from the development function.

Recently developed leaders — make it an integral part of all major job rotations for the individual in the rotation to look for additional assignments both for others and for themselves. Even after the rotation assignments are complete, these individuals should be asked to continually “scout” for future opportunities for others.

Mentor suggestions — mentors throughout the organization should be asked periodically to help identify or develop rotation assignments.

Affinity groups — solicit the support of corporate affinity and diversity groups in identifying both projects and individuals that could benefit significantly from participating in the rotation program.

Corporate alumni – if your organization has a corporate alumni group, ask them to help in identifying possible rotation assignments outside the organization.

Retiree groups — if your organization has a corporate retiree group, ask them to help in identifying possible rotation assignments both inside and outside the organization.

Senior executive projects — because working directly with the CEO or with other top executives is always stimulating and exciting, these individuals should be asked to provide a targeted number of assignments each quarter.

Employee-generated projects — in many cases, the best source for identifying projects are your employees. Encourage managers to hold periodic meetings with their employees in order to educate them about the availability of “help” from individuals on develop assignments. The employee should be provided with a list of previous projects and a template to help them understand the characteristics of a great rotation assignment. Employees should also be encouraged to network with their professional contacts at other firms to identify rotation assignments that they have found to be stimulating or impactful. In addition, managers should encourage their own employees to propose their ideal departmental or external rotation assignments.

Approach top performers — use “forced-ranking,” bonus lists, or performance appraisal results to identify your organization’s top-performing managers. Approach these top performers directly and ask them to help to identify and develop rotations.

Assign interns — hire more select current college interns from college academic programs that teach leadership development and train them how to seek out possible projects and rotations.

Category III — Creating Information Sources and Events

Suggestions that fall under this category cover creating rotation-related information sources.

Provide examples of previous assignments — providing managers with a list of past successful projects can help stimulate thinking. By looking through the list they might see a project that causes them to think “I need that.” When possible, this list should also include examples of projects from other firms (especially customer firms and strategic partners) that were identified through benchmarking.

Project availability website — some firms (Whirlpool and Google are leaders here) have developed internal processes that “market” available projects on an internal website, so that internal talent can “apply” (or even bid) to work on short-term projects. An “available project” marketing process and website can stimulate managers into action by reminding them that others are actively developing project assignments. This website can also provide them with a range of project examples that they can use as a basis for developing their own.

Job rotation help website — develop an internal website designed specifically for managers that provides education and tips on how to develop stretch into teaching assignments. Include frequently asked questions and web links to help resources both within and outside the firm.

Job rotation forum — develop an online forum or listserv that allows managers to bring up issues and ask questions. Encourage managers, mentors, and leadership development experts to participate in the forum. Internal social networks “groups” can also be used to exchange ideas and questions.

Rotation wiki — provide managers with the opportunity to develop an internal “wiki” knowledge site on developing rotation assignments. A wiki, following the Wikipedia model, allows managers to build a knowledge base. This knowledge base will likely be more usable and credible, because it is built and enhanced exclusively by managers.

Characteristics of a great assignment template — in addition to a template that outlines which projects would be best for the manager, there should also be a checklist of the factors that make a project exciting to an individual employee. That checklist can be used to develop or to improve projects so that they are exciting, challenging, and attractive to employees. The rotation program should include a process for stimulating the managers’ thinking relating to the characteristics of a possible project. The characteristics that interest employees looking for growth or development were highlighted in a previous section entitled “elements of a well-designed individual job rotation” but a shorthand version of that list includes:

  • The length of the project (short-term duration).
  • The quality of the coworkers that you will work with.
  • The amount of flexibility or input that the person accepting the assignment will have.
  • The skills to be learned, especially if they are leadership, organizational, or people-managerial skills or skills that make an individual more promotable.
  • The high-level contacts the individual will make.
  • Whether new technologies or tools will be used.
  • The visibility of the assignment in the organization.
  • The impact the assignment will have on the business.

Remind managers about “always impactful” rotations — the rotation program manager should provide managers with a list of typical “always impactful” job rotations. Some of these “can’t miss” rotations include:

  • Rotating overhead professionals into line functions to improve understanding and cooperation.
  • Rotating technical professionals into HR in order to develop their understanding of people-management issues and people skills.
  • Rotating individuals between highly interdependent business functions in order to improve communications, cooperation, and understanding.
  • Rotating tactical employees into strategic planning and forecasting functions in order to improve their “big picture” vision.

Rotation development workshops — the rotation manager should design and periodically offer both face-to-face and web-based workshops in order to provide managers with help in identifying potential rotations and stretch assignments.

Category IV — Other Miscellaneous Ideas

Internal competitions — the manager of job rotations should consider setting up an internal competition to generate new projects and assignments from all of your managers, with recognition for those departments that develop the best quality and the most rotations for development. Periodically posting the success record of each manager and department might help spur their collective competitive juices.

Focus on growth departments — because departments undergoing rapid growth are the most likely to have a significant need for project help, the rotation program manager should target these departments for developing new assignments.

Rewards — one of the most effective ways of increasing the number of rotations is recognizing and rewarding managers for identifying and developing high-quality rotations and stretch assignments for employees outside of their team. Identifying and developing assignments could also be made a key bonus or promotion criteria. Quotas for each manager could be set in order to encourage them to identify and develop a targeted number of assignments and rotations each quarter.

Final Thoughts 
Throughout this series of articles, I’ve attempted to highlight some of the best and emerging practices in internal movement. In a time where most companies are focusing on “building talent” rather than “buying it,” it is important that those in talent management shift their focus towards efforts that positively impact redeployment, development, and retention. “On-the-job training” has been and always will be the most effective tool for both exciting and developing workers. Now is an ideal time to revisit and update your program for creating and filling development assignments, stretch assignments, and job rotations.

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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