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What Is a Rotational Program?
Rotational programs are company-organized initiatives wherein participating employees “rotate” through different aspects of the business for specific periods of time. They allow new or existing employees to get experience in a variety of business functions by holding real, temporary positions and responsibilities in different departments. The programs serve as opportunities for employees to learn more about the business, develop a wider business perspective, and develop their skills by experiencing different job duties.
Rotations can be across major departments (from sales to HR) or across teams within the same department (from accounting to finance), depending on the organization of the business and the goals of the rotational program. Multiple rotational programs can exist within one company for each major department, allowing employees to explore and experience each aspect of particular business functions.
Rotational durations also vary. Some rotations can last a few weeks, while more in-depth rotations can be as long as 18 months. The length of the rotation mostly depends on how many rotations exist within a single program. It could be a two-year program consisting of four rotations, or a three-month program consisting of two rotations.
Employers must think strategically when deciding which teams and employees will rotate, the types of projects and responsibilities employees will hold in each rotation, the duration of each rotation, and the number of rotations in the program. To make these decisions, the overall goals of the rotational program must be clearly defined.
Rotational programs can be built for new and/or existing employees. To attract new workers looking to get more experience in a specific field, you could build a rotational program with projects that introduce business functions. If you want to give your existing employees the opportunity to explore different jobs, create an interdepartmental rotational program that they can use to learn more about their strengths and interests. Rotational programs increase your employee value proposition when they provide workers opportunities they’re interested in.
What Are the Benefits of a Job Rotation Program?
Rotational programs are built to provide more value for employees, but this in turn benefits the organization.
Advantages for the Employee
Here are the primary benefits rotational programs offer employees.
- Exploration. Rotational programs give employees opportunities to explore their passions, interests, and skills, and create new relationships. Employees who can try positions that match their interests will experience motivation and excitement.
- Growth. Employees can capitalize on rotational programs to grow in their careers. A variety of experiences in different departments, or more in-depth experience in a single business function, increases their capabilities as an employee and value to the company, and therefore their opportunities for promotion.
- Business knowledge. Employees working through a series of rotations gain knowledge about your specific business industry and its operations. These new perspectives help them perform better in their current job, as well as broaden their outlook of where they could eventually go.
Advantages for the Employer
Here are some of the benefits of rotational programs for employers.
- Retention. Rotational programs add a lot of value to the employee experience. When employees are leaving to find growth and learning opportunities elsewhere, the consequences are costly for the employer. And when employees are enjoying their experience working for a company, they’re a lot less likely to leave.
- Talent development. Creating a rotational program is an investment in your employee’s learning and development. This in turn increases your employees’ capabilities to perform better and provide more value to the business.
- Attract more talent. The value of rotational programs doesn’t stop at your current workforce. Your company is more attractive to prospective employees when they see the learning and growth opportunities that your rotational program provides.
How Do I Set Up a Rotational Program?
Step 1: Define Your Goals
Why do you want to run a rotational program? Which of the above benefits are you most interested in? How will a rotational program help your business strategy? Write down what the end goals of the rotational program, how you will measure them, and how you expect it to help the business.
Step 2: Outline the Structure
Determine where the rotations will be, the timeline of the program (some rotational programs for recent graduates line up with college semesters), the type of work to be done in each rotation, and the number and length of rotations. Each of these decisions should be made as strategies to fulfill the goals you’ve set. Collaborate with department heads to determine what the rotation will consist of, how employees in the rotational program can benefit each team they’re a part of, and how workloads will be impacted.
You should also create an application and acceptance process. Many rotational programs have processes similar to hiring new staff, where employees or non-employees apply and are screened and interviewed. Others are more casual.
Step 3: Run a Pilot Program
It can be a good idea to start by putting just a few employees through your new program and see how it goes. Interview the program participants as well as their supervisors and coworkers to see what’s working well and what could improve. After the pilot program is completed, make adjustments as necessary and then officially start offering the program.
Step 4: Implement and Advertise
When you’re ready to get started, make sure you communicate it well both inside and outside of the office. Consider advertising online with job postings and a page on your company career site. Share information to prospective participants within the company in meetings, memos, and other channels. You don’t want a valuable, extensive program such as this to be hidden from people who may be interested in it.
Step 5: Evaluate and Adjust
Make sure you regularly assess the program. Determine factors or metrics to analyze to see how well you’re accomplishing your goals. Collect feedback from program participants as well as the people they work with. As you evaluate how well your goals are being accomplished, make changes and adapt to improve the program and the value it offers to employees.
Common Issues to Avoid When Setting Up a Rotational Program
Don’t Copy Another Company’s Rotational Program
Rotational programs are strong ways of competing for talent. The strongest rotational programs compliment business and HR strategies. A rotational program will stick out like a sore thumb if it’s not built towards the goals and values of your business. You can learn from other businesses’ programs, but you want one that’s unique to your business to ensure it meshes perfectly with no sore spots.
Make Sure You Collaborate with Department Heads
If your program has rotations through multiple departments under different leadership, it’s critical everyone is on board and on the same page. Work closely with leaders from other groups to ensure each rotation has meaningful projects for program participants. You don’t want a participating employee to enter a new rotation working under a manager who doesn’t have anything for them to do!
Continually Evaluate and Adjust
The best rotational programs you hear about didn’t start that way. Applying feedback, tracking metrics, and assessing how goals are met are all critical evaluation practices that result in the best employee experiences. Once you finish all the design and implementation work, it may be tempting to take a break and let the program run on its own, but no rotational program is perfect, and there will always be areas to improve.
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Brandon is currently a People & Capabilities Advisor at Thiess where he helps implement HR strategies in Salt Lake City and Colorado. He recently graduated with his MHR and MBA at Utah State University, where he also received his bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies with minors in HR, business management, and technical sales management. He has filled professional roles as an HR business partner, an HR generalist, and a senior recruiter; and has exceptional experience in people analytics, compensation, and talent development. Brandon is a strong advocate for HR strategy and helping business leaders understand the true power of maximizing employee potential.
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