STEP – Short-Term Exchange Programme

  • Adecco’s Short-Term Exchange Programme (STEP) is a programme for top performers at the branch level to gain brief, initial international work experience.
  • STEP has increased employee retention and is a way of recognizing top performers.
  • STEP promotes global thinking on a local level and facilitates the exchange of best practices across the company.
The problem addressed by the campaign: 
  • Adecco is a global company, but employees are often confined to their localized environments and practices.
  • Cost issues and labour laws constraints made it difficult to move employees to Adecco locations around the globe. Adecco sought a cost-effective way to promote global thinking and internal know-how transfer throughout the company.
  • Adecco promotes global thinking through the Short-Term Exchange Programme (STEP) for top performers.
  • Country managers can nominate branch employees with outstanding performance, at least one year’s seniority, proficient communication skills in English, and fluency in one or more languages of potential host countries.
  • For each nominee a country manager designates as an outgoing STEP participant, he/she must also provide a job opportunity in his/her country for an incoming STEP participant.
  • STEP is executed in one of two ways:
    • Simultaneous exchange. Two colleagues having the same job exchange positions and move at the same time. This requires the participants to be fluent in the language spoken in the host country and also requires a careful comparison of actual job content to ensure the compatibility of the exchange. The benefit is that there are no job vacancies to fill. An incoming STEP participant covers the job of the outgoing STEP participant. Employees can therefore work longer in the host country.
    • Consecutive exchange. Two colleagues who may, but do not need to, have the same job work in each other’s host country consecutively. This allows colleagues from two different countries to work together, engage in in-depth knowledge transfer, and then move to the second country to do the same. The downside is that this creates temporary vacancies in home and host countries.
  • Employees returning from an exchange provide formal feedback as to what changes they would like to implement in their home country.
  • The practice has been highly successful so far. Colleagues on exchange gain an understanding of different cultures and markets around the world.
  • An increased awareness of international issues and local regulatory environments enable Adecco employees to network better with international clients.
  • Top performers in developing markets can gauge and anticipate future growth in their home country based on their work in more mature markets.
  • STEP encourages the transfer of best practices from host to home country. The changes implemented will be monitored to gauge success.
Why has it worked?: 
  • Adecco has created an environment of acceptance essential to STEP’s success. This was done at the Human Resources and Committee level, at the annual management meeting, and through other discussion forums in which colleagues from different countries have the opportunity to learn from one another.
  • STEP has sound project management, executive management support, and a viable cost structure. Although exchange is costly in the short run, this investment will provide Adecco a competitive edge in the long term.
  • Adecco provides extensive relocation support to ensure that the colleague on exchange is immersed and accepted into the local corporate and social culture. For example, colleagues from the host country greeted a colleague moving to Canada on exchange at the airport. These larger social aspects of STEP are well managed and essential to success.
Conclusions and Recommendations: 
  • In planning an exchange, start with younger workers first. The earlier you can expose people, the greater the advantage.
  • Language barriers are coming down, cultural barriers are coming down and political boundaries are fading. For a competitive edge in this changing market place, companies must embrace a global point of view and be willing to learn from different cultures.
Foundational Issues: 
Critical skills gaps
Level of Collaboration: 
Level 1: Collaboration within the organization
Global (all of the above)
Economic and political context: 

Adecco financials:

  • Sales: US$ 27.3 billon
  • Profits: US$ 618.9 million 
  • Assets: US$ 11.91 billion
  • Employees 32,000
About the Author(s): 
  • Adecco SA is a Switzerland-based provider of human resource services, including temporary staffing, outsourcing, permanent placement, outplacement and career management, training and consulting.
  • With approximately 33,000 employees and more than 5,500 branches in over 60 countries and territories around the world, Adecco connects about 750,000 associates with well over 100,000 clients every day.