Take Your Child to Work Day has become a tradition on the fourth Thursday in April in some workplaces. But, at the TechSmith Corporation in Okemos, MI, the concept morphed into an opportunity for internal on-the-job training, and a new form of job shadowing.
This story demonstrates employee ideas that you might want to incorporate in your workplace. But, it also lays out a process for how employee ideas can happen with commitment and support. Consider supporting the implementation of employee ideas similarly in your organization.
The Generation of an Employee Idea
The concept originated when Jim Hidlay, sales VP, told technical development staff members that he wished that they could sit in on several sales meetings. He felt that the experience would really open up their minds about the customer experience and the job of selling the products they developed.
A technical staff member, Andy Rudnitsky, thought that might, in fact, be a grand idea – not just for sales, but across the company. He had read about Take Your Child to Work Day and he thought that the concept could apply to coworkers, too. As the company had grown, employees were separately working in five buildings. Some departments never crossed paths. Other company employees never saw each other or interacted and the departmental functions were all housed separately. This was a far cry from earlier days when you could see every employee from your work station.
He developed the idea of a Take Your Coworker to Work Day in which a coworker would visit with a buddy in another department to learn the ins and outs of that employee’s job. While visiting and learning about the coworker’s daily job, the employee from another department would gain a new understanding and respect for the person and the function that he or she job shadowed.
Nervous about presenting the idea to the management team, because it required a significant investment of employee time, Rudnitsky bounced the idea off of a number of colleagues who were universally excited. He floated the idea to solicit input and feedback because he recognized that he would be unable to implement the concept without help.
In a company with a history of supporting employee-sponsored events, ideas, trips, and concepts, Rudnitsky’s manager suggested that he put together a proposal to explore with the management team. They supported the idea. A number of employees volunteered to assist him.
Rationale for Take a Coworker to Work Day
Rudnitsky prepared a solid rationale for why bring a coworker to work day was a win for his company. He believed that this type of activity would:
- Build informal employee relationships,
- Create knowledge and understanding between company functions and departments,
- Eliminate stereotypes that employees had of each other and other departments,
- Give employees a chance to interact with employees that they might never know under usual circumstances, to enhance company-wide team building,
- Help employees gain respect for the work of other departments,
- Counteract the traditional employee process of making things up when they didn’t know or understand what was actually happening in another department, and
- Demonstrate and share the root and core of the TechSmith culture and work environment: help employees step out of their comfort zones, provide the time to understand the point of view of others, and incorporate and demonstrate the company values in action.
Implementation of Take a Coworker to Work Day
Everyone loved the idea, but in the midst of employees’ busy work days, Rudnitsky had a hard time getting help to implement the idea. So, he made an internal company video that marketed the idea and asked for help via direct employee emails.
Excited team volunteers formulated the guidelines for Take a Coworker to Work Day.
- Interested employees were asked to make three choices of jobs they wished to shadow for a day. A popular selection from the list of department and function choices was the open-ended choice: surprise me. Interested employees turned in their Take a Coworker to Work requests.
- Employees were matched as closely as possible to other volunteers from their first choices of departments. Rudnitsky says that the matching was challenging in that each participant had different wishes based on his or her choices of departments and functions. Several employees received unconventional and unrequested matches. Since no one complained, he assumes that coworkers were able to work out the details to meet their needs.
- Once matched and notified, the employees contacted their coworker to schedule their time together. Job shadowing time included attending meetings, participating in the daily details of the employee's job, reviewing the coworker's goals and responsibilities, and holding informal lunches for discussion.
- Employee time together depended on the job and was necessarily flexible. Employees were able to schedule half days, whole days, specific meetings, lunch dates, and so forth – whatever it took for the coworker to job shadow the most significant components of his or her coworker’s job. Employees from every department, including managers and executives, participated and tried to give their buddy a positive, learning experience.
- Each employee was also asked to maintain the confidentiality of the other employee’s job contents when needed.
The Success of Take Your Coworker to Work Day
During the first Take Your Coworker to Work Day, about 25% of employees applied and participated. The second year, closer to 45% participated. Popular departments included sales, marketing, and development big time.
Employees were so interested that a team of eight employees, including executives and managers, went out to lunch to discuss how to keep the process going. Rudnitsky was excited to share the challenge of the marketing, matching, and publicity with other employees, once again, as he realized how much time he and the team had invested the first year.
Fortunately, several volunteers came forward, including Jessica LaHaie, who provided behind-the-scenes leadership with an employee team that included Rudnitsky, and the program continued for the second year. The employee participation rate in the second year was up 52% from the first year. Employees who participated filled out evaluations, made suggestions for improvement, received participation t-shirts, and attended a celebration luncheon provided by the company.
The evaluations of Take a Coworker to Work Day were so positive that the team hopes to continue the program in years to come.
On a personal level, the implementation of employee ideas adds value and engages your workforce in unpredictable ways. Employee involvement rules.
Rudnitsky said, "I never saw myself as the kind of person who would do this kind of thing: generate the idea, run with it; and find fertile ground for implementation in a company that was open and receptive. We have an attitude here that we will try stuff. There is a real openness to trying. And, if you can make the people better around you, by implementing this shadowing program or any other employee ideas, what else can you ask?"
Indeed, Andy, what else can you ask?