By now, you have probably noticed a recurring theme in each article of this series. You don’t want your employees to stay in any given role for too long. If you do, they get bored, innovation suffers, and you run the risk of seeing them walk out the door to pursue bigger, better things working for your competitor.
While it may be a simple problem to understand, that doesn’t mean it is simple to solve.
Training takes time. Promotion-level openings don’t become available simply because someone is ready. Change is uncomfortable. In other words, you can’t just move people merely because they’ve spent X number of years in a role.
You can’t keep them in their role, but you can’t move them either.
So, what do you do?
Enter job shadowing and job swapping.
Together, these two tools are a management team’s secret weapon for creating a stimulating, challenging, and innovative working environment, while limiting the inherent chaos and upheaval that comes from permanently moving people from one position to another.
What it is
Before we jump into the benefits of job shadowing and jab swapping, let’s take a brief moment to define the two and distinguish them from one another using two home reality series from the 2000s to illustrate.
Job shadowing is when one employee joins another for a short time (from a few hours to a few days at the most), observing as they work to understand the mechanics of the role and with a special eye on their shared interactions. It’s important to note that job shadowing can occur with individuals who have different skillsets and cross-departmentally.
This is Nanny 911. She comes in, sees what they are doing, offers her opinion, and is off to the next family. It’s quick, get in, get out, and get going.
Job swapping is when two employees with similar skills trade roles. The technique is frequently used for covering role gaps for time-off or other short-term absences. However, job swapping can also be used much more strategically, as we’ll see in a moment.
This is Trading Spouses. Two women swap families to get a taste of what life is like “on the other side.” They are “mom” & “wife” (to an extent) for a week, and it’s a real shock for everyone involved.
While the two strategies are different from one another and can be used together or independently, for the remainder of the article, we will combine them into one strategy and use the phrase job swapping for readability.
Why you want it
The benefits of job swapping are typically viewed as tactical in nature. For example, it’s helpful to cover short-term openings or cross-train or prepare someone for their next position. But what is even more impactful is the strategic value that job swapping brings.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. You need fresh eyes on your work. Some of the best questions are asked by people who don’t know enough to know better. The most profound insights are often too simple to be seen by the trained eye. We become numb to our tasks and processes. What falls in line with “How we’ve always done it.”
Typically, fresh eyes are limited to new employees or outside consultants. Unfortunately, neither option is particularly cost-effective.
With job swapping, you can generate the highest concentration of fresh insight for the lowest financial impact.
“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” One of the corporate ruts that are most prevalent in organizational culture is vertical communication. Information flows (relatively) freely up and down the org chart. But left and right is another story. Us and them characterizations develop and divide. You see it all the time. Marketing vs. Sales. Shipping vs. Warehousing. East Coast vs. West Coast.
It is so common that 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures and 42% of executives say that siloed information is their greatest obstacle to interdepartmental communication.
When you get your employees to literally cross that divide to work in or monitor another person, that’s what happens. They see the person, not just the process. So there is a humanizing effect that leads us to realize, “We’re all going after the same thing, and we’ll get there faster by doing it together.”
When job swapping becomes a cultural norm, it transitions from a tactical tool to a cultural bastion. It allows for authentic relationships to build up across divides and throughout the company. These relationships become a rapid conduit for innovation and communication. Information moves much faster relationally than structurally.
Relational bonds are also critical in fostering a sense of togetherness and belonging. And this has a real impact on your bottom line. First, you get the efficiency gains from communication and collaboration.
And you also build a more engaged and committed workforce.
According to a Gusto poll, 54% of employees say a strong sense of community (great coworkers, celebrating milestones, a common mission) kept them at a company longer than was in their best interest.
Job swapping is likely the most effective tool for increasing workforce mobility making it easier to fill vacancies and giving you the ability to respond faster to external forces and market changes.
And what I believe is the most under-recognized strategic benefit of job swapping is employee retention. By structuring an environment for an employee to contribute and receive fresh ideas that challenge the status quo, working synergistically with other teams, build strong relationships with other employees outside of their division, department, or working team, and move more freely through the ranks of your organization, you will dramatically increase the likelihood the employee will stay engaged and stay with you, even if that promotion and raise aren’t available as soon as they would like.
You’ll give them an opportunity to pour into and work with others, and your best employees will be better for it.
Sure it will shake things up. But that’s precisely what you need to stay at the top of your game.