Imagine travelling to different regions of the world, and fulfilling your career ambitions at the same time. And to top it off, doing it while on a full-time payroll.

It is possible, with the Rotational Leadership Programmes (RLPs), which is used to enhance and groom top talent in corporations.

Originally designed by a number of large corporations to give their engineers an edge, RLPs are now found in all areas of business from IT to finance. In the 2010 Global Leadership Research Project, the survey results suggested that job rotation may be invaluable to understand the business. The main “leader failure” cause was reported as “failure to adapt to the culture”. Seventy per cent of human resource executives surveyed planned the rotation of potential talent with key individuals in their corporation.

While it is costly to spend such amounts on one single employee — a working paper from Cornell University’s Centre for Advanced Human Resource Studies estimates it costs up to $125,000 a year — there are still many intrinsic reasons for companies to engage in RLPs.

Snowballing of competencies

Famous English biologist Thomas Hurley said: “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” With the RLPs, employees are sequentially exposed to multiple dimensions of the company. As their experience snowballs, they will be expected to develop depth in certain specialisations, yet be able to integrate the breadth of cross-functional skills — be it learning how marketing can influence product design or whether financial controls can stimulate operational efficiency — to consistently perform at their peak.

Adapting to diversity

Besides challenging employees with different roles and responsibilities, RLPs also challenge them to survive the differing cultures of the company. Diversity could range from working styles, to racial overtones, to even non-verbal communication patterns. To succeed, the rotated employee must understand, appreciate and manage cultural diversity while guarding the overall corporate culture and values. Those who can interpret and thrive in such diverse circumstances make good potentials for top positions within the company.

Connecting the dots

Ultimately, by combining the exposure to the company’s various cultures and operations across most, if not all, of its offices, the rotated employees are in a better position to formulate more effective strategic plans at higher management level, simply because they are armed with real in-depth knowledge of the company, and they can make measured and effective management changes.

Expanding the reach

A research article in the Journal Of Management Development stated that “opportunities for participants to establish a network of important company contacts” were one of the top three factors related to development effectiveness. RLPs provide an array of chances — from official meetings to informal mentoring sessions — for employees to interact with current top management across the company’s offices. Networking expansion comes with interactions with clients and associates while posted to each office.

Yet RLPs are not just about employee development. There are some compelling reasons for top management to embrace and support the implementation of RLPs within their company.

Next in line

Says Mr Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines Company: “Succession planning has been a major priority at Southwest for quite some time.” Ask any top management, and one can be sure succession planning is a key issue they grapple with. This is where RLPs allow corporations to rapidly train and expose employees to the various operations of the company, nurturing them to rise through the ranks quickly and efficiently.

Ears on the ground

While top management coach and transfer their experience to employees undergoing RLPs, these regular interactions also feed top management with ready and real ground information about the company’s operations across all its offices. This gives top management valuable insights to steer the company much more effectively.

While the individual enjoys a mix of corporate experience and personal excitement, the benefits to corporations who embrace RLPs are also evident. Should corporations wish to attract top talent and nurture their future leaders, RLPs will rise up to the task.

Next: How an individual can thrive while being rotated