Sparking innovation: how temporary assignments increase knowledge transfer and learning
New analysis of manufacturing interplant rotation programs sheds valuable light on how new work settings increase knowledge transfer and lifelong learning
Analysis: One of the most common practices in current organizational management is the temporary assignment of workers from one function to perform a similar role in another part of the company or even at an external organization. This practice happens in medicine when doctors complete fellowships to learn new skills. It occurs in management consulting when partners are asked to spend time in a new practice area. It happens in management training programs, as new MBAs experience different parts of a large firm. It is also widespread in operational roles such as manufacturing when managers and line workers are asked to spend time in different factories to facilitate knowledge transfer and innovation. Indeed, 2015 research noted that “at leading companies, up to 75% of annual productivity gains can be traced back to bottom-up ideas from non-R&D employees.”
Most executives take it as a given that temporary assignments are positive for the worker and the firm. Researchers have typically supported this perception at a high level, with studies regularly showing significant benefits from well-run temporary assignment programs. However, while the aggregate effects are generally understood, the mechanics of knowledge transfer and learning on individuals in these kinds of programs have not received a similar level of scrutiny and analysis. A newly published paper from Philipp B. Cornelius (UCL), Bilal Gokpinar (UCL), and Fabian Sting (Rotterdam, looks at this very issue. Their findings verify the overall perception of these efforts as valuable and suggest some nuances that managers should consider to maximize their ROI.
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