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Like many Americans, I’ve had a long fascination with Nordic countries. Aside from brief visits to Sweden and Iceland, most of my exposure to Scandinavia has been encountering the occasional news stories about the wonderful social benefits, healthcare and routine presence at the top of the World Happiness Report.

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I was therefore intrigued when I received a press release from the Helsinki Business Hub about a “90-day Finn” program that they had launched, whereby participants could live and work in Finland for 90 days. Presumably, participants will be wowed by the wonders of Helsinki and elect to tell friends and family and potentially relocate to Finland on a long-term basis.

Subsequent press releases implied that the program was an initial success and that a DIY option had been created, allowing anyone who could acquire a visa for Finland to create their own 90-day Finn experience.

How about a 90-day tech worker?

After a few minutes daydreaming of sauna and my family’s newfound Finnish happiness, I returned to the reality that I’m unlikely to pack up our lives for 90 days in Finland anytime soon. However, the idea of taking three months to thoroughly experience something new is quite interesting, and there was an immediate and obvious application to the technology organizations at most companies.

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Many organizations have long-running internship programs targeted at students or rotational leadership programs for post-graduate hires. However, I have not come across many that offer existing, long-term employees an opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in another role. IT seems like the perfect spot for such a program.

Employee retention and talent acquisition are front-of-mind topics for leaders across most organizations, and a “90-day tech worker” program might pique the interest of an employee who is otherwise thinking of leaving the organization. Even for a limited amount of time, bringing that person’s experience into your IT shop can also bring new thinking, approaches and insights that reinvigorate the team and create a virtuous cycle.

Designing a program that addresses what matters

When discussing these types of initiatives with clients or colleagues, there’s a tendency to overcomplicate the process, designing formal job descriptions, transition plans, moving cost centers and all manner of administrative processes. In the grand scheme of things, 90 days is not an overly significant period of time, and any internal costs ultimately have the same impact on the bottom line. The energies expended to defend one cost center versus another could be better spent on the two critical aspects of making these types of initiatives successful: ensuring the employee has a great experience, and creating a well-defined set of options at the end of the 90-day period.

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Your 90-day tech worker program need not be complicated, but you should discuss its objectives with each individual who participates. What skills will they acquire? Which team(s) might they join and interact with? How will they leverage and contribute their previous knowledge? Just as the 90-day Finn maps out critical connection points within the community, addresses lifestyle and family concerns and provides a support network, so too should your 90-day tech worker.

With clear objectives and agreement from the employee, their “home” leadership team and their new team, agree upfront on the potential outcomes at the end of the 90-day program. The three scenarios that you should plan for are:

  1. Allowing the individual to fully transition to a role on your technology team, or apply as a “fast track” candidate to a related opening.
  2. Allow the individual to participate in another 90-day or other fixed-duration period.
  3. Facilitate the individual transitioning back to their previous role.

Discuss these potential outcomes with the participant and their current manager, ensuring that everyone is in agreement with each outcome, even if one or two of them seems unlikely. Critical to this discussion is how that employee will be backfilled during the 90-day period, and what role they’ll return to when that period has been completed. These types of programs fail quickly when the employee is expected to do two jobs, and they either ignore one or perform two jobs poorly.

With a common understanding and a thoughtful transition plan both into and out of the 90-day role, the individual should be able to quickly and fully transition to their temporary assignment. Assuming you have designed an engaging experience and provided them with connection points and support in their new community, you may find that you’ve acquired a valuable long-term team member, or if nothing else, created an evangelist for the capabilities, people and leadership of your IT shop.