Secondments involve the temporary transfer of an employee to another part of the organisation or a transfer externally. Secondments can be made within public sector organisations, private sector companies and the charitable sector.
Secondees can learn additional skills, benefit from new experiences and of course it’s a tremendous networking opportunity. Secondments are also an opportunity (as they are often project based) to promote expertise in project management.
From an employer perspective, there are likely to be benefits from enhanced employee skills and improved team-working, and this in turn boosts morale and motivation among the wider workforce. Corporate reputation can also be enhanced by encouraging secondments into the voluntary and charitable sectors – in short this sort of ‘giving’ can promote an organisation’s reputation as a good employer and positive contributor to the local community.
From my own experiences, here are four very different secondment examples:
1. In House
My first was 30 years ago. I was head hunted to become part of an in-house team of multi-disciplinary secondees, working on a major customer services project, aimed at developing new organisational systems and culture. At the time, my area of expertise was corporate strategy. My new role gave me access to people across the organisation and access to fresh experiences and opportunities. Most of all the secondment provided me with a lifelong commitment to developing a team-based approach to leadership.
It is also worth noting that, without exception, every one of us ‘young guns’ seconded onto the team, reached Board level later in our careers. In my view this highly successful 12-month secondment had much to do with our, later in life, personal success.
I was privileged to be offered a short secondment from my UK based organisation to Australia, working for 2 months with a number of public sector bodies and private sector companies. I was able to provide to Australian colleagues examples of ‘best practice’ from the UK, and this was then reciprocated via my exporting new ideas and concepts of service excellence from ‘down under’ back to the UK. On a personal level, I networked well and maintained contacts throughout the years and this in turn led to me to taking up a Directorship in a Sydney based consultancy company a number of years later.
Ten years ago, when I was a local authority CEO, I was asked to ‘step in’ to assist a neighbouring Council. I was seconded in for 6 months on a part-time basis, continuing to run my existing council as well as that of our neighbour. My new role involved working with staff to improve performance and to assist the council in appointing a new CEO. What I learned was that a secondee from outside can be empowered to act fearlessly and can really make a difference – sometimes we get so close to our work that we can’t see the wood for the trees – an ‘outsider’ can act as an ‘agent for change’ in that regard.
I was seconded, for a 12 month period on a part-time basis, to Chair a national body whose aim was to ensure that injured troops and other disabled military service personnel get the assistance they are entitled to. This worked out to about 4 hours a week and involved liaising with a raft of agencies and charities ensuring that the voices of injured ex-service personnel were heard. It was a privilege to undertake this role and it was a hugely humbling experience.
Practicalities and Challenges
It is important that organisations ensure key ground rules are in place when secondments are established. This needs to includ; the period of secondment, how it’s going to happen, how it’s going to be managed, any budgetary or HR implications, and how the seconded employees’ work will be covered while they are away.
Questions that should be addressed include whether the secondment is full or part-time, and if it is for a fixed term or an indefinite period. Generally speaking, the ‘home’ department seconding an employee will generally remain responsible for their basic salary, but agreement should be reached beforehand on the arrangements for overtime, bonuses, expenses, travel, leave arrangements and training costs.
As outlined above, the benefits of secondments can be significant, but there are potentially organisational challenges too. For example, a seconded employee might be reluctant to return to their ‘home’ organisation – they may have had such a rewarding time on secondment that they might want to leave their permanent post in favour of the new one.
From the perspective of organisations taking on a seconded employee, they may have issues within the existing workforce who may resent an ‘expert being parachuted in’. As always, nothing beats good communication, with the workforce being informed that a secondee is arriving to carry out a specific project, on a temporary basis. The key message to existing staff needs to be that the secondment will not impinge on their responsibilities, but act as an additional resource.
Secondments provide organisations with another option in terms of career development opportunities to employees. While they can vary in length, it is important to ensure, whatever the timeframe, that a formal agreement is set prior to start date and ensure that on the completion of secondment that employees are debriefed and encouraged to use the new skills they’ve gained.
William J Taylor MBE
Will Taylor is a freelance writer and management consultant who is now based in South East Asia, but works globally. Formerly a Head of HR, he became a CEO with two UK local authorities. He has served as a non-exec Director of a technology company before moving to Australia as Business Improvement Director with a recruitment and consultancy company. He is a Fellow of CIPD.