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Growth & Development - Implementing Job Shadowing Programs

Now more than ever, employees want to work for organizations that help them learn. While employee development programs are a powerful way to attract and retain talent, creating and executing these programs can seem like a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be. For a simple, yet effective way of providing developmental support, look no further than job shadowing programs.


Expose employees to potential career options and parts of the organization they may not be familiar with.

What is job shadowing?
Sometimes the best way to learn how to do a job is through observation. Job shadowing is an on-the-job training method that involves following or “shadowing” another employee throughout their workday to learn more about their role and what it takes to be successful in it. Unlike cross-training, the purpose of job shadowing isn’t always to build a new skill set. It is also used to expose employees to other jobs they want to try and different parts of the organization they may not be familiar with. Learn more about job shadowing here.

How does job shadowing increase employee engagement?
Job shadowing is great for career development because it allows employees to explore potential career options and better understand the nuances of a job they are interested in, without necessarily learning the new job well enough to do it. Even if an employee is content where they are, job shadowing can help them develop in their current role and provide them with valuable knowledge and understanding of how other departments work — leading to improved employee collaboration and teamwork across the organization. Find out how job shadowing can benefit your employees here.

How does job shadowing benefit the organization?
Job shadowing is an effective way to onboard new hires and transition employees into new positions within the company. Because job shadowing leverages the experience and knowledge of existing employees, organizations do not have to invest much money or time into developing the program — making it easy to put in place. Job shadowing programs can also lead to increased productivity. Shadowers will gain a broader understanding of how the business operates, adding more value to the team and the organization as a whole. Finally, job shadowing helps improve employee retention, as it satisfies the employee’s need for growth and development.

How do you implement a job shadowing program in the workplace?
While easy to execute, implementing an effective job shadowing program does need some preparation. First, determine the objectives of the program. What are you trying to achieve? More interdepartmental collaboration? Promote employee growth? After choosing clear and measurable objectives, consider the length of the program and how it will benefit both employees and the organization. As always, it might be a good idea to start with a pilot program before rolling it out organization-wide.

Once you get the program going, prepare shadowers and hosts for a successful experience with tools such as Live Career’s Job Shadowing Questions to Ask and this article on How to Be an Amazing Job Shadow Host.


Implement Job Shadowing

Identify participants - Determine which departments and/or employees who would benefit most from shadowing each other. Try to include departments that don’t often interact with one another.

Seek employee participation - Allow employees to volunteer, but also seek out employees whom you think would benefit, even if they don’t volunteer directly. Talk to the selected employees and ask if they are interested in participating in the program. Explain the reasoning for job shadowing and how it can benefit their personal growth and career development. Ask interested employees to choose 3 jobs they would like to shadow for the day.

Choose employees to act as hosts - Select engaged, experienced and/or well-trained employees to host the job shadowers. Recognize that hosts will serve as important mentors and opinion-leaders, so choose not only based on technical competence. Like step 2, explain to them the reasoning for and benefits of job shadowing. Assure hosts that the shadowing experience will not get in the way of their day-to-day activities.

Match shadowers with the right hosts - Once hosts agree to be shadowed, match employees interested in shadowing with the appropriate host. For example, if the shadower is looking to develop within their current role, have them follow someone more senior in their department.

Develop training methods - Work with hosts and shadowers to develop the best and most effective way to job shadow.Some tactics may include allowing employees to observe the host for the day and ask questions, rather than perform tasks (observation approach), or letting employees observe and undertake some of the tasks they have learned (hands-on approach).

Schedule time together - Have shadowers reach out to their host and schedule time together. Timing will vary depending on the nature of the job and the length of the program. Often, one or two days is enough time for the shadower to get a good feel for the job. Remember, they are not training to do the job. They are observing to become familiar with what the job is like.

Prepare employees for a successful job shadowing experience - Once dates have been set, make sure both parties are clear on the details and prepared ahead of time. Use the articles linked in the how-to section to help with the preparation.

Measure success - Following the program, meet with your employees to discuss their job shadowing experience. Ask them questions that allow them to provide their insight and perspective: How has job shadowing enhanced your personal and professional development? What did you gain from the experience? If this position something you are still interested in pursuing? Incorporate these findings into their career development plans going forward. This will give you an understanding of the impact job shadowing had employee performance.

Reference Material
How Shadowing Coworkers Can Make You Better At Your Job
The Benefits of Establishing a Job Shadowing Program for Employees
Job Shadowing Guidelines

Updated on: 08/31/2023

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