We’ve all heard of various ‘job rotation’ programs meant to expose employees to different skill sets in various parts of the company. These programs can be useful when implemented correctly, and help to give employees a more holistic perspective of the organization and their place within it. However, where dramatic change is desired in cultural alignment, communications, and identifying employee capabilities vs. activities they fall short.
The Radical Rotation Challenge which we’ll get into describing briefly, is one in which admittedly few organizations are willing to take on. The stated excuses for not doing so are typically based in logistical arguments. The reality on the other hand lies in psychological and sociological factors. There’s a reason I use the word ‘radical’ in the name, this challenge scares the bejeezus out of some managers.
The Radical Rotation Challenge
So what is this ‘Radical Rotation Challenge’? It’s simple really. In a hierarchical organization every manager at the Director level and above must swap roles with a different employee beneath them in the hierarchy for 3 days…every single month.
There are a myriad of rules and caveats that I won’t go into here that range from mitigating privacy (employee records) to overturning apple carts (decision making boundaries) but that’s also an important part of the process.
Let’s examine just a few reasons why an organization would undertake such a challenge.
- The number one reason people leave your organization is not the organization itself, but is instead due to their direct manager. Sometimes that’s because it’s simply a bad manager, often it’s because the managers decision making processes are not transparent enough to be understood. In either case, the employee gets access to ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ and feel that they are given access to the layer above their direct manager to ‘show their stuff’. You can have the best culture in the world and still lose your best talent because of a disconnect with a manager.
- Generally, a leader has grown into their position because they were exceptionally good at the tasks required of them at a lower level. At a minimum they have a much broader view of ‘why things work the way they do’. By periodically shifting that manager down a level it gives them an opportunity to not only understand the day to day challenges of their direct reports much better, and build rapport, but to also remove some of the barriers that they alone have the power to recognize and mitigate during their stint and improve upon the existing processes.
- During these ‘rotation’ periods it’s much easier to identify capabilities above and beyond an employees existing role and see who can be groomed for increasing responsibilities.
- Perhaps most importantly an organic alignment of communication and culture is created. The vision and values of the organization that typically lose context and become disconnected as they trickle down through the various layers of an organization are quickly brought back into sync. (over and over again our culture assessments show the disconnect between how the executive tier views the organization and how the lower ranks view it). It’s like the different between playing the ‘telephone game’ as a child, the disconnects are removed once you allow the participants to speak out loud.
- The effectiveness of management increases dramatically and turnover decreases. If you know that your own manager will be sitting in your seat (and vice versa) you pay very close attention to not only how well you do your job, but to how your direct reports *perceive* you. It’s impossible to hide your employees contributions from your superiors.
- The notion of what it means to be ‘indispensable’ changes. Being indispensable is often translated into ‘hoarding knowledge’ instead of being a ‘problem solver’ or some other capability trait. The former is a very dangerous thing both for the organization itself and for its culture.
- The new generation of workforce, millennials in particular (your future leaders), have unique values from their predecessors. They value having a voice over compensation. They understand collaboration, co-creation, and information sharing in a way their predecessors do not. They have little patience for isolated silos and politics without purpose. Rotating these views into positions where they can be heard and seen adds value to the organization, not just to the employee.
I could go on, but you begin to see the point. Network theory, dynamic network analysis, sociology, and psychology all point to this being one of the quickest ways to transform an organization, both from a process and culture perspective, and inject it with energy.
Yes, there are some logistical issues and boundary setting to be done to make this a reality. But the real barrier is fear. Entrenched political systems, the very ones that would benefit the most, are terrified of this model (thus the reason we use the word ‘challenge’).
Do You Have What It Takes?
Some progressive managers with a lot of self-confidence will take it on in isolation, and to those people we salute you. You’re breaking ground and giving the rest of the organization an example to look to. But if you want to impact the entire organization it really needs to be mandated from the top down.
The question is, are you one of the few who has the courage? If so, we’d love to talk to you.
Matt Ridings - @techguerilla
p.s. – While the benefits may seem self-evident, we do have the means of measuring the impact it has on a culture and its alignment (and impact on business objectives) in both quantitative and qualitative terms.