Rotation Policies - Training and Development

"We have two kinds of people on our training staff," said the training manager sadly. "Promo table young people and the professionals.". That's rather common. The instructor position is often used as an educational experience for employees who are "going someplace" in the management of the organization. These "promo tables" rotate through a year or two in the T&D department. There's much to be said for such a system. T&D experience, early in the rotation program,gives high-potential employees a wide and steadily growing perspective of the entire organization: T&D offers great opportunities to work with lots of people from lots of departments and with people who have sharply differing motivations, needs, viewpoints, and value systems. Furthermore, if the assignment in T&D includes instruction, design, consultation, and administration, the "cadets" gain experience in sharply contrasted skills.

Then why would that training manager feel such sadness when commenting on the promotable young people and the "professionals"? Let's listen a bit more:"It's policy around here to keep people in training three years, then to move them on to higher jobs in management. But some of our people have been here for ten or twelve years! They just don't seem to make it." And that's what's to be said against the system of "rotating through"T&D as an education for major management assignments. Not everybody"makes it"—and unfortunately the ones who don't make it usually become the "professionals." It's a quintessential expression of George Bernard Shaw's acidic comment, "Those who can, do; those who can't,teach." Only in T&D, those who can't teach keep on doing so. Then as balm to the organizational conscience, they are informally referred to as"the professionals." The fact is that they are often lousy instructors who continue to inflict their amateur incompetence on helpless learners! All apart from the organizational awkwardness such failures represent, there is the considerable pain for the individuals and T&D managers on whose"island" they tend to get stranded. Further conversation with the training manager we've been quoting revealed yet another dimension to the tragedy:"In fact I was supposed to rotate out of here myself. They brought me inhere, and I didn't know anything about training. My three years were up last August—but I see no sign of getting out!"

This is a real situation—and not an unusual one. What does it teach us?

That rotation through T&D assignments can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon how we manage such a system. If we use T&D as a springboard to other management assignments, we need to take certain precautions:

  1. The selection process needs to be precise, uncovering skills which will indicate probable success as a T&D specialist. Seat-of-the-pants hunches that prospective T&D staff members look bright, or that they "have a knack for training"—these are no longer adequate.
  2. If service in T&D is indeed to provide education for its incumbents, the T&D Manager must establish and maintain precise programs for their continued growth. Normal budget ratios may be inadequate; higher percentages of staff time must be invested in staff training. T&D specialists need the continuous acquisition of new technology in analyzing performance problems, in designing and implementing learning designs, and in general management practices .Remember the shoemaker's children?
    They were barefoot! Thorough plans to put professional shoes on "cadets in the T&D department" are vital. As much as 10 percent of the total work time may go to professional upgrading for new T&D specialists.
  3. Systematic, binding contracts for "reentry" to the line organization need to be executed from the very beginning. The contingencies for successful tours within the T&D department need to be positively rewarding for the"tourists."
  4. "Escape routes" must be established for cadets who perform badly in their early T&D projects. It doesn't follow that these marginal performances should purge such cadets from the "promo tables program"— but it does follow that frank career counseling is in order. (Such escape routes and frank counseling are imperative whenever T&D specialists do badly in early assignments. If coaching cannot correct the problems, then reassignment should be considered a useful action.
    Nothing will be gained for the individual, the T&D department, or the total organization by permissively letting marginal T&D specialists establish reputations as second-raters.)

Many T&D departments regard themselves as professional, career placements. Thus rotation is not an established mechanism, and they have no "launching pad" responsibilities. Yet in actual practice, most departments turn out to have both temporary and permanent T&D specialists on the staff. Effective T&D specialists are attractive (and attracted) to other managerial assignments.

When they make such moves, the T&D manager should analyze the pattern of movement out of the department: Where do these ex-T&D specialists go? Do they go to lateral placements? To demoted positions? To promotions?

Unless the pattern is toward better positions, the T&D department is breeding"shoemakers' children." It is making a lie of the theory that training, education, and development enhances human resources. When placement within the T&D department does not lead to happy external placement, or expanded responsibilities within, the T&D manager needs to get busy with a solid plan for developing the T&D staff. Let's stress one point that might—but shouldn't—get lost in that last paragraph.

Unless the good T&D Specialists assume increasing responsibility within the T&D department,then the good people don't become the "professionals." Even if there is no rotation policy—but particularly when there is such a system—the"old-timers" on the T&D staff should be the most professional as well as the most senior.

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