Job shadowing

Last week I got an email from someone who’d attended a couple of info sessions I facilitated.  She said ‘Thanks for presenting the sessions on culture and change management.  I found them interesting as they leaned towards my aim to develop my OD and Change skills.  I wondered if I could shadow you in relation to your work on change and design to develop my knowledge and experience in the area and my career.’

On first glance it’s a lovely invitation and we’ve set up a meeting to discuss it.  On second glance the invitation has prompted me to look more closely at job shadowing – what, why, how and also about what I do in the day-to-day that illustrates what a career in OD and Change is like.   I’d like the shadowing to be helpful, and a learning experience, for both of us.

What is it?  Martin, on Cleverism says it’s ‘following, or shadowing, a professional at an organization throughout the workday or workweek to get a better idea of what that particular role entails.’ Another writer says, ‘The overarching purpose of a job shadow is to give someone a sense of what a career [in that discipline] is really like. A test drive so to speak!’

Martin talks about two main types of job shadowing: observation and hands-on.  He says, in observation, ‘you will be observing an incumbent employee, taking notes on how they conduct their business and understanding their activities. You are nothing more than a fly on a wall, listening and seeing everything an employee says and does, respectively.’

In hands-on ‘After observing for a short time and understanding the things an employee in that position needs to do, you will take on those same responsibilities and undertake some of those tasks.’

Another writer talks about “Burst Interactions”  ‘Here a visitor/guest will shadow the host for specific activities over a period of time which are all preceded by a mini brief and follow up debrief. This type of shadowing provides short periods of focused activity, rather than passive ongoing observation.’

I took a look back at what I did last week and whether my job shadower could be hands-on, would be more of an observer, or would be better doing ‘burst interactions’.   In calendar entries my week comprised:

Monday: six meetings (three group and three individual) all broadly on ‘what/how we are doing on building change management capability.’  Plus, a chunk of time I diarised as ‘uninterrupted desk time’, so people looking at my calendar don’t plop in a meeting.  It’s an experiment, triggered by reading David Stiernholm’s book, and reading his blog on the seagull free hour.  I’m seeing if it helps me focus on getting a decent length of time to reflect on and write some papers that are now approaching deadlines.

Tuesday: morning a discussion with colleagues on a culture audit we’ve being doing. Then a meeting on accreditation of change managers (yes/no?), and in the afternoon I participated in an external workshop on talent and a learning culture .

Wednesday:   A train trip to facilitate a session on brave leadership + some phone discussion on smart working.

Thursday: Two different sessions on building change management capability, and a workshop on direction setting and prioritising/planning activity in the next quarter.  (Note to self:  beware the dangers of ‘roadmapping’)

Friday: Following up on the change management workstream in a big project and attempting to get to grips with my email in-box, and finally write the papers.

In non-calendar activity, I also had multiple casual and unplanned conversations and answered over 200 emails (latter probably not something to shadow).

If I’d been shadowed last week as an observation (rather than hands-on) then what would the person have observed?  I don’t know how skilled she is at observation i.e. ‘the systematic description of the events, behaviors, and artifacts of a social setting and I all I currently know about why she wants to observe is from the email she sent.

Why she wants to do it, is to ‘know more about the area of OD and change’.  I think she’d see from the various meetings, that I’m working as an internal consultant in much the way that Andrew Sturdy/Nick Wylie discuss in their ESRC report Internal Consultants as Agents of Change. The work I do falls into their 4 buckets:

Operational efficiency – this category is one that I call organisation design, in their terms ‘practices which are focused around improving systems or processes so that information and/or material can be moved through the organisation more efficiently.’

Organisational development ‘including the use of psychology-based analytical tools and, broadly speaking, more of an interest or focus on people rather than work processes.

Strategic analysis and development here, I’m working with colleagues in the strategy group to develop alignment across strategies and keep an eye on the changing external context in order to ‘sense and respond’ effectively.

Project management.  A significant part of what I do is with Programme and Project colleagues looking not only at change management aspects but also at the efficiencies, development and strategies of the various projects.

Seeing this she might well ask herself whether which of the four areas she is more interested in, or does she want to develop all four?  Each has their own specialist route which she could go down and/or find out more about.

I wonder if she’ll also be observing me deploying (hopefully) my role and skills as an internal consultant.  An old but still relevant report on this, The Role of the Internal Consultant, from Roffey Park is worth reading.  It gives a laundry list of internal consulting competences:  relationship building, maintaining a long-term perspective, disengaging (i.e. not having a vested interest), active listening, self-knowledge/self-awareness, contracting, diagnosis, design, tolerance of ambiguity, facilitating and understanding change, data gathering, influencing, challenging the status quo, conflict handling.  I’d add to the list business/commercial knowledge and understanding internal political dynamics.

There’s quite a lot of info for the person doing the shadowing, but less for the person being shadowed although I thought that the instructions Cleverism gives for the person shadowing could equally apply to me:

  • dress for success (hmm – do I do this?)
  • be punctual and show eagerness (both sometimes a challenge)
  • be open-minded (I’m constantly learning on this one)
  • learn how to communicate (ditto)
  • read all formal documents (a particular point as I rush to a meeting and skim them as it proceeds)
  • ask for feedback (good advice to take)
  • report everything you learned (sometimes I’m just reporting to myself but I find the reflection useful).

Manchester Metropolitan University’s Guidelines for Job Shadowing is a very good resource for both host and shadower covering benefits to both.  Armed with this info  – which I’ve also sent to the person who’ll be shadowing, we should both enjoy the experience.

What’s your experience of job shadowing? Let me know.

Image: Four benefits of job shadowing

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