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Getting Started With Job Shadowing or Rotational Programs

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Many talent development professionals understand that rotational or job shadowing programs would be advantageous to securing and retaining talent, and good for developing depth of skills within their organization. But on top of everything else already on their plate, they may not understand or have time think about where to begin in creating such a program.

As Mia Mulrennan advises in “A Value Add: Shadowing and Rotational Programs,” a new talent initiative such as a job shadowing or rotational program begins by understanding the end goal. What is it that you hope to accomplish from such a program? Do you want to groom high potentials? Do you want to cross-train employees?

Once you understand your “why” (as Simon Sinek would say), the next step is to gain leadership commitment and sponsorship. While this step is easier in an organization that realizes the importance of developing its employees, doing so anywhere requires presenting a business case for the program. Understanding what you want out of the program and the benefits it has to offer to your organization and employees (or potential employees) will help you make your case.

The third step in implementing a rotational or job shadowing program is to select the roles and functional areas that you would like involved. These should be connected to the organization’s business goals. As Mulrennan writes, “You should assess the context, including the company’s strengths and vulnerabilities in terms of the program, to improve the chances for success.” For example, will you lose specific competencies in the coming years due to retirements? Are you looking to better serve customers, and believe that the product development team could better understand what potential users want if one of the team members spent time in the sales department to hear from customers?


Remember that a job rotational or shadowing program will benefit both the individual involved and the organization. The team that takes on the rotational employee, however, will need to do some work before, during, and after the program. This should be carefully considered when selecting roles and functional areas.

Is the new team willing to share their knowledge? Are they ready to develop a plan for the rotating employee so that the employee gets the best out of the experience in terms of tasks and assignments? Is the individual supervising the rotating employee willing to meet with that employee and provide feedback?

After you have selected roles and functional areas based on what you want to accomplish with your new program, conduct a job analysis for each role in the program. This will help you understand what competencies, as well as expected capabilities and outcomes, are required of the person filling that rotational program spot.

It is at this point you can select participants and build in support for the rotating employee as well as the team the employee will join. A strong onboarding process is critical to the success of a rotational program, as is determining metrics for success.

Leaders will be watching the program to see how it does, as will other employees to see if they might want to participate in such a development initiative. So, as Mulrennan advises, start small! Many employees, especially ones from the younger generations, have begun to see rotational and shadowing programs as a given opportunity; it is critical that you start providing them.
A Value Add: Shadowing and Rotational Programs” is the September 2018 issue of TD at Work.

About the Author

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

1 Comment
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It feels like "job shadowing" and "job rotation" are being used interchangeably here. While the design process for each one is similar to the other, the outcomes are going to be drastically different.
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