Like me, a number of our mentors have benefited from rotation programmes during their careers i.e. changing roles every few years. And, the main purpose behind these changes is broader development as a professional, including building new skills from fresh experiences. In my own career, I’ve moved roles both within companies and outside, including shifting countries and responsibilities for different experiences, especially as learning something new greatly appeals to me – I find it a fantastic way to ride the learning curve.
Read more on my career experiences (as an example of rotation) in this next article, which concludes with suggestions on how to create your own growth opportunities by rotating during your career. It follows on from the first rotation-themed article which concentrated on the corporate and managerial perspectives.
My own career experiences
As one example of the ideas behind rotation (and the professional development it facilitates), I offer my own summarised career story so far. While reading this, bear in mind that moving from side to side (and sometimes down by some definitions) can be valuable in careers too as it helps us develop different skill sets which can help our employers as well. I was incredibly fortunate to have my professional qualifications paid for by my first employer – a multi-year investment by them which I am very appreciative of. This, their international reach and their standing in my birth country, were some of my reasons for actively choosing to join them. After university and completing my actuarial exams, I started working for them as a specialist individual contributor, working on reporting, valuation, capital, reinsurance etc for their entities across Africa. This company-level role provided a great grounding, and was evidence of the strong foundations their rotation programme was putting in place.
Two years later (while doing my day job as well as studying for my CFA designation), I was prompted by the rotation programme to begin preparing to move to a new area of the business. I considered what opportunities there were, and after a meaningful handover (because moves were staggered over time), I shifted across to develop new products for the division working with institutional clients to give me exposure to employee benefits, pensions and retirement i.e. a shift from insurance to another specialism I had studied. Over time, I built up a new multi-disciplinary team focusing on developing solutions for the broader corporate market (including medical schemes, mining rehabilitation funds and more), shifting up to managing others, managing managers, and managing a small function, and adding client engagement skills over the course of around five years. By then, the team was in a sustainable position, interacting well with other divisions in the business, and delivering successfully – time for my next challenge (after helping source a replacement leader for the team).
By this stage, I wanted to expand my horizons further, and experience different work cultures, so I applied to move internationally and join a new global function consulting to the executive teams of different business units about their strategy, business plans and product ranges. As I officially stepped out of the well-run local rotation programme by transferring internationally, I’m sure they weren’t too happy, but I was continuing my service at Group level. Others I know left the local programme for external international opportunities, demonstrating that the success of a rotation programme depends on what roles are available internally that align with your employees’ ambitions.
While my London role involved consulting to multiple senior executives, it was in effect at individual contributor level again, although I was leading projects which delivered through people in different locations. All this helped to enhance my influencing skills, and also gave me exposure to retail markets (which were new to me at the time) across countries and cultures. The organisation kindly sponsored further development programmes concentrating on business development / distribution and leadership too. I did miss the people development aspects I’d come to love as a manager though, so when the group structure changed, I moved back into a manager of managers role in a local business unit for a year or two, where I restructured some technical teams to improve their balance and performance, giving me exposure to people transformation too.
Once those technical functions were shaped, I handed respective parts over to their new leaders, and moved to build another new function for a wealth management business undergoing significant change, including ultimately listing on the London Stock Exchange. This roughly four-year experience allowed me to again operate internationally, although this time with direct as well as dotted reporting lines from product functions in different countries. I travelled extensively, defined the strategy, and selected and developed people from different disciplines to own the product range for their respective regions, working with their marketing and distribution counterparts. Once again, I was in my element, building and shaping, and developing others as a manager of function across international markets, and engaging with executives and boards about our intentions and progress.
My next role involved my biggest shift yet – after handing over to one of my team who I had been developing over time to take over the function in a sustainable way, I began my Protagion journey in order to build a business that helps individuals to manage their careers, offering the support we need as professionals. In a way, this is the broadest role I’ve done so far, which is natural as it involves managing a business, so covers multiple areas of responsibility in a different industry, and collaboration with partners internationally. I share my journey as an example of how you could rotate yourself into different roles over time, allowing you to build the professional muscles you want to at different stages in your career, recognising that our interests and preferences change over time. And, its completely okay not to be an expert before you start a new role – else what is there to learn! Simplistically speaking, in my case I actively sought breadth geographically and culturally, across organisational levels (business unit, company, and group level), and across different commercial disciplines, all of which I feel have made me a more effective leader and professional mentor to our proteges.
Creating your own rotation opportunities
In the words of Brad Smith, previously CEO and now executive board chairman of Intuit: “A leader’s job is not to put greatness into people, but rather to recognise that it already exists, and to create the environment where that greatness can emerge and grow.”
We wrap up these articles on rotation and career experiences with some thoughts on how you might create your own development opportunities by rotating through different roles over time. As we always say, the starting point is understanding your aspirations and values – indeed, mutually discussing these with your employer helps build stronger trust and loyalty between you, your manager, and the company. Few people know exactly what they want in life, and this can and does change, so it’s completely normal to be vague or abstract about your career aspirations and values to begin with. In fact, we can help you explore these – see our post on career goals for some ideas. The Journey of Self-Discovery our proteges step through on our system also helps.
Work to define what you’re looking to achieve and/or learn in your next role(s), including things you’ve enjoyed you’d like to return to or continue with, plus new skills and experiences you’re seeking – our mentors and coaches can help you to understand yourself better and also prepare for open conversations with potential employers. Be sure to consider what you’ll be able to offer in a new role, and what you’ll invest in terms of effort and commitment to the organisation. And, then start having those conversations, whether internally in your existing company or externally, depending on the opportunities you’re seeking. Naturally, if your employer has a rotation programme in place, these conversations are far easier to arrange.
If considering external opportunities too, use the services of recruiters to help in your role search where you feel they can introduce you and/or teach you about the market dynamics, especially if you’re moving to an unfamiliar environment like a new country or new industry. Be aware though of their incentives: as they’re paid by companies to fill their available roles, very many of them can be transactional in their approach, encouraging you to move as often as possible to new employers each time… Check what they tell you, and carefully consider whether something is really a good move for you, or is mostly to earn them recruitment commission as quickly as possible. In contrast, where a guide or advisor is paid by you (such as our professional mentors and coaches), their incentives are aligned, and they work together with you in your best interests, even if some of their suggestions stretch you out of your comfort zone.
Remember especially that amazing opportunities can be found within your existing employer – and often these can be even better as they already know what you’re capable of, and are likely to be more willing to invest in you given your existing relationship. For example, while it is less common these days, some of the senior executives we’ve interviewed spent their entire careers at one employer, rising to the top as they added value to their company. All earned operational experience across multiple areas in their organisations though i.e. they rotated internally to build broader perspectives, develop and grow. While such tenure is unlikely today, it’s important to take an overarching perspective on your career: think of yourself actively crafting a series of roles and opportunities, some of which you may get outside your existing company, and some of which you may get inside, perhaps immediately, or when you return after gaining experience elsewhere.
Please share any additional suggestions you have for our readers in the comments. Where you’ve created your own rotation opportunities in the past, what has worked well for you, and what has been less successful?