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4 Steps to Creating a Successful Job-Swapping Program

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Job swap programs, which allow employees to spend time working in various departments or even in overseas offices have been successful at large companies. Allowing employees to work in various departments or divisions lets them get a big-picture view of the company and how various areas function. But with limited resources and time-strapped employees, can entrepreneurial businesses replicate such programs in their own organizations?

Yes, they can, says Caryn Goldberg, an assistant professor of management at American University. By creating systems that let employees cross-train and gain experience in various departments, smart businesses can end up with employees who are able to fulfill various roles, allowing them to find the best fit for their skills within the company. In addition, as they learn more about overall operations, they are better able to make decisions, solve problems, and conceptualize new ideas because they have a better understanding of how the business runs. She shares four tips to make job swapping a viable option for smaller firms.

1. Explain the goals.
As with most new initiatives, employee buy-in is key. Be clear about the potential up-sides to job rotation or job-swapping. If you're simply rotating a new employee from department to department, the program provides more hands on deck. If you're actually swapping employees, the department gets the benefit of new ideas and fresh insight.

Making contacts in various departments can also help troubleshoot problems and facilitate various processes in the company. For example, the sales team might benefit from having contacts in the finance department to figure out a better way to record and process expense records. In order for this to work, however, each department manager has to be willing to spend meaningful time with the employee to help him or her understand what goes on there.

Related: Richard Branson on How to Train Your Employees

2. Cross-train new hires first.
Goldberg suggests that smaller scale programs might be better focused on new hires to give them deep company insight right from the start.

"It's less resource-intensive for organizations to have people spend a little bit of time when their entry-level [employees], than it is to take somebody who's already significantly advanced in his or her career and operating at a high level to put them in a function their completely unfamiliar with," she says.

3. Decrease the duration.
While some job rotation programs may take a year or two to complete, moving an employee through various departments a month or two at a time can help accelerate the process and still give employees valuable insight.

4. Incentivize ideas.
Don't just adopt the program and let it trail off. Explain to employees who are swapping jobs or going through job rotation that you expect them to actively look for new ideas and solutions as they enter each phase of the program, Goldberg says. Sometimes, that fresh set of eyes or new way of thinking can bring tremendous value. You may even want to create incentives such as small gifts or perks, for coming up with those ideas.

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