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A Decision to Implement Job Shadowing
In my work at a drug rehabilitation center for boys, we assembled a change team to reduce the skyrocketing number of negative behavioral incidents committed by our clients. The team deduced that one important factor was poor orientation and training of new employees. One of our most successful plans was the creation of an active job shadowing program.
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Job Shadowing: On the Job
What kind of orientation program do you have in place right now? What training do you provide? You probably give new workers a job description and assemble them in a large room, where your organization’s talking heads talk at them for a while.
Maybe you sit down with each new employee and give him a folder of policies and procedures; he signs off on each one. Then he takes that folder home and reads each and every policy, right? Well, the unfortunate truth is that those folders are probably in the back of your employees’ closets.
Those techniques don’t work. You can hold someone to his signature if he doesn’t perform well, but the truth is that you’d like him to learn the job correctly in the first place. Unfortunately, most new employees form their job habits by mimicking the first people who befriend them. How many have been befriended by Joe Shmoe, the corporate clown who is one step away from termination?
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Benefits of Job Shadowing
By assigning your new employees to follow around a veteran employee—without actually doing any work on his own—you give that employee the best possible start he can have on his new job. You get to choose which employees demonstrate their skills for the newbies. You control the information that is taught.
Written procedures that seem obscure to someone new become clear when they are demonstrated by a veteran. You’ll have a better handle on just what is taught. Your demonstrator can communicate and even document whether new information is being assimilated.
Establish the length of time that your new employee will shadow the demonstrator based on the type and complexity of the work being demonstrated. A minimum stint of two days is recommended, and in some situations (such as our drug rehab center, where client personalities play a role) the shadowing can last as long as a week.
Sometimes it works best to have the employee shadow the demonstrator for a day, then spend a day working on his own, and then return to the demonstrator to dissect how he applied what he learned. Some employers have two new employees shadow one veteran for, say, a half shift. Then the new employees work together for the rest of the shift, discussing what they learned. The next day, they meet with the veteran again for more discussion.
Job shadowing costs your company no money other than the time your new employee spends in his orientation. This technique requires no investment in contracting outside experts.
It also boosts employee morale and performance. The veteran employees assigned as demonstrators strive for excellence because they are proud of being chosen. Other employees are motivated to attain the skills that will earn them the status of demonstrator.
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You can also use job shadowing to cross-train employees. When people in two separate departments know how each department functions, absenteeism becomes less of a problem. If someone is absent, vacancies are more easily filled. Your employees better understand what their coworkers do. They feel more patience with each other and gain more confidence in their coworkers.
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Job Shadowing: National Job Shadowing Day
You can also develop a job shadowing program for students in your community to teach them about your company. While most benefits accrue to the students, the corporate recruiter who offers job shadowing to local schools gains a definite edge by discovering which students will make excellent additions to the employee roster. Many companies observe Ground Hog’s Day (February 2) for their job shadowing program efforts.
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What About Our Results?
Did we see success from our job shadowing program at the rehabilitation program? Our change team's recommendations reduced client behavioral incidents by 27%. Employees expressed more confidence in their own abilities as well as in those of their peers. You can duplicate this success with job shadowing techniques to boost customer satisfaction, increase line productivity, or improve processes generally. An added benefit is the reduction in work-related accidents. Put job shadowing to work at your company and see what plays out.