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Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

Organizations want to build an impermeable stone wall around their secret sauce. They want to guard it with zest and zeal. And at the same time, they understand the need to expose the goodness of their organization to potential talent so that they carry a positive perception with them about their employer brand. How do we show our character to the others who matter to us?

When does it work?

Students and young professionals look for opportunities to learn from the best in the business and work on live assignments. This adds significant value to their resumes and at the same time, organizations not only get commercially meaningful work done by the interns but also have the opportunity of impressing potential employees and extending an offer of employment to the best-matching talent.

While this is common knowledge, organizations fail to implement internship programmes well. Top leaders in the organization and the HR team encourage the managers on the floor to take interns in their teams and ask them to deliver good experience. However, the line manager who is supposed to mentor the intern suffers from lack of time. Sometimes, it is the lack of skills or inadequate planning that comes on the way. Job shadowing is a good way of letting the intern observe what happens in the organization, learn by observation and get ready to take live assignments.

Job shadowing is not limited to interns, rather this is a proven method to implement a succession plan. No amount of training can be equivalent of learning on the job, discussing with the practitioner and reflecting on the learnings. This is a great way of assimilating the culture of an organization, learning about the nuances and subtleties embedded in the functioning of an organization.

Line managers have a lot to make it work!

One needs tremendous courage to let someone else observe his or her behaviours and words closely. Though the intern is doing it only for learning, it could be a highly unsettling experience to be under continuous vigil and a sense of being judged. For the program to be effective, the organization across its pyramid must be comfortable with the idea of job shadowing. Top leaders have a role to play in aligning the managers across the ranks.

Job shadowing is a norm for some professions such as doctors, nurses, paramedics, lawyers, chefs and various forms of art and craft. However, for its effectiveness to come alive, the person being shadowed has to share insights with the person proactively and openly. This is a critical step of letting the learner appreciate the company, its values, the business processes and the methods by which conflicts are resolved. All of this shows the character of the employer brand.

The learner has to make it work too!

The learner has a huge responsibility in job shadowing. The person has to show tremendous amount of attention to details, humility to learn by observation, restraint from being judgmental. The process being passive and merely observational in nature, one can easily switch off and defocus rather than gleaning knowledge in each sitting.

The advantages of this method of learning are obviously great. Individual line managers have to find comfort with the idea. They have to value the process of showing a realistic preview of the job and the real character of the organization to the learner. And in turn, the learner has to do adequate homework before he or she starts shadowing an experienced professional. This will help the person make meaning of what happens in real life in the organization. In shadowing process, one cannot ask questions to the practitioner when he or she is in the middle of work and hence, one has to pay attention to all details, make notes so that further discussions can happen in a debriefing session later. Some learners may not be naturally inclined to learn by observation; however, they have to stay positive and make the most of the opportunity.

The shadow of a tree tells us about the tree, the real thing. Hence, organizations have to appropriately show their character and hope, the experience that they deliver in the process adds to their reputation.

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