If you’ve ever read a blog of mine you probably already know where my opinions side on job shadowing… not a big fan!
That being said there is a lot of value in training someone from the direct perspective of their job. I think it’s very important to note though that job shadowing and a structured mentorship program (which have some real value and some REAL high costs) are very different. So first and foremost let’s define job shadowing, it basically involves someone following a proficient current employee doing the job the new employee is trying to learn. This has some benefits to supervisors and the organization as a whole such as it has very low costs to implement, really it’s just the cost of a completely non-productive (zero output) employee’s salary throughout the duration of the job shadowing and likely some small decreases in productivity for the current employee being shadowed. The other benefit is it doesn’t require the development of a formal training program for new hires. These benefits though are nothing compared to the loss of potential that would be achieved through a superior formalized training program. Since every organization if different I’d like to go over some universal reasons why anyone implementing the quick and dirty approach of job shadowing should really consider a new hire training solution that is more consistent, repeatable and structured.
Odds are when you’re job shadowing, the employees whose job you’re learning wasn’t a learning and development professional as a previous career. Employees know their profession; it is not training it is the job they’re being paid to do. This is a fundamental problem because they don’t understand how new employees learn and especially will not understand things like testing proper learning comprehension or teaching to different types of learners. These issues lead to new hires having an incomplete understanding of their role and these deficiencies become visible as the employee is exposed to more aspects of their job.
I can say as well from the first-hand experience most people who didn’t become training professionals don’t enjoy the process of employee learning and development, which results in poor instructor performance and a weak incomplete onboarding process for the new hire. Just imagine if your organization has always done this, your poorly trained new employees will eventually become underperforming long-term employees who then pass that incomplete knowledge onto the next crew of new employees and the vicious cycle continues!
We’ve all experienced those tips and tricks for doing a job easier and usually, they do not focus on improving productivity. Many times they are at the cost of output or longevity of equipment. Both of these situations have a cost to the organization and I can almost guarantee it greatly out ways the savings experienced through job shadowing.
A much bigger problem though simply comes from depending on various employees to ensure consistent delivery of messaging, processes and responsibilities. This is very difficult in the easiest of jobs but as positions and organizational operations become more specialized it becomes nearly impossible. In production based operations where job shadowing is very commonplace, these inconsistencies in initial training can total millions of dollars in lost productivity and output. I’ve worked with clients who get to boast of personally producing six figure plus increases in revenue, usually through strategic initiatives that simply revolve around more consistent operations and better training on maintenance. Little mistakes when compounded over millions of repetitions lead to a big impact, reducing those mistakes through improved streamlined processes is the basis of operations management.
When using a training technique like job shadowing it takes a long time to have the new employee exposed to every possible scenario or at least enough variable situations to suffice. This means your new hire is spending a lot of unnecessary time seeing the same repetitive tasks, as opposed to being exposed to new important information that may be crucial to their long-term success.
Odds are job shadowing is used because the organization doesn’t want to accrue training costs but all that unproductive paid time your new hire is just sitting around waiting for another opportunity to learn something is a training cost, it’s funny how quickly managers forget about their Cost Accounting principles. Not to mention your efficiency level from the employee being shadowed will most definitely be negatively impacted.
There are a lot of different training methods and they all have their benefits and their weaknesses. When making your choice based mainly on cost or perception that training doesn’t matter it’s not nearly as simple as it looks.
Want to save money in operations?
Start with training, it’s easier and cheaper to prevent an issue than to fix one…. or more likely many.
Donny McGrath, Development Solutions Strategist