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Rotation Matching & Design: An Art and Science in Leadership Development Programs 

Rotation Matching & Design: An Art and Science in Leadership Development Programs 

By Hae-Song Jung

Proper rotation matching and design in your leadership development program means giving your high potential talent critical exposure to diverse parts of your business, leadership, and culture. The hope here is that these rotations will enable your early talent to build the competencies, experiences, and networks they need to become future leaders. 

Rotation programs can come in all shapes and sizes, depending on critical business needs and talent pipeline requirements. And perhaps because there is no singular “right answer” for what a rotation program should look like, how to design and deliver the best rotational opportunities – ones that will transform high-potential early talent into future leaders – is a constant question we ask ourselves. 

In this article, we explore some best practices to help answer two major questions: 1) how to find and design high-quality rotation assignments, and 2) how to match a program associate to the “right” rotation assignment. 

Finding and designing high-quality rotations

Regardless of your industry and organization, this much is true: there is always work to be done. This means that the potential number of projects and teams that a leadership development program associate could join for a rotation is quite high.

When you begin your initial sourcing for potential rotation assignments across the business, you may easily find that the potential rotations far outnumber the actual program associates you have.  As you begin to hone these “potential opportunities” into actual rotation projects, keep these strategies in mind.  

Clearly define and align on the project scope

When you start sourcing rotations across your organization, you may receive several projects that seem like great talent development opportunities at first glance: business-critical projects with plenty of exposure to great work and senior leadership. However, project scope and timeline can often derail initial enthusiasm.

Most rotations are designed to be less than a year long: can the program associate realistically gain the key competencies, achieve critical project deliverables, and perform up to expectations within such a tight timeframe? Although every rotation should ideally be a “stretch” opportunity for the program associate, it’s just as important to set the associate up for success. Involving the manager, business leadership, and other stakeholders in clearly defining project scope, timeline, and expectations can go a long way in creating rotation opportunities that strike the perfect balance of ambitious and achievable for your early career talent.  

Build and maintain clear expectations for the managers

The most pivotal role in your early talent’s day-to-day rotation experience is the manager. Therefore, we can’t overstate the importance of considering the manager’s leadership, experience, and other key traits.  

Niki Parsons, Sr. Human Resources Manager of Medtronic’s MBA Leadership Development Programs, and Javon Rahmann, Early Talent Program Manager at Danaher Corporation share that there are clear manager qualities they look for when finalizing rotations:   

  • People leadership experience 
  • Representation of the company’s values and culture 
  • Ability and bandwidth to not only “manage,” but coach and mentor the program associate by providing ample feedback and opportunity for growth 
  • Clear buy-in into the leadership development program and its contribution to the company talent pipeline. 

A manager who does not possess all 4 traits should not automatically be ruled out from managing a rotation associate. However, in such cases, providing the manager with clear expectations on their responsibilities, ongoing coaching and feedback can pay big dividends. In the long-term, these managers may even grow into the biggest advocates of your organization’s leadership development programs. 

Ensure the rotation project is business critical

All rotation projects should be aligned to your organization’s business priorities and strategies. Not only is this the best usage of your organization’s resources and talent, this is the best way to help your talent understand your industry and business.  

But in cases where several potential rotation projects all seem business critical, how should you make the final edits? This is where the direct perspective and input of the business leaders are the most beneficial. Medtronic, for example, has a leadership development program advisory board with representatives from all business operating units that reviews and prioritizes rotation opportunities.  

Matching rotation associates to the “right” rotation

Once you have your list of business-critical and high-quality rotation projects, how do you match your early career talent with the rotation opportunities?  

Involve your program associates in the decisions

Niki from Medtronic holds discussions with Medtronic’s program associates before the rotation matching process starts to gain a clearer understanding of their desires, goals, and expectations. According to Niki,  “understanding what business areas they’re interested in, what skills they want to build, and what limitations they have (e.g., geography) help us make ‘easy’ matches. This allows us to partner with our business leaders to complete the ‘harder’ matches and addressing key talent challenges.”  

Getting a clear sense of your high potential talent’s preferences also has longer-term pay-offs: Javon from Danaher shares that “getting associates’ input helps us devise strong placements for them after they graduate from the program,” which can positively impact talent retention. 

Remember that rotation matching is just the beginning

You may match the rotation program associate to the “perfect” rotation project… but remember that circumstances and projects can and will change. The pandemic is a great example of just how much life and work can transform. Having a consistent and regular process of checking in on your program associates and their managers is crucial to maintaining successful rotation experiences. Has the project scope changed so drastically that your program associate can no longer perform? Does the manager no longer have the bandwidth to give your associate the coaching that they need? Keeping your finger on the pulse helps you proactively prevent rotation matches from becoming huge mismatches and potential talent risks.  

Again, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to designing and delivering best-in-class rotations.  And the conversion on proper rotation matching continues. To learn more about all the best practices that are used by fellow LDP professionals and practitioners, attend our virtual LDP Summit

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