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Natalia Rossingol

Why You Need to Add Job Shadowing to Your Staff Management Toolkit

From upskilling, to relationship building, to leveling up your understanding of the technical work that goes on in your company, job shadowing is a great tool.

There is no better way to learn things than by experiencing them. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be thrown into the deep end to start swimming.

You can learn a lot by observing, listening, and just being present - in other words, by acting like a shadow.

In the work environment, job shadowing can be a powerful tool for those who are considering different career paths or wanting to upskill, as it lets you see how things actually work.

At the same time, it might be just as useful for managers and leaders, as it gives them a chance to view the organization as a complex whole whose parts depend on each other. 

In this article, we will explain the concept of job shadowing and its use for many aspects of the work process.

What is job shadowing?

Job shadowing is a workforce development practice where one employee observes the work of another employee in order to learn about their role.

Often this kind of training is used for interns who are exploring their career options and seeking to get some workplace experience. However, job shadowing can also take place when a new staff member joins a company (as part of the onboarding process), or to give junior employees an opportunity to hone their skills or learn about other careers in the company.  

But it's not just junior staff who can benefit from job shadowing: managers who are responsible for large functions within a business can benefit from spending time with frontline staff and seeing how the sausage gets made, so to speak.

This is particularly applicable for resource managers - indeed, job shadowing is one of the ways that resource managers can set themselves up for success.

After all, as resource managers are responsible for scheduling work assignments in large, often complex businesses, gaining insight into how different teams function and what different jobs look like in the day-to-day can help them make smarter allocation decisions.

Thanks to job shadowing, people can get valuable knowledge and skills not just by studying theory, but in practice. It has multiple benefits, for both trainees and the team:

  1. Trainees can better understand the role, learning what problems they might face while working in it. They will analyze what soft and hard skills they already have, and what they still need to acquire.
  2. Job shadowing can be a great tool for establishing rapport between team members and between whole departments, clarifying interconnections between them, and building greater understanding of the challenges of everyone's jobs.

Examples of job shadowing

So how does job shadowing function? Let’s take a look at some examples of what job shadowing might involve:

  • Observing meetings
  • Observing interactions with clients
  • Observing duties and functions of a particular position 
  • Job duties interviews
  • Discussing company policies and “rules of thumb”
  • Learning about potential careers at a company 
  • Workplace tour

Why job shadowing is valuable

As we mentioned above, a job shadowing opportunity can be of great use for various players of the business processes. However, we’d like to emphasize how valuable it might turn out for those involved in resource planning. By using job shadowing, resource managers can get many advantages that would let them bring their work to a new level.

So let’s see how job shadowing can benefit a resource manager: 

Upskilling junior staff

Junior staff can be assigned to “shadow” projects or more senior team members as a way to upskill. By observing how the work is getting done, what solutions people make, and how they act in various situations, including stressful and unusual ones, a junior employee can understand what skills are needed for that particular position.

Learning specific processes, tools, procedures, and rules can provide a brilliant base of technical knowledge, so important in everyday routine.   

Making valuable use of downtime

When staff have some downtime, not being scheduled on projects, some of this time could be scheduled as job shadowing time for upskilling purposes. This might be easier for the mentor, because the work process will not be interrupted in any way, and the free time will not be wasted.

Using downtime can be a perfect opportunity to show a new person around the facility, explain all the necessary details, discuss possible challenges, and introduce him or her to the team.

Ensuring that organizational knowledge is being shared

If some senior staff have lots of excellent industry-specific knowledge, people can shadow them to make sure that this knowledge is being communicated and used in the wider company.

This definitely contributes to workforce development, but it is also very important in terms of transparency – the policy of openness and honesty among different participants of the work process.

Sharing information consistently and fluently between different levels of the hierarchy has a positive effect on the company: there is more accountability, more clarity about the roles and expectations, and a deep sense of belonging to the organization.

And sharing knowledge and experience is an inherent part of transparency. While it obviously facilitates the whole work process (after all, it’s easier to do things when someone gives you a ready-made and working algorithm instead of trying to figure it out all by yourself,) there is one more side of it, probably less noticeable at first – it unites people.

Junior team members know they will always be supported, and senior ones can see that their knowledge is highly valued. And they both know that their cooperation leads them to achieve the shared goal. This is how collective wisdom works.    

Gaining insight into how different teams work

Resource managers can do some job shadowing themselves, in order to get a better understanding of how certain teams, departments, functions etc., work, and, consequently, to make more informed decisions.

Different organizational departments do not exist in isolation from each other. However, very often, teams do work in silos because they simply do not understand the interconnections among the departments. As a result, they struggle with deadlines and delivering the final product.

Understanding these connections, on the contrary, can completely change the situation.

And job shadowing is a great way to get that understanding. For example, a resource manager could shadow different teams to see how they operate – and this way, see if they need more or less staff to do their job successfully, or if they need more skillful employees to do a particular job.

Alternatively, a resource manager could also set up shadowing opportunities for other people in managerial or leadership positions so that they can gain more insight into how other parts of the business work. This can turn out to be a great practice for them to see how actual everyday processes get done and get in touch with frontline employees.

Besides, managers can use the knowledge they get while shadowing for more effective human capital management, as well as skill tracking and skill management.

Job shadowing case study

So how exactly job shadowing is used in resource management?

The topic of job shadowing was mentioned in our recent webinar with Laura Dean Smith, Director of Consulting Operations (Resource Management) at Clarivate. Laura discussed how she used shadowing as a way to upskill resources, particularly when there might be some need to develop specific aspects of their skills.

According to Laura, for some managers, junior resources might be associated with project risks. When it comes to assigning tasks to less experienced people, a manager might wonder, for example, how that will affect profitability, and what they can do to lower the possible risks.

Should they provide some additional training alongside staffing allocations? Should they allow junior resources to spend more time on completing the same tasks?

While it’s clear that some kind of investment must be made, there is often no certainty about what exactly that investment should look like.

In her organization, Laura offers the following option – job shadowing.

For upskilling those resources we have something that we call shadowing...shadowing is literally sitting, watching, observing a project, asking questions."

However, as far as scheduling goes, job shadowing can be confusing. To make sure that everyone’s work is treated fairly, it’s critical to have a clear system of what can be considered as training, and what – as direct work.

Laura provided an explanation of how that functions in Clarivate: 

When someone is shadowing, they're assigned to a project team, and they just observe. They are not to touch the deliverable, or any of the deliverables or milestones - if they do, it counts as billable time, because we don't want to be taking advantage of somebody and giving them an unknown consequence to their utilization rate. So if they're touching the project deliverables, then it's recorded as billable time."


No doubt, observing the work process with all its nuances is much more useful than just reading some training materials or watching a video. Job shadowing provides you with a rare chance to look behind the scenes learn something you might not necessarily learn through “traditional” ways.

Besides, the ability to ask questions and witness processes as they happen can be uniquely valuable experience - whether you're a career starter hoping to learn more about a potential future role, or a manager seeking to get a better understanding of the work their teams do. So why not consider how job shadowing could be used in your organization?

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