Do the Shuffle

Imagine this: After years as your company’s accounts manager, you’ve suddenly been reassigned to communications. Meanwhile, your human-resources director has been shifted to marketing, and the in-house counsel now works in the research-and-development department.  And, no, it’s not a dream—and you and your colleagues are not being punished.

A recent Wall Street Journal article cited a poll by management consulting firm Cohegic, which found that three-quarters of the three-dozen companies it surveyed were asking executives to take on some kind of unfamiliar role. The firm’s president, Ravi Kathuria, explained that today’s most innovative and dynamic enterprises appreciate executives who “can adapt quickly to strange situations.”

Chris Preuss, once the top public-relations executive at General Motors, was asked last year to move into a new job as president of GM’s OnStar driver-assistance service. “I knew I was taking a massive career risk because I was walking away from my expertise,” he told the Journal. But Preuss recognized the opportunity, with his fresh eyes, to “challenge some of the conventional thinking” in the operation. And he said he has “zero bitterness or regrets about taking the OnStar job.”

Image source: State Library and Archives of Florida

The job-shuffling trend may be accelerating, but it’s hardly new. In his 1946 landmark book, Concept of the Corporation, which was an inside study of GM, Drucker advocated access to learning and training on the job. One way to achieve this, he wrote, is “by rotating workers periodically from job to job which shows what kind of a job the man is most fitted for.”

Later, in his 1973 classic, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, Drucker asserted that  “while work is… best laid out as uniform, working is best organized with a considerable degree of diversity. Working requires latitude to change speed, rhythm and attention span fairly often. It requires fairly frequent changes in operating routines as well.”

How about you: Would you like to rotate jobs in your organization? What do you think you’d learn as a result? What could you contribute?