Mentoring and Job Shadowing: Key to Developing Future Leaders

Everywhere you turn, the forecasts are dire: Skills shortages abound, especially in critical technical roles. The leadership gap is widening, causing a dearth of leaders ready to fill the pipeline. Employee engagement is dismal, with only 13 percent of employees worldwide claiming to be interested in their work. It’s enough to make an HR professional want to throw their hands in the air and give up.

Take heart. Although there is no magic bullet that will be the answer to each of these business challenges, one approach is gaining ground as a way to not only retain top talent but also to help develop the next generation of leaders – mentoring and job shadowing programs as key components of a strategic succession plan. 

Developing a strong mentoring and job shadowing program can not only help to engage and retain employees, but it also can prepare an organization for talent shortfalls and support its long-term growth. If “knowing is doing,” then helping employees gain experience in specific areas by learning from and engaging with a seasoned professional may be one of the best ways to ensure that critical institutional knowledge is adequately transferred before key leaders must be replaced. 

In addition, by giving employees the tools and confidence they need to do their job effectively, the company can demonstrate its commitment to employee career development, which is a significant factor in employee retention. In fact, studies show that employees – particularly the experiential millennial workforce – are more likely to stay with a company that values employee growth and development. 

Providing opportunities for hands-on experience through mentorship and shadowing programs can help your company fulfill its business needs as well as meet employee expectations for learning and development. But how do you get started with establishing a program that can nurture, energize and challenge participants and lead to improved organizational success? Here are a few steps to consider:

1. Establish goals for the program. By utilizing a robust talent management platform, you can better understand individual employee interests as well as prioritize organizational skills gaps and identify appropriate successors to mitigate risks for critical positions. With this data in hand, clear, actionable goals can be established to optimize each unique employee situation – and ensure the best results for your organization’s leadership continuity efforts.

2. Select the appropriate leaders. Take time to determine the criteria for participation in the program, both from a mentor and mentee perspective. Ensure that participants are leaders who care about and want to invest in their people – and are prepared to impart their wisdom and experience. 

3. Implement job shadowing where applicable. Job shadowing allows for employees to observe and participate in specific tasks associated with the position. The employee has the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned while mentors provide support and advice to allow the new skills and knowledge to solidify.

4. Monitor progress. Ensure the appropriate technology is in place that enables the tracking of development activities both by individuals, divisions, talent pools and your entire company. The right solution can break down silos between HR systems and provide you with a complete view of progress toward company business goals and leadership objectives.

For many organizations today, mentoring and job shadowing are gaining in importance as a critical talent development and retention tool, as well as an important element of strategic succession planning. Companies that are struggling with impending or actual vacancies in their leadership pipeline may find that implementing a formal mentorship program can help give employees the skills and knowledge they need to grow into future leaders and assure the company’s success.

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