When employees quit or miss work for some reason, when layoffs become necessary, or even when it's just a matter of busy season, cross-trained employees can step in to minimize disruption. Simply put, cross-training is about showing employees how to do each other's jobs.
Cross-Training Has No Industry Limits
Even if you have only a few employees, cross-training can help you mitigate damages related to busy periods and employee absences — regardless of your industry.
While cross-training isn't restricted to specific industries, it's more prevalent in certain work environments.
For example, in accounting firms, things get busier at tax time, and in retail stores, the pace gets more hectic during holiday seasons. Cross-training is also common in fields requiring superior levels of readiness, such as health care and the military. In general, cross-training allows employers in any industry to fill staffing gaps on the fly.
Plan Astutely for Cross-Training
It's one thing for employees to learn how to use the photocopier and another for them to execute the key functions of someone else's role. Since not everyone will be qualified for the latter, cross-training should be done strategically. Here are seven suggestions for implementing a successful cross-training strategy.
Identify the knowledge and skills needed for each position.
Pinpoint the most critical functions of each role. Though the goal of cross-training is to lower dependency on a single worker, you don't want to waste time on nonessential tasks. Focus your cross-training initiatives on essential duties.
Identify the employees capable of performing the critical tasks mentioned in step 2. For example, one or two administrative assistants can be cross-trained to answer the phones when the receptionist is away, and the receptionist can be cross-trained on particular duties performed by the administrative assistants. However, an administrative assistant likely isn't capable of fulfilling an information technology specialist's role. So, make sure you cross-train people whose disposition, skills, knowledge and learning capacity fit the requirements for the new role.
Explain the reason for cross-training to the respective employees. Ask for their input and consider their feedback. Make clear that cross-training isn't being done to take advantage of employees or to get rid of certain jobs or staff members.
Show employees how cross-training benefits them and the company. You might say that cross-training builds employees' skill sets, supports employees' career growth, strengthens collaboration among employees, and increases organizational efficiency and agility.
Plan for potential roadblocks, such as what will happen to the cross-trained employee's workload when they're tackling someone's else job. Also, consider lowering the employee's workload during cross-training since it will take time for them to grasp the new role.
Reward employees who have sufficiently completed their cross-training. This indicates that you appreciate their efforts.
Lastly, employees will lose their cross-training skills if they don't regularly use them. So, be prepared to periodically retrain your cross-trained employees.