All the right moves

In a globalised world facing non-stop change, job rotations are a potent way for a company’s future leaders to show off and develop their agility.
By: | June 28, 2018


The importance of agility in business is hardly a new concept, but it is one that has become increasingly important in the constantly-shifting landscape most organisations are now experiencing.

Agility is not a skill that can be taught through a workshop or virtual training programme. It can, however, be groomed through first-hand experience. And many companies are finding that, by forcing disruption into their very structure, they can filter out and nurture future leaders who have the willingness and disposition to adapt.

“Here at Shell, we do not think of jobs in the traditional sense of the word.  Rather, we like to think of them as assignments.  There is of course a minimum amount of time we like for someone to be in the job and for this, we have a concept of a ‘window’ built in our HR systems which indicates the employee’s earliest availability to explore other jobs within Shell as agreed with their supervisor.  This is one of the mechanisms that Shell has put in place to encourage progression and learning agility across the organisation,” says Eric Yim, Global Head of Learning and Organisational Development at Shell.

The HR systems allow prospective managers to review a potential readership talent: their development goals, performance metrics, and existing manager feedback, all before arranging their own interview.

Presumably, the performance metric across different functions paints a picture of a person’s leadership potential – if they score well across different functions, it becomes clear that they are not only highly-talented but also very agile, and to consider as a high-potential for leadership development.


On-the-job training

Lisa Low, Regional Talent Management Director, Asia at the Carlsberg Group, notes that leadership development managers need to focus more on helping individual contributors transition into leadership roles. This could, for instance, be by giving them a range of functional or management experiences, whether locally or abroad.

“On-the-job development opportunities expose employees to a different way of doing things,” she says. “They make a person more adaptable and prepared to change, because they experience first-hand that things aren’t always going to be the way they expect or are used to.”

She explains that the multinational beer giant has always followed a 70/20/10 approach to learning and development, where each segment breaks down to on-the-job training; coaching and mentoring; and formal training, respectively. After all, the most important part of a training programme is, arguably, when the trainee goes back to the workplace and turns what they have learned into practical reality.

The 70% component is partly comprised of overseas assignments, both long and short.

“These could be outcomes of our talent review sessions, or our development centres for high-potentials,” says Low. “I frequently get requests from colleagues in other countries: ‘We’ve created a short-term assignment role and are looking for people with this set of competencies to come over and work for a period of time and exchange knowledge and skills’.”

In particular, for leadership positions such as country directors, Carlsberg expects candidates to showcase experience from a range of markets.

“We send talent to go do a functional or management role elsewhere, maybe a smaller market, so that they are exposed to different setups within or outside the region. It’s very valuable and can’t be gained from attending a leadership programme,” says Low.


Developing globally-minded leaders

At the recent opening of Schneider Electric S$23 million Asian hub, the company’s president of East Asia and

Japan, Tommy Leong, announced the establishment of the Energy Generation Programme. This is a new management trainee course for fresh graduates, to be run in partnership with Singapore’s Economic Development Board.

“We strongly believe that to develop the leaders of the future, it is not just about working in one country; it is about having an international perspective, orientation and exposure to other cultures,” he told local media. The company plans to hire local Singaporeans, and send them on one- to two-year stints in important international markets.

For Panasonic in Singapore, adding an overseas flavour to rotations is a way of a grooming a globally-competitive workforce.

“In Asia-Pacific, promising talents are assigned to take up roles in regional offices for frontline experience in various functional roles. These roles range from manufacturing to sales and support functions, such as procurement and IT. These assignments last between one and two years,” says Loh Kwok Cheong, General Manager of Corporate HR at Panasonic Asia-Pacific.

“These programmes not only develop and nurture our people for key roles, but also optimise their potential and skillsets as well,” he adds.

“Upon successful completion of their training stint and job attachments, these high potentials will return to their home countries to assume leadership positions.  They are also expected to take part in knowledge transfer, impart skills, and groom the next level of high potentials who will one day succeed them.”

High potential candidates are also seconded to Pansonic’s headquarters in Japan, so that they can develop new skills and acquire more knowledge.


Stepping stones

Of course, secondment initiatives alone can only do so much.

“Employees themselves have to have that agility mindset,” says Low. “They need to have that motivation to take on that 12-month assignment in Europe, even if it means making a few sacrifices.”

Ultimately, leadership development functions need to be conscious that they can only provide tools and opportunities – but these will be meaningless unless mechanisms are in place to identify the right kind of talent, and the structure is in place to empower employees to take charge of their own development.

As Low says, “[employees] can’t be sitting there, expecting employers to take care of them. We always stress that employees own their own career development. You need to have the will because no one else can give that to you.”