How to Make a Job Shadowing Program a Success at Your Organization
Continuous learning leads to continuous growth and improvement. Job shadowing is one of the most effective on-the-job learning methods. Organizations that implement a job shadowing program have the opportunity to upskill their employees, improve their processes, and innovate. So, what exactly is job shadowing, and how can your organization implement an effective job shadowing program for employees?
What is job shadowing?
Job shadowing is a form of on-the-job learning that allows interested employees to closely follow, observe, and at times perform tasks of another employee performing the role. Typically, job shadowing is associated with interns starting their careers or high school or college students looking to understand their career choices. However, it is also one of the most effective means for an employee to acquire a new skill or potentially follow a new career path.
Job shadowing typically happens within a particular department. For example, if you work in the marketing department as social media specialist but would like to acquire the skill of video editing, you would shadow a videographer or video editor. However, more and more, we are seeing this type of job-shadowing happening cross-functionally. For example, someone in the IT department might shadow someone in the sales team and vice versa.
The strategic thinking behind this would be to allow the employee working in IT to understand the business more. Similarly, the employee working in sales would get to understand the mechanisms behind the IT infrastructure in the workplace.
It is also an excellent avenue for employees to pursue other careers within the same organization. Therefore, someone working in recruitment (and possibly has a finance degree) who always wanted to be a finance manager might be able to do so due to job shadowing.
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Job shadowing, at a minimum, needs to:
- Align to the organization’s strategy – The time for an employee to be away from their job costs money. As a result, any job shadowing program needs to have a solid strategy behind it.
- Fit the organization’s needs – If an organization lacks a particular skill, a job shadowing program is a great way to do this without spending the extra money to recruit someone externally.
- Enrich the employees – If you want to make make your job shadowing program a success, your employees should benefit from it. They need to learn new skills and gain new competencies and experience that will help them in their career.
The Human Resources or L&D department helps facilitate the job shadowing program by creating a clear process to follow. They also encourage employees and managers to participate in the program, and track the effect of the efforts.
The benefits of establishing a job shadowing program
The benefits of a job shadowing program are twofold – for employees and the employer. They include:
- Learning about team members’ responsibilities – Your staff members get valuable insights into how the team and the organization work first-hand.
- Cross-training – Employees learn new skills, and the organizations gain more flexibility.
- Sharing knowledge and experience – The individuals being shadowed have an opportunity to put their mentoring skills into practice, as well as reflect on their job.
- Enabling internal mobility – Employees can explore potential career paths within their company.
- Preparing future leaders – People understand what awaits them when they get a promotion; they gain valuable knowledge. What’s more, they gain professional contacts within the organization.
- Improving productivity – For example, if a new employee shadows an experienced colleague, they learn various “hacks” and become productive faster.
- Supporting DEIB initiatives – By making the program accessible, you can engage and develop people across demographic groups, and retain them for longer.
- A low-cost employee development method – Once in place, the program doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, as you do it all internally.
Setting up a job shadowing program for employees also has certain limitations that you need to take into account.
- Temporary productivity dips – People who are shadowing are not doing their primary job, and people being shadowed have to also focus on other things. However, this pays off later when employees utilize their newly gain skills to do their jobs better.
- Might be difficult to organize – Schedules of multiple people have to align, so the logistics is not always easy to manage.
How does job shadowing work?
Your organization must purposefully set up a job shadowing program with the correct agreements, understanding, and objectives. To have a successful implementation of job shadowing in the workplace, you need to focus on three things:
- Key stakeholders
- The process
- The type of job shadowing
1. Key Stakeholders
The employee is the one that is observing the co-worker. The employee may have initiated the job-shadowing opportunity or participates in a program that requires this to be done.
The shadowed (or the job shadowing host) has agreed to be observed. They are responsible for showing the employee different aspects of their job, key activities, and learning opportunities.
The line managers
The line managers need to agree on allowing the shadow and the host to take up the opportunity. The receiving line manager needs to be supportive and takes responsibility to ensure learning occurs. Both line managers should collaborate to understand what’s working, what’s not working and set clear goals before the process occurs.
2. The process
You need to put a clear process to follow in place to ensure consistency and success of the job shadowing program.
- Discussion between manager and shadow – This is where the manager and the employee discuss the possibilities of job shadowing and its reasons.
- Contact line manager and shadower – Between the employee, and manager, the request for job shadowing is sent. The request should include high-level details, including the reason, the length of time, and objectives. It’s always a good idea to cc HR in this process, as they might have ideas and have to get involved in any type of contractual agreement.
- The request is reviewed – Between all stakeholders involved, the request is reviewed and accepted or adjusted or rejected.
- Agree on timelines – All stakeholders then agree on a timeline for a job shadowing opportunity. This might be two weeks, three months, or even six months. They also agree on frequency. This might mean one hour daily, full-time, or once a week. It all depends on the need and the complexity of the job.
- Create a plan of action – All parties involved create a plan of action. This includes what type of tasks the job shadowing program will be involve and what type of job shadowing it will be.
- The broader team gets involved – The shadower informs the teams about the shadow involved. They also sets up associated meetings and induction into the team.
- The job shadowing begins – As agreed, the job shadowing begins. It’s a good idea to have a small onboarding program, as the shadow might be completely new to the team to process and likely needs access to certain files. Agree on weekly check-ins with all stakeholders to keep track of how things are going.
- Feedback – Based on the objectives set at the start, it is important to reflect on whether the process was a success or not. 360-degree feedback is quite helpful in this instance.
3. The types of job shadowing
As part of the job shadowing process, you need to decide on the type of job shadowing that will take place. There are generally three types:
As the name indicates, the shadow only looks at what is being done. It’s a great way to establish the ‘day in the life of (insert job)’. This works well for exploratory job shadowing to understand what a job consists of. The shadow should ask as many questions to fully understand what is happening.
This job shadowing involves regular tasks being demonstrated over an agreed schedule. It might include the various activities needed to do a job, specific tasks performed, and skills that a shadow wants to learn. Both parties need to agree to a schedule to ensure it is smooth. This might mean that one or two times per week for two hours within a 4-week period, there is job shadowing taking place on specific things.
This type of job shadowing is when the shadow actively performs the job tasks. The job shadow host might assign certain tasks to encourage on-the-job learning, assess the shadow’s performance, and give feedback. This is the most involved job shadowing type and requires careful planning and preparation.
How to start a job shadowing program
We understand how to set up the process of running a job shadowing experience for the shadow and the host. But how do you formalize this process and set up a job shadowing program at the workplace? Here are a few tips for you:
- Set goals for your job shadowing program – What do you want to achieve? Your goals can be, for example, have new hires ramp up faster, enable internal mobility, or cross-train employees for certain roles. You also need to think about how you’re going to measure this. In the new hire ramp up time example, you could have managers rate the ramp up time before and after implementing the job shadowing program.
- Create a framework for job shadowing – You need to establish guidelines on who is eligible to participate as a shadow and as a host. Detail what it involves (e.g., specific timeframe, manager’s permission) and how potential problems are addressed. Check out the process we’ve outlined above. If you work in a remote or hybrid setting, explore the opportunities for virtual job shadowing.
- Educate managers and employees on benefits and opportunities – The key stakeholders involved in the job shadowing program – employees, potential hosts, and line managers – need to understand what benefits the job shadowing program brings. To spread the word, you can, for instance, have a one-pager communicating the benefits of the program, the basic information about how to take part, and a couple of FAQs. You can also organize a session with managers to explain to them how they and their employees can benefit from it.
- Incorporate job shadowing into new employee training – It will help engage new employees from the beginning, build connections, and become productive faster.
- Help participants prepare for job shadowing – You can send the shadows an email with advice on how to start building a relationship with a senior colleague, remind them to ask questions, take notes, make sure to thank the host for their time. This will help reduce stress and enable the participants to make the most out of the program.
- Solicit feedback about the program and make improvements – Ask shadows and hosts about their experience in a survey or a short interview. You will understand what to do better, collect new job shadowing ideas, and learn how you can make your program more impactful.
- Determine what follows after the program – Once the participants finish a job shadowing program, what are the future development opportunities for them? Can they even become hosts themselves? Providing your employees with options will help you ensure the continuity of learning and development at your organization.
A final word
A job shadowing program brings many benefits to your employees and your organization if set up well. Make sure to continuously communicate these benefits and available opportunities to your employees. That way, you encourage them to take learning into their own hands.