Senior management are often seen as being out of reach, inaccessible and having little concept of what goes on among the lower ranks. Workers ask, rightly, how people with little or no knowledge of how the work is done can make the decisions. Sending them back to the shopfloor is one way of jogging their memory, ensuring that they communicate with more junior staff and showing those staff your commitment to them and their viewpoints.
As part of the recent Adult Learners’ Week, The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) sent its HR director, Ali Peck, back to the floor. Instead of plotting HR strategies, Peck joined the housekeeping team and found herself maintaining the on-site overnight accommodation used by RNLI volunteers trained at The Lifeboat College – from making beds to cleaning rooms and communal areas. Peck’s efforts were part of the RNLI’s job-shadowing scheme, which gives staff an opportunity to get hands-on experience of colleagues’ jobs. Staff can choose to shadow a range of jobs from across the organisation – including chief executive. Almost 70 staff took part this year. As Peck says, “Most of us have an idea about what other people’s jobs entail but actually doing the job – even for a short time – is a real eye opener”.
In the face of such enthusiasm, it seems odd that so few companies offer job shadowing schemes. What is there to fear? Are they worried that people might suss how little the chief executive does, or that the lower ranks might get it into their heads that they too could do the ‘big’ jobs? Or are companies simply too tight to allow staff to step away from their work long enough to benefit from schemes like this?