Job Shadowing: What Is It and Why Do You Need It?

August 9, 2022・9 mins read
Job Shadowing: What Is It and Why Do You Need It?
Job shadowing has been around for decades, but this introduction and training method is seeing a resurgence. In the past, job shadowing was used to show students what it would be like to work in an industry, field, or specific position. Today, job shadowing is being used to entice new hires as well as cross-train and promote existing employees. Job shadowing is just what it sounds like: following another person around during their day or week to learn what they do and how they do it. Shadowing allows businesses to give new hires, transfers, or promising promotion candidates a chance to see what is involved in the potential role. It gives workers an opportunity to see if the job is what they thought it would be, and if it’s something they’d like. If it is, there’s an opportunity to grow into the role. If not, resources aren’t wasted on a potentially unsuccessful promotion.

How can you use job shadowing and who wants to participate?

Employees are looking for companies willing to invest in training and upskilling. It’s a win/win for business. The more a worker knows, the more valuable they are to the organization. Even if there’s no opening today, trained employees are in place to move up the ladder when a vacancy arises, or to fill in when needed. For business, job shadowing can be a testing ground: employees who volunteer show a willingness to grow and learn. As they shadow, the questions they ask and the ease with which they catch on could demonstrate they’re a great candidate for an additional training investment.
Employees are looking for companies willing to invest in training and upskilling.
In a recent study, 55% of CEOs believe their biggest problem will be creating the next generation of leaders. Job shadowing may be key to identifying team members ready or qualified to move up. For employees, job shadowing is a testing ground, as well. They may aspire to the idea of management, but once they see behind the curtain decide it’s not the right choice. Others may find shadowing cements their aspiration to learn more and move up. When it comes to learning, LinkedIn Learning found 68% of workers want to train or learn on the job. A majority, 57%, want or expect to learn on a ‘just-in-time’ basis. Job shadowing provides a preview. Another way to use job shadowing is for cross-training employees. Opportunities to stretch their skill set and learn what goes on in other departments is a great way to retain talent. Some employees gain a larger view of the organization and their role. Others find potential new career paths. Either way, employees and businesses benefit.

How do you set up a job shadowing program?

Job shadow programs require planning. The company may have specific roles for which they want to create opportunities to shadow. These could be high-volume positions or spots you’re always looking to fill. Once employees are aware job shadowing is available, they may request other positions to shadow. Start with a few key positions, then build your program once they’ve been successful. Once you’ve chosen positions you want to offer for job shadowing, have a plan to run and evaluate the program.

Who should be involved in a job shadowing program?

The shadower could be a volunteer or someone a manager suggests might be right for the opportunity. Let your staff know you’re developing a program. If you have specific roles in mind, ask for volunteers to fill them. Look to your management team to suggest staffers they believe might benefit from the program, as well. If you’re open to ideas, ask staff members to let you know where they’d be interested in shadowing. You can’t guarantee a spot can be created, but try to make it work. The shadowee, the person who will be followed, will need to be determined in advance and ready to take on the job. Not everyone will be a good fit — look for employees who are skilled trainers, patient with others, and wiling to answer questions. Initially, it may be a good idea to start with volunteers — this will give you and team leaders willing to take on the work a chance to see how much time and effort is involved. If the program works well, you may consider making shadowing a part of every manager’s duties. Additional managers will need to be involved at both ends of the equation — the shadower’s manager must be willing to let them set aside their regular duties. The shadowee’s manager must be willing to allow them time to work with their shadow. At the end of the process, all parties will need to allot time to assess.

4 steps for developing a job shadowing plan

You’ll want to have a plan in place for the process. When you’ve identified jobs and participants, the next step is detailing goals and actions. It’s a best practice to have these outlined in advance, so everyone knows what to expect from the process.

1. Establish goals

Establish goals for everyone involved. What do the business, the shadower, shadowee, and managers expect from the process? Start with manageable goals. An early goal may be simply to assess whether the shadower would be interested in pursuing more training to build their skills for a potential promotion or transfer. That goal could align well from management’s perspective. Another goal may be to expose the shadower to the organization’s larger mission and vision. Start small; as your program grows you can build in more specific goals and expectations.

2. Develop a timeline

Depending on the complexity of the work, the timeline could be a few hours, days, or weeks. The more rote the tasks to be shadowed, the less time it should take to understand them clearly. More multifaceted work will take longer. Plan on a reasonable timeline that takes into account how long it will take to fully understand as well as how much time is reasonable to miss out on other work.

3. Create an action plan

Detail what days, hours, or weeks will be involved in the shadowing. If necessary, take employees off other scheduled duties or notify clients they’ll be unavailable. Create a backup plan for absences or unexpected events, too. If the shadowee manager has a departmental emergency, shadowing will have to wait.

4. Get the rest of the team to buy into the process

Coworkers will need to pick up the slack for the person doing the shadowing: team members may have to give their shadowee manager a bit more alone time. Let all those impacted know this is an opportunity to learn and grow — that training is a priority. They may be next to give it a try if it works, so cooperation is key.

Ask both parties to keep notes on the experience

As the process begins, ask both parties to keep notes on how it’s going. You’ll want shadowers to list what they’ve learned, what piqued their interest, and what they’d want more details on. Ask them to jot down what parts of the process were interesting and engaging, and what, if any, were unnecessary or redundant. The shadowee will want to note if intelligent questions were being asked: if the shadower was engaged and picking up information quickly or thoroughly. Ask them to write down their own impressions on when the process was working well and if/when it seemed to lag.

Compile feedback and determine outcomes

After the shadowing, compile the feedback from the direct and indirect participants. Ask the managers of both parties how difficult it was to keep productivity up with team members participating in the shadow process. Could it have been longer or shorter, depending on need? Compile these with the feedback and notes you get from the shadower and shadowee. Was the process worthwhile? Did it inspire the worker to ask for more training or opportunities? Did it provide valuable insight into the company’s workings? What did the shadowee think of the candidate and process? Depending on the goals and expectations of the program, you’ll want to evaluate whether it was a success, needs adjustments, or didn’t work at all.

Look into creative job shadowing opportunities

If you’re struggling to find talent in your industry or area, you might consider getting creative with job shadowing opportunities. Work with local community colleges that have programs in your field or general study programs. High schools or community groups may even be a resource. Let counselors know you have entry-level shadow opportunities available for potential hires to see what it’s like working in your industry. You may be able to create a talent pool for today and into the future.

Both companies and employees benefit from job shadowing

Companies may invest a small amount of time planning and executing job shadowing programs, but they can reap large benefits. The opportunity to preview who’s right for potential training and promotion from within is only the beginning. Employees are looking for companies interested in their professional development. Having a job shadowing program could be a strong way to attract and retain talent.
The time it takes to plan for and execute job shadowing is minimal: the return on investment could be great.
Even if the shadow doesn’t result in a promotion or transfer, the cross-training alone is worth the investment. Employees will have a larger perspective of the company. You may find improved collaboration between departments and teams. You may also see engagement improve as employees expand their networking opportunities across the organization. Job shadowing is a no-cost training opportunity that allows businesses to ‘test drive’ potential promotions and gives staff members a chance to grow professionally. The time it takes to plan for and execute job shadowing is minimal: the return on investment could be great.
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