Welcome to the other side of PM Basic. Hopefully the world makes a little more sense than it did before we started! Before you take what you’ve learned and make your way into the future of your career, we want to address one more important part of a Project Manager’s career (and beyond!) – Job Shadowing.
Training is important. Hopefully, over these past eight weeks, we’ve impressed that upon you all. However, good training is only the first step. Just like all of you have had a lot of really great questions and insights over the course of this program, a new trainee in any new job will need specific input and guidance to help them master how best to put their training to work at your company. That’s where Job Shadowing comes in.
In short, Job Shadowing involves putting a new or inexperienced employee (a Trainee) with a skilled employee who knows a lot about how things are done at your workplace (a Mentor.) Not only does this process make room for questions (stupid and otherwise) and learning the specific culture of your workplace, the sense of guidance and support that come from a good Mentor do a lot to improve morale and the overall strength of the team. (Bonus: A Strong Job Shadowing program is also an important component of any Diversity and Inclusion initiative because if you want to bring in people who look different, have different backgrounds or different experiences from the rest of the team, the connection with a Mentor is key to helping those people get their feet underneath them!)
Whether you are ready to launch into a new career as a project manager and looking for a Mentor at your company, or you’re looking forward to putting all of your new skills to use by Mentoring the newest team members coming on board, this guide will give you what you need to know to run through a successful Job Shadowing experience!
Week One – Watch and Learn
During the first week of the program, the Trainee should largely focus on watching and learning. While the Trainee can certainly function as an extra pair of hands for the Mentor, it’s important that the Trainee has time to see everything that the Mentor does in the course of a normal work week, and has the freedom to ask as many questions as necessary.
The Mentor should plan to have plenty of spare time for answering questions, walking the jobsite or office, and getting to know the Trainee. Ideally, the Mentor will plan to work at 75% capacity for this week. Trust us, the value that will come from the other 25% of your time will be well worth the investment!
In fact, you should plan an entire half day on the first day just for kicking off the Job Shadowing program. Have coffee together, chat about your career history and theirs, look for hobbies or interests you have in common. Getting to know each other as people now will pay off over the next month – we learn better (and teach better) when we feel like we know the other person. However, this half day isn’t all visiting and conversations – you should take the time to walk the job site(s) and the office together. Even if the Trainee has already seen these areas, they haven’t had the rundown from the Mentor, or the invitation to ask all of their questions. Take the time to get the program started on the right foot. It will save you time in the long run.
Week Two – Part of the Team
By the time you start your second week of Job Shadowing, you should know a lot more about each other, and after all of the Q & A of Week One, the Trainee should be getting a lot more comfortable with the expectations and work that goes with their role. During this second week, the Mentor should start putting the Trainee to work as their trusted assistant.
The Mentor should put a little time into planning pieces of work to give the Trainee, and making sure to communicate expectations clearly (that delegation worksheet could come in handy here!) Delegation should still be largely in the ‘Direct’ phase at this point (i.e. Mentor communicates what to do and how to do it, without leaving important decisions in the Trainee’s hands.)
The first week was all about watching and asking questions. This let the Trainee learn a lot about the Mentor, the work, and the way things get done at the company. Now this week is really about letting the Mentor get a feel for the Trainee’s work. What can the Trainee handle easily? Which tasks need more direction or information? The Mentor should watch closely to catch any missteps early and provide guidance about what went wrong.
Week Three – Oversight
By the third week, the Trainee should be getting to know the company much better, and we’re going to expand on that even more. Being successful at a company means being part of the team, and unless the company is really just as small as your direct team, the Trainee should start getting to know people beyond your direct team. The Mentor should make the time this week to set up at least 3 short 15-20 minute meetings with other people at the company that the Trainee should get to know. Set the expectation that this is a chance for the Trainee to ask questions or learn more about the company. These people could be other foremen or superintendents, but they could also be office personnel, accounting staff, IT experts, etc. As a Mentor, think about which connections at the company have been valuable to you and help your Trainee build more of those.
Aside from meeting people outside of your team, this week is a big week for the Trainee. Now that the Trainee has had a chance to absorb plenty of information about the company and the job, and the Mentor has had a whole week to observe the Trainee’s skillset, it’s go time. This week, the Mentor should be able to largely set the Trainee loose to carry tasks that are appropriate for their role. The Trainee should start making meaningful decisions, but the Mentor should keep an eye on how things are progressing. During Week Three, the Mentor should continue to watch over the Trainee’s progress as closely as they did during Week Two. The main difference is in the tasks given – while Week Two’s tasks were direct and specific, this week’s tasks should involve more judgement and decision-making. However, the Mentor should still make sure to give immediate feedback when things go wrong.
Week Four – Mentor Status
Just like in Week Three, the Mentor set up some networking meetings for the Trainee, Week Four also includes one very important meeting. The Trainee has been learning a lot about how things are done at your workplace, and this is a good time to close the loop. If possible, the Mentor should set up a meeting with the Trainee and company leadership. This could be a superintendent, or it could be the owner of the company. It might make sense to loop in whoever hired or promoted the employee, if that’s applicable. This meeting is an opportunity for last minute questions, now that the Trainee knows so much more about the job. This is also a chance for those leaders to learn more about how things are going, and to improve the sense of connection with the new team member before he or she becomes autonomous.
This is Week Four, and the first day of this week should look something like the first day on the job might look for a team member who didn’t participate in a job shadowing program. On the first day of this week, the Trainee starts to work autonomously, in whatever capacity they were hired to do. The Mentor shouldn’t need to oversee the Trainee’s work anymore. However, for this last week, the Mentor still has an important job to do. During Week Four, the Mentor should check in with the Trainee about how things are going, every single day. This could just be a phone call if things are doing well, but it’s important to maintain contact and make sure that everything is going as expected for the Trainee.
Finally, on the last day of the fourth week, you should take a little time to celebrate! This might be lunch together, or an informal hang-out after work, perhaps with other team members too. If you followed this program all the way through, you have put in an intensive month, make the time to recognize that!
Next week and beyond!
After four weeks of Job Shadowing, you should have a new team member who is truly prepared for the stresses and challenges of the job (as much as anyone can be, anyway!) Make sure to maintain the lines of contact between Mentor and Trainee, because the questions and the challenges don’t end there! Check in with one another at whatever intervals make sense – once a month, once a week. The real value of a program like this, beyond the initial training value, is the sense of team that comes from always having someone to call when you’re not sure what to do next. Over time, the new team member can become as much a resource for the one-time Mentor as the other way around!