Have you noticed that, in many companies, employees often have no clue what many of the other employees in other functions do to support the overall organization? When you look at how companies typically onboard new employees and the lack of follow-up employee development training, it’s not at all surprising that so many employees struggle with not fully understanding what their colleagues do and how their companies operate.
As a result, these employees, their teams, and leaders unintentionally and detrimentally create and maintain silos, often pitting one or several functions against each other. For example, in one organization, corporate staff and sales staff do not know what it is that each of the respective functions do to support the overall firm. Each group, failing to grasp how interconnected and interdependent they are to one another and the overall organization, operates and wages a daily battle of “us vs. them.” Sadly, they undermine not only their “opponent” but also their own efforts to help themselves and the larger organization.
To improve job learning and experience, why not include a “mini” job rotation as part of a 2-week new employee orientation*?
*NOTE: The new employee orientation must be part of a larger, well-designed onboarding program (Allen, 2020). Good onboarding begins before a person reports for the first day of work and extends to the end of the new employee’s first year (Workforce, 2011).
In a job rotation, an employee (spending anywhere from several weeks to several months) rotates and does different jobs within an organization to increase their breadth of knowledge (Aamodt, 2016; Riggio, 2018). Of course, my recommendation of a “mini” job rotation during the new employee orientation means a much shorter time period.
Companies can pilot a 5-day job rotation (part of a 2-week new employee orientation) in which new employees will rotate into, learn as much about, and practice doing only the most critical jobs/functions that enable the company to operate (e.g., critical roles within Finance, Operations, Human Resources, Sales/Business Development, and Customer Service).
Here’s one example of a 5-day job rotation integrated into a 2-week new employee orientation:
New Employee Orientation – Week 1:
- 1-day new employee orientation (company history, mission, culture & stories, organizational structure & functions, benefits, payroll, company policies, employee ID, tour of workplace, introducing new employees to senior corporate and team leaders, etc.)
- 3-day job rotation for Wk. 1 (one day in Finance, one day in Operations, one day in Human Resources)
- 1-day debrief for Wk. 1 (Q&A); Preparation for Capstone Project Presentations*
New Employee Orientation – Week 2:
- 2-day job rotation for Wk. 2 (one day in Sales/Business Development, one day in Customer Service)
- 1-day debrief for Wk. 2 (Q&A); Overall Wk. 1 & 2 debrief; Preparation for Capstone Project Presentations*
- 1-day Capstone Project Presentations*
- 1-day New employee orientation wrap-up
*NOTE: This recommendation to do a Capstone Project Presentation is based on advice from Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004) regarding using projects to help ensure new hires grasp the contributions that different functions make within the organization. To demonstrate their understanding of the contributions that different functions make, small teams of 3-4 new hires will do a Capstone Project Presentation. The Capstone Project Presentations will require new hires to work in small teams (of 3-4 people) to learn about the work and contributions of the most critical functions and apply that knowledge to resolve a real-life situation that the organization is facing].
“The basic premise behind job rotation is to expose workers to as many areas of the organization as possible so they can gain a good knowledge of its workings and how the various jobs and departments fit together” (Riggio, 2018, p. 195).
“Job rotation is especially popular for managerial training because it allows a manager trainee to experience and understand most, if not all, of the jobs within the organization that his subordinates will perform” (Aamodt, 2016, p. 305).
What many companies so often forget is this: “Job rotation is also commonly used to train nonmanagerial employees. Aside from increasing employee awareness, the main advantage of job rotation is that it allows for both lateral transfers within an organization and greater flexibility in replacing absent workers” (Aamodt, 2016, p. 305). Thus, if one employee suddenly quits or is absent, another person will have already been trained (also known as “cross-training”) to step in to perform the job (Riggio, 2018).
To help employees satisfy their need for growth and challenge, one of the easiest and most common things organizations can do is provide job rotations (Aamodt, 2016). “Research has shown that job rotation not only increases learning, but it also has positive effects on employees’ career progression and development” (Riggio, 2018, p. 195). Another benefit of job rotation is that it can “alleviate the monotony and boredom associated with performing the same work, day in and day out” (Riggio, 2018, p. 267).
Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004) cautioned that if the goal is to introduce employees to on-the job knowledge, targeted training (i.e. training as a student) is more effective than job rotations. And, “If the goal is really to understand the contributions that different functions make, then projects are far and away the most powerful source of how those skills are applied to real-life situations” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 329-330).
In addition, rather than simply offering a traditional orientation that highlights only job requirements and information about the company or one that’s focused solely on the elements of the organization that foster pride, orientation that is focused on new employees’ personal strengths and how they can bring them to their work results in lower turnover and greater customer satisfaction (Levy, 2017). Obviously, this approach requires not only time and effort, but also dedicated staff, cost, and resources devoted to ensuring that the employee orientation experience (part of a larger onboarding program) and “mini” job rotation are well-designed and implemented (e.g., having a mentor, internal trainer, or supervisor/trainer at each step of the job rotation plan [Heathfield, 2019]).
It’s important to note that, while there are many great benefits to having a job rotation, there are also some things to consider. According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article: “Job rotation may increase the workload and decrease productivity for the rotating employee and for other employees who must take up the slack. This may result in a disruption of work flow and a focus by line managers on short-term solutions to correct these problems” (SHRM, 2020). Another factor to consider is cost — “costs associated with the learning curve on new jobs, including time spent learning, training costs and errors that employees often make while learning a new job” (Campion, 1996).
So, with these cautions in mind, let’s return to job rotation benefits. Researchers have discovered that “people who are starting out in their careers typically are more eager to demonstrate their willingness to learn, to advance and to take on increasing responsibilities to enhance their skill development. And, overall, they have more to learn and benefit more from rotation experiences” (Campion, 1996). Thus, it makes sense to incorporate a “mini” job rotation into the employee orientation period.
Takeaway: If planned well and done correctly, a “mini” job rotation (during the new employee orientation) can result in tremendous benefits for the new employees, for the teams and departments they are joining, and for the larger organization. This includes exposure to different business areas [for the individual, team, and organization]; fresh perspectives to existing roles [for the team(s), department(s), and organization]; acceleration of professional development [for the individual, team, and organization]; enhancement to recruiting and retention [for the team and organization]; and career satisfaction, involvement and motivation in one’s career [for the individual].
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant
Aamodt, M. G. (2016). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Allen, T. (2020, April 2). The Key Difference Between Employee Onboarding and Orientation. Retrieved from https://trainingindustry.com/articles/onboarding/the-key-difference-between-employee-onboarding-and-orientation
Campion, L. (1996, November 1). Study Clarifies Job-rotation Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.workforce.com/news/study-clarifies-job-rotation-benefits
Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Lominger Limited.
Heathfield, S. M. (2019, June 5). 6 Keys to Successful Job Rotation. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/keys-to-successful-job-rotation-1918167
Levy, P. E. (2017). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (5th ed.). Worth Publishers.
Riggio, R. E. (2018). Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology (7th ed.). Routledge.
Robert Half. (2016, May 27). Job Rotation for Your Staff: Why Letting Go Could Mean Holding On. Retrieved from https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/management-tips/job-rotation-for-your-staff-why-letting-go-could-mean-holding-on
SHRM [Society for Human Resource Management] (2020). How do I implement a job rotation program in my company? Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/whatisjobrotation.aspx
Workforce. (2011, September 7). Dear Workforce Who Has a Good Blueprint for Creating an Onboarding Program? Retrieved from https://www.workforce.com/news/dear-workforce-who-has-a-good-blueprint-for-creating-an-onboarding-program