In Big, the hit movie from the late 1980s, star Tom Hanks rises from a clerk in data processing—that’s what technology was called back then—to become vice president of product development for a toy company. That quantum leap in status and pay took him all of a week to pull off. Some would-be fast-trackers might call that the ideal job rotation.
Some companies have always encouraged ambitious employees to rotate out of their discipline—technology, finance, marketing, operations, etc.—and into a different department, often one in which they’d have to push themselves to succeed.
The rationale is simple: By seeing how other areas of the company operate—getting the proverbial big picture—an employee becomes more valuable, and the organization as a whole gains. Six to 18 months in a new assignment arms an employee with additional knowledge and layers of skills.
For example, CIOs and other technology leaders who can fine-tune the operations of a line of business are a tremendous asset in directing long-term operational strategy, regardless of whether or not that strategy is technology-oriented. That type of experience should provide leadership for a technology manager or director to rotate as well.
Those who gain experience in different areas of business can be much more adept project managers—an in-demand job that takes a combination of business acumen, managerial skills and technical know-how. Professionals who have gone through a rotation can make better business decisions, based on helping the company reach its overarching goals, not just its departmental ones.
Equally important, they’ll be networked with other employees and executives, which in many companies is the key to getting things done. So job rotation is—or at least it can be—a win-win for both technology and line-of-business leaders.
The trouble is that formal job-rotation programs are uncommon, if not outright rare. That’s particularly unfortunate because, in this economic environment, senior technology professionals are eager to boost their value to their employer, and IT organizations are under pressure to provide business leadership.
It’s clearly time for a change. So senior technology professionals, from managers on up, must push their companies to embrace job rotation.
If your company does not offer a rotation program, start one in your own IT organization, where the business case is easiest to make. A manager or director moving from, say, software development to network architecture will be more rounded professionally, and the cross-pollination of professionals and ideas will foster better communication within the organization. The rotation can be short-term, say, three to six months, or it can last a year.
The next step on the rotation ladder is to move into a business unit for an extended period. Some CIOs have gotten their top spots after working as CFOs or COOs (and vice versa), and that broadening of skills and knowledge makes sense for tech managers and directors as well. This is particularly true now, when senior technology professionals are increasingly expected to bring to the table the same level of business analysis, planning capability and people-management skills as their peers in finance, operations and marketing.
In an organization with-out a formal rotation program, a top tech professional who wants to move into product development or finance may, as a pioneer, have to clear several hurdles. Not the least of these obstacles is making the head of the business unit understand the value this person (as opposed to someone homegrown in the department) would bring to a crucial role.
Looking broadly at the demonstrable skills a tech professional has, I’d list the ability to analyze complex situations and information, create clear plans to get from point A to point D, and organize resources in support of that goal. There are more, of course, but that set of abilities alone should be valuable to anyone elsewhere in an organization.
So start the push for rotation, but expect some roadblocks, especially if you’re setting a precedent. Always keep your eye on the prize. One way that technology professionals at all levels become more valuable—and IT organizations as a whole get stronger—is to maintain technology proficiency while building business know-how. That’s the real payoff of rotation.
Tom Silver is senior vice president, North America, of Dice holdings Inc., a provider of career Websites. With more than 20 years of marketing and management experience, Silver is responsible for overseeing Dice Holdings’ North American brands, including Dice, ClearanceJobs, AllHealthcareJobs and the eFinancialCareers operations in the region.