Last week, after highlighting the importance of any business having an engagement strategy, we announced the launch of Engagement November. It is a month in which we’ll be closely looking at different possible elements to incorporate into your engagement strategy. For our first week, we are going to discuss job shadowing. So, what is job shadowing? Why is it important? And when is it essential? These are all questions we’ll answer in the next few passages.
When you first hear the term “job shadowing”, you might remember an episode of your favorite medical drama, like ER or Gray’s Anatomy. If that is the case, then you’re heading in the right direction. Job shadowing is an almost-embedded aspect of all positions in the medical field. Its benefits, however, are universal. In a nutshell, it is to follow (and maybe assist) an employee as they go about their day-to-day tasks. Shadowing doesn’t have to be in the shadower’s department or field of work, and it can be treated as either training or a more general orientation event. Shadowing is beneficial to interns and newly-recruited employees. But it doesn’t stop there, because you might just find that shadowing is most influential for the existing core employees of your firm.
Who shadows? And Why?
In the case of interns, an embedded shadowing experience is a good way to drive them to interact with different departments, meet new people, and learn how the company is run. This is essential in fulfilling the educational aspect of an internship. And, if you’re thinking of hiring them, then you’re building up a well-rounded employee who works well with your team at large. Furthermore, in the case of new recruits, they will understand the expectations of their role by shadowing their senior. As for existing employees, they’ll develop a much deeper understanding of their role in relation to others in the company by shadowing people in different fields and departments. A good developer is great, but imagine a good developer who also takes into account the commercial, financial, and administrative implications of their work. This kind of “professional empathy” is only developed by a deep exposure into what it means to put on all those different hats.
Additionally, job shadowing will integrate and engage different employees who might’ve otherwise not spoken to one another. This will make them develop more meaningful work relationships as well as introduce a new and different perspective into each other’s work, giving room to further creativity in execution and/or creating opportunities for collaboration.
A General Structure
So what does job shadowing actually look like for a business? Essentially, there are 3 components of the shadowing experience: the line manager, the host, and the guest. The line manager prompts and supervises the experience, whereas the host is the employee being shadowed, and the guest is the shadower.
Before any shadowing is done, it’s best to set general objectives for the entire activity. Then, prompt the hosts and the guest to establish specific objectives in light of their respective roles. As for the depth of the experience, it is need-based and thus unique for each company, but the bare minimum might be:
- Sit in on each other’s meetings.
- Follow a thorough execution of some basic tasks.
- Engage in a structured conversation (or an interview) about the position’s significance in the company and its relation to the shadower’s position.
Depending on the size and needs of the company, and the amount and experience of the participants, the shadowing activity will last for different amounts of time ranging from an hour to a few days. In my opinion, it is best to host several (2-3) shorter shadowing activities throughout the year, this is to allow for deeper mutual learning at different phases of a company’s cycle. After the activity is done, a verbal or written reflection is important in order to acknowledge and sustain the impact of the experience.
If you’d like to read more job shadowing guidelines, and different kinds of structures for it, check out this comprehensive guide from the Manchester Metropolitan University. Happy Shadowing!
This article is a part of Engagement November: a month-long series on workplace engagement strategies and best practices.