“See John over there? He’s been with us for almost five years and is a great customer service agent. Grab a chair, sit next to him for the rest of his shift, and ask any questions you have at the end of the day.”
This is job shadowing, in short.
But is it effective job shadowing? Not necessarily. Job shadowing is successful only when implemented correctly.
That being said, job shadowing isn’t about your new hires following around their seasoned colleagues in their day-to-day without a clear goal or a structured on-the-job training plan.
Job shadowing demands careful planning and a robust strategy to bring much-needed results to the development of your employees.
In this article, we’ll discuss job shadowing and share tips on how to benefit from its implementation.
What is job shadowing?
Job shadowing is a type of on-the-job training in which new hires or junior employees follow and observe how another, more experienced employee performs tasks in their role.
Usually, job shadowing is popular among interns at the beginning of their careers or high school students trying to specify their career options. In the corporate world, it’s a very effective way for employees to discover and build new skills or decide whether or not to follow a new career path.
Also, it can prove to be very effective for training new hires.
Through job shadowing, employees can bridge the gap between theory and practice. During (traditional) training, they get a theoretical knowledge of how to perform a task, whereas, during job shadowing, they can see this task in action.
Job shadowing usually occurs within a specific department. For instance, if an employee works in the sales department as an account manager but would like to gain more experience in consulting, they would shadow a sales consultant. But job shadowing can also happen across different departments.
The benefits of job shadowing
All types of training benefit both employees and the organization as a whole. A job shadowing program can more specifically impact your company and your people in the following ways:
- Employee engagement and satisfaction: By observing colleagues, employees can get a real grasp of what their role entails, its tasks, and its requirements. As a result, they have a clear understanding of whether this is a career path they want to pursue.
- Cross-training opportunities: Your people can learn new skills by interacting with people from departments, and there’s more flexibility for upskilling and reskilling within the organization.
- Knowledge sharing: The employees who are being shadowed also have the chance to practice their mentoring skills but at the same time reflect on their job.
- Continuous learning culture: With job shadowing, your organization can foster a continuous learning environment and culture with less effort. By offering learning and development opportunities to employees in various forms, your people are part of a never-ending learning journey.
- Internal mobility: Employees are given the chance to explore different career paths in their company.
- Leadership preparation: When people observe more senior employees, they don’t only see how they perform their tasks but also get to notice their leadership style. As a result, they get valuable insights into what it takes for them to become successful leaders in the future.
- Productivity boost: When your employees get the opportunity to job shadow more experienced colleagues, they learn useful “hacks” and workarounds that will help them become more productive faster.
- Less training costs: Job shadowing is a popular low-cost employee training method because it can be conducted internally, without outsourced experts and pricey training programs.
Using job shadowing the right way
The biggest challenge is to turn job shadowing from a “watch and learn” exercise into a real learning experience for your employees.
Let’s see how you can set up an effective job shadowing program and make it a worthy experience for both the shadow and the host.
1. Set clear goals and expectations
First, you should ask what you want to achieve with a job shadowing program. For example, is it necessary to ramp up new hires faster? Or do you wish to cross-train employees for specific roles?
To achieve that, try answering the following questions:
- Why do employees need it?
- What will employees learn from it?
- Why is job shadowing the best way for your employees to learn?
After you have a clear idea of the purpose, it’s necessary to thoroughly explain it to the team members involved so that you keep them aligned before and during the job shadowing process.
2. Choose the right shadow coaches
Not every experienced employee can successfully take on the shadow coach role. No matter how seasoned they are on their job, they might need more skills to mentor other employees successfully.
So, it’s important to pick mentors who are comfortable with being shadowed and happy to assist a trainee.
Then, ensure you provide shadow coaches with all the tools they need to conduct this process successfully. Offer training sessions to help them build or improve skills like active listening, providing feedback, empathy, etc., and enlighten them with the necessary information regarding the goals of this program and how they can help achieve them.
Before finalizing your choice, answer the following questions:
- Is it necessary that the coach is a senior, or could it be a peer?
- How long will the job shadowing process take? (x hours, x days, x weeks…)
- Who is the best employee to learn from?
- When will it take place?
- Where will it happen? (on-site, remotely, hybrid, etc.)
3. Create a well-planned framework
Guidelines make all the difference in job shadowing between having employees passively observe and making it a true learner experience.
After selecting your shadow coaches and knowing when, how, and where it will take place, you should reflect on what it involves in greater detail. As well as how to address any potential issues. With this outline in mind, explore all your opportunities for delivery.
For instance, if your teams work remotely, you must offer virtual job shadowing options. And to achieve that, you need to have planned it ahead of time, as you’ll need different tools and processes to reap its benefits. Virtual job shadowing relies heavily on the interaction between the mentor and mentee, so one of your top priorities should be to bring them closer by using videoconferencing and screen recording tools.
4. Train your teams about its benefits
To be able to engage your employees (both shadowers and hosts) in this development strategy, it’s necessary that you let them know about its benefits. They all need to understand which advantages job shadowing has to bring.
For instance, you can communicate this via email or set up a short training session on your learning platform. There, you will include the benefits of the program, useful information about those taking part, and some FAQs. You can also conduct a web conference or a session with managers to further explain how the job shadowing strategy will be implemented and its core benefits.
5. Putting it into practice: Plan and set up each day
The next step is to make the best of every day in the job shadowing program. With a careful plan, you’ll be able to use the shadowed person’s time to the fullest.
For every day of the job shadowing program, you need to answer the following questions:
- Will there be any meetings, and if so, what will they include?
- What are the specific objectives behind the tasks or work the shadower will take on?
- Does the coach need particular training, assistance, or tools to achieve these objectives?
Then, in collaboration with the coaches, plan out each day that involves job shadowing and encourage them to socially interact with the shadowers as much as possible.
Let them know that even if this program has clear objectives, they can break the ice and engage in small talk during breaks. For example, shadow coaches can have lunch with their trainees to interact with them and feel more comfortable with each other.
6. Prepare participants for job shadowing
After you’ve prepared your job shadowing program and mentors, you should inform participants about the next steps.
Send participants an email with clear instructions on building their relationship with a senior employee, provide information about the objectives, and expectations, and remind them to ask questions and take notes. In this way, you help participants reduce stress and engage better with the program.
Moreover, you can provide them with a useful questionnaire to have in hand during the job shadowing sessions. They will be more focused and will have a much better understanding of what is expected from them.
7. Evaluate your job shadowing program
The most crucial step after completing this employee development program is to evaluate its effectiveness. The best way to achieve this is by asking trainees and coaches about their experience.
Run surveys, hand out questionnaires, or plan 1:1 meetings to collect data about their overall experience and discover any areas for improvement.
At the same time, you can evaluate if the program has been effective for trainees by assessing their progress through quizzes and tests.
You will better understand what needs to be corrected, get new job shadowing ideas, or learn how to make this program more impactful.
Bonus tips for virtual job shadowing
Since many businesses are running with a remote/hybrid work model, knowing how to properly implement virtual job shadowing is essential.
Virtual job shadowing is similar to the traditional program, but shadowers and mentors are not in the same location. The main difference is that everything has to be done online in virtual job shadowing.
Planning out and setting up your virtual job shadowing program follows the same process as above.
But you should consider the virtual environment and make any necessary changes when applicable.
To seamlessly execute your virtual job shadowing program, all you have to do is make sure you:
- Leverage videoconferencing tools and chatting applications to enable frequent interaction
- Use online training tools to enhance the overall experience
- Conduct training sessions online using a user-friendly learning platform
Adding job shadowing to the training mix
Job shadowing has a lot to offer to your organization and people. But it shouldn’t be the only option for your employees’ learning and development.
Instead of offering only job shadowing, you can combine it with other types of training, such as online courses, access to self-study training material, and microlearning modules on mobile devices.
In that way, you will achieve a 360 approach to training employees and reap the benefits of a well-rounded L&D strategy that brings success to your organization.