Job rotation pays dividends

Job rotation program benefits the company and your career

Scott Manuel had a lot to learn when he arrived at Thomson two years ago. After all, the newly minted MBA graduate began his professional career in 2000 with two years at Enron, just at the crescendo of its infamous collapse.

Thomson, the publisher of legal, financial, scientific and healthcare data, is unlike Enron in many critical ways. But like Enron at its height, Thomson is a conglomerate of businesses cobbled together during years of aggressive acquisitions. Finding a comfortable fit within the US$8 billion company wasn't something Manuel would leave to chance.

Manuel joined Thomson through its technology associates program, under which the company recruits MBA graduates with technology backgrounds to do a series of six-month rotations through different Thomson business units before they accept a permanent position. Not only does the program help educate IT recruits about the breadth of Thomson's businesses; it also helps those recruits evaluate different businesses and functions in search of a good fit for their careers.

"What this program allowed me to do is to see three different parts of the business," Manuel says. "Because we have grown through acquisition, and we do have these six strategic business units, there are a lot of different cultures . . . [and] management styles out there."

In January Manuel began a permanent assignment as director of operations at Thomson Healthcare, the division where he began the rotation program in 2005. There he worked on software development and redesign projects that included evaluating third-party business-intelligence tools for integration into the company's MedStat decision-support product. He was one of four to graduate this year from the program, which has expanded steadily since 2003, when it was launched as an offshoot of a successful two-year rotation program for Thomson finance recruits.

Proponents of programs that rotate IT professionals into temporary assignments handling an organization's different technology or business functions say they offer mutual benefits: They significantly boost advancement opportunities for individual employees who participate and gain valuable business acumen, and they provide double-barreled benefits to the companies that implement them: infusing IT departments with stronger understanding of the business challenges of the organization and instilling greater technology savvy throughout the business.

"Part of our value-add in IT is integrating stuff together," says Tim Stanley, CIO of Harrah's Entertainment, which rotates about 20 percent of its nearly 900 IT employees annually, within the IT department and throughout its global casino-gaming business.

Harrah's began its IT job-rotation program about five years ago, initially circulating staff for 18 to 24 months at a time among the IT group responsible for infrastructure and support and the IT group that develops new applications and enhancements. "Part of the goal was to swap people back and forth and have them walk a mile in your shoes," he says. "You worked on three big projects, how go eat your own dog food and support them."

Soon Harrah's began rotating program, project and network managers between the two sides of the IT operation, Stanley says. Then it started rotating IT personnel among its individual properties -- which have dedicated IT departments of 15 to 20 people -- and the central IT operation in Las Vegas.

"We've got some really strong folks who are in regional roles now who have had the walk-a-mile-in-corporate-shoes experience," he says. Now the company is rotating IT staff into business departments throughout the company, including relationship marketing, responsible gaming, customer service and satisfaction, and strategic sourcing. "And conversely we've actually had people migrate from business functions into IT, which has been great," Stanley says.

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