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Cross Training

You’ve heard about cross-training, but should you implement or recommend it, and why or why not? Cross-training increases employee flexibility and allows you to adapt to unexpected changes. Read on to learn about benefits, drawbacks, and how to get started cross-training employees.

What is Cross-training?

Cross-training is teaching an employee skills required to perform jobs that are not their primary duty.

Why Is Cross-training Employees Important?

Cross-training increases the agility of your team to quickly adapt to unexpected changes.

It may be initiated by managers coming to you asking for support; you may see that an understaffed team needs help building skills and competency; or it may come to light that only one or a few employees have a crucial skill. A few benefits to cross-training employees include:

  • Increased efficiency. When each member specializes in certain responsibilities, the team can crumble when members take time off, leave or pursue other opportunities. If your team is cross-trained, team members can quickly adapt when a team member is absent because they are familiar with their duties.
  • Gain new skills. Formal training can be expensive, and you may not have the budget for it. Cross-training can be achieved with little to no cost for the organization, and the more skills your employees possess, the more valuable they can be to your organization.
  • Retain talent. When employees get the opportunity to learn new responsibilities and develop new skills, they become aware of in-house opportunities. As your workforce grows with your organization, they may decide to transfer to a new team or position instead of leaving the organization.
  • Trust building. Building bridges between departments is key to company success. Cross-training gives an opportunity to managers and staff from different departments to build relationships and lines of communication.

Pitfalls in Cross-training

If it is not clearly explained as an opportunity, cross-training may not be accepted or welcomed. Below are potential issues to consider and address.

Decreased morale. When an employee is asked to cross-train another employee or receive training, they employee may understand this request to mean that their job security is in jeopardy, and be resistant to cross-training.

Unhealthy competition. If employees feel that their job security is in jeopardy, they may attempt to protect their position with the company. These attempts can include bullying, gossip or blackmailing others.

A larger workload. Employees may understand cross-training as an attempt to add more work to their daily responsibilities.

How to Start Cross-training Employees

Follow the steps below to set your company up for success with your cross-training program.

Step 1: Set Goals

What is the end result you are looking to accomplish? Make sure you are specific, whether you are preparing for an organizational change or want to be prepared for unexpected challenges. Your goal will act as your guide for implementing the program and measuring its success.

Step 2: Structure

There are two basic approaches to cross-training.

  • Job enrichment. This gives employees more authority and responsibility within their current role. Example: an HR employee who fills out I-9 forms for new employees may learn how to conduct New Hire Orientation.
  • Job expansion involves training employees on skills for different positions at their same level. An added benefit is that it provides more variety to the workday for the employee.

Step 3: Who Will Receive the Training?

Are you looking to cross-train within one team, or multiple departments? Initiate conversations with the managers of those teams to better define who will benefit the most and how to best meet your goals.

Step 4: Motivating Employees to Participate

Use positive affirmations to frame why the employees are receiving this training. Whether it is the strong growth of the company or the outstanding value an employee is adding to the organization, you want to mitigate the possibility of the employees misunderstanding the purpose of the training as outlined in the Pitfalls section above, and resisting or sabotaging the program.

One method to motivate employees to participate is to give them choice in what skills they learn. This gives them the ownership to control their development and career path within the company.

Step 5: Who Will Teach?

Managers should teach the training. When there is a positive relationship between manager and employee, success will follow. Including managers in the cross-training prompts them to dedicate time to teach and mentor these employees on the new skills. This will nurture the relationship between manager and employee.

Step 6: Prepare

Managers and other trainers must be involved in setting the date and determining how long each training will last. Work may need to be rescheduled or reallocated as the duties of those being trained must still be covered.

Step 7: Feedback and Evaluation

This step includes all the parties involved: trainers, employees, and you.

  • Employees involved in the training. Express your gratitude to the employees and let them know that you and the company support their success. Ask them how it went and how they feel about their new skills. Look for specifics of what went well and what needs to be improved. If an employee gives vague statements such as “Everything is going well” or “I don’t enjoy it,” ask further questions to determine what part of the training went well or needs improvement.
  • Managers or other trainers. Trainers can provide insight into what additional support they may need for future cross-training sessions. Additionally, ask them for ideas on how to improve the training to further improve the content or their experience in the training.
  • The program itself.  Does the program accomplish the goals you set? Make evaluation a continual process of improving the program over time.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Cross-training Employees

Can someone be too specialized to be cross-trained?
It depends on the position. It is not appropriate to cross-train positions that involve complying with regulations or other responsibilities that could have legal or safety repercussions. That person should receive official training and/or certification so they have the necessary knowledge and judgement to make good decisions.
How do you motivate an employee to cross-train?
As you discuss the cross-training with the employee, communicate the reasoning for the cross-training clearly, whether it is because their manager values them or to increase the productivity of their team. Make sure they know their job is not in jeopardy. Keep the conversation positive.
Ryan Archibald

Ryan Archibald

Ryan is the HR Director at Paul Davis Restoration of Utah with four years of experience and three masters degrees. One accomplishment he is proud of is the design and launch of a development program for 800+ employees.

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