In recent times, a number of fundamental changes have taken place in production technologies, the nature of physical and human capital, and ideas about how to organize firms. The precise nature of the reorganization process naturally varies from firm to firm, but the evidence is now sufficiently clear to recognize some prominent features of ongoing reorganizations. These include an increased role for job rotation and teamwork, a reduction in the number of management levels, continuous learning and the development of complementary skills, decentralization of responsibility within firms, and direct participation of employees in decision making on multiple fronts. It appears that the various features of this process have a common thread: emphasis on learning multiple tasks, the blurring of occupational barriers, and the use of experience gained at one task to enhance performance at another.
A number of interrelated forces have driven these changes. One of these forces is the introduction of computerized information and communication systems. This has provided employees with greater access to information about other employees’ work within the organization and made it easier to communicate with others. Teamwork and job rotation have become important ways to respond to customers’ changing needs.
A second force is the introduction of flexible machine tools and programmable equipment. This has made the capital stock more versatile, capable of performing a wide variety of tasks. A third force has been the steady growth of human capital per worker. This has been generated by education systems, vocational training programs, and on-the-job training.
As workers have acquired better general education and a wider variety of skills, they have come to prefer jobs that permit the exercise of diverse skills. More and more employees have come to resent the monotonous fragmented jobs of traditional organizations and prefer more varied, multifaceted work. Greater emphasis is now placed on continuous learning and skill development, all-round knowledge, the potential to acquire multiple skills, and the ability to learn how the experience gained from one skill enhances another skill. Multitasking, job rotation, and the blurring of occupational barriers are not the only consequences of the ongoing reorganization of work. Of particular note is the expansion of the scope for learning and the returns from it in the new organizational environment.
One definition of job rotation suggests that it is a systematic movement of employees from job to job or project to project within an organization, as a way to achieve certain human resource objectives, such as employee orientation, retention, training, and preventing burnout. Traditionally, job rotations move people between distinct business units in order for them to explore a wider range of experiences. For example, a technical engineer who moves to a business position, can get a better sense of a customer’s need. By being situated in the actual work environment, job-rotation programs increase the employee’s interest in learning. In addition, employees who have worked with so many diverse people through a job-rotation program about may become more flexible and agile in their job assignments.
Some argue that the job-rotation process is better framed in the context of organizational learning. The multiplication of economic networks worldwide assures the individual that many paths for testing and accumulating new learning can be pursued simultaneously. The greater the number of paths and the more sharing of knowledge, the more progress worldwide. It has also been noticed that on-the-job learning is much more effective than traditional instructor-based learning. Companies need to be aware that people have different ways of learning. Some learn by doing, some by seeing, and some by hearing. As many companies transition from products to services to outcomes, learning is at the heart of a successful transition. Employees who internalize effective practices in the workplace will lead the business to productivity and profit and gain satisfaction.
When people move between geographic regions or countries, they obtain an increased understanding of different cultures and business strategies. From the beginning, however, the organization needs to recognize that the rotation process generally creates more generalists than specialists.
A close look at the global economy indicates that success is based on the ability to understand and utilize loosely connected economic and social processes. The dynamic of economic progress in the new economy is based on learning. Innovation is at the heart of this process. It accounts for the bulk of improvements in productivity, and quality is at the heart of the flexibility that allows for variety, customization, convenience, and speed. Agile, multitasking individuals are needed to serve on cross-functional teams to direct this process. Some hold the opinion that increased wage dispersion is a result of technological change, education, and training. It seems, however, that in countries in which real wages respond flexibly to changes in labor demands and supplies, the move from job specificity to a more holistic view of work may lead to a widening of the wage dispersion within groups that vary by job education, occupation, and job tenure.
Job rotation is a mechanism that makes it possible for the firm to observe employees in action in different positions and thus learn which job is the best fit for each employee. This implies that human capital theory is at least partly job specific. It could be argued that only through job rotation can the firm get the information necessary to create the most efficient job assignments. The organization must make sure its skill needs correspond to those likely to be learned through job rotation.
The advantage of a rotation policy over a job-specialization policy increases when there is some uncertainty regarding employees and the activities in which they are or may be engaged. On a micro level, it is better for a firm to rotate new employees among different jobs, because the firm can find out how well suited different persons are to different activities. On a macro level, it is more profitable for an innovative firm to rotate employees because this will induce more innovative learning among employees. In this view, job rotation helps a firm focus on improvement and on the future, rather than looking at the past and placing blame. Since individuals who rotate jobs associate in new work groups, job rotation may promote team-based management.
Learning provided by the organization helps the team members achieve at the level sought by management. Teams carry the responsibility, authority, and accountability for the performance of their members. Teams can then create, acquire, and transfer new knowledge. Today, much employee training has been transferred to electronic learning, or e-learning. Companies today that rely on e-learning enhance the opportunity for employees to interact through chat rooms and with mentors. In this model, teams become the “resource persons,” and clerical, production, and service employees develop a sense of self-worth, ownership, and satisfaction in their work. This employee development is considered the heart of organizational development.
- Carnevale, A. 1991. America and the New Economy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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