Swapping roles between business and IT

A bit of job-changing can go a long way, CIOs say

Job rotation schemes are quite rare, according to researchers, but companies that use them believe the benefits are invaluable.

A staffing survey by CIO in the US found just 11% of respondents ran job rotation programmes, while a Forrester Research study found that 22% of organisations rotated staff within their IT organisations and only 12% of CIOs rotated their IT staff to the business side of the company. Just 7% rotated staff from the business side of the company into the IT organisation.

Forrester analyst Samuel Bright told Tech Target’s ShamusMcGillicuddy that rotating IT employees (particularly entry level staff) into different roles in the organisation helped broaden their skill sets.

“It also gives the organisation more flexibility with well-rounded employees who can fill different roles as demand arises.”

Bright told McGillicuddy that job rotation programmes can be an important tool for IT talent retention, particularly in times of skills shortages.

The reason for the rarity of such schemes, according to McGillicuddy, is that senior IT leaders don’t have time to think about such things. Talent management issues often don’t become priorities until they begin to influence performance.

“Hardware, software and demands from the business are top of mind so often. It has to be part of a larger talent management strategy,” he says.

Bright told McGillicuddy that rotating IT employees temporarily into business operations is valuable because it refreshes their knowledge of how the business operates.

“Those employees then bring that perspective back into IT, encouraging better relationships between the IT organisation and the business.”

One CIO quoted says job rotation requires a commitment at the top level.

“It can demand resources, even shifting IT employees from job to job within an organisation.”

The costs involved include not only those associated with bringing the rotated employee up to speed in the new position, but also those of filling the employee’s old position.

Writing on CIO magazine's website, Stephanie Overby quotes a CIO, Tim Stanley, whose organisation rotates about 20% of his staff each year into different roles in the department or even the wider business and sometimes does this during a project.

Stanley also recruits IT-savvy people from other parts of the business, and perhaps surprisingly, managers in other parts of the business do not get upset.

“Marketing and operations pilfered from us for years because IT folks have functional knowledge and orientation in logic,” he says.

He makes IT attractive to the business people by talking to them about them driving change — and it doesn’t mean they can’t return to the business side at a later time.

“The broader exposure makes it easier for employees to see how IT and the business fit together.”

Another CIO interviewed by Overby, Diane Wallace — CIO for the state of Connecticut — says short-term job swapping works very well.

In one organisation she had the IT and business manager on a project switch roles for three months

This worked well and helped IT identify people from the business who they eventually brought into IT.

Writing on his blog, Christopher Koch says empathy comes from “standing in someone else’s shoes — really standing in them, not simply describing what the shoes look like.”

He says the best companies have job rotation programmes and the IT people who have spent time with the business can be very effective.

“And business people who have served a stint in IT can be the most reliable advocates for IT with their business colleagues — if they actually got their hands dirty while they were there, rather than simply acting as management figureheads for visiting the wrath of the business upon an ‘underperforming’ IT group.”

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