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Cross-training employees: A Manager’s Guide

Have you ever considered cross-training your employees? There are a wide range of benefits for your organization that come from cross-training; we break them down and walk you through how you can introduce the practice to your business below!

Cross-training employees is a phenomenon used by businesses to develop more skills within their workforce. Our previous blogs often emphasized different ways companies can improve their workforce and better handle their workload. Companies offering such corporate training programs have adopted new processes that allow employees to improve their most creative skill: Flexibility

Group of confident managers listening to female employee

Cross-training is how businesses can take their mentorship and training programs to the next level. How so? There are plenty of job opportunities available within each company. However, there is a particular skills gap between the candidates and the job requirements. Through cross-training, companies can develop such skills within their current workforce rather than seeking candidates that prevail in these skills. As a result, this saves managers time and money associated with hiring processes. It also makes their current employees more productive and happier. Below we’ll talk about the benefits of implementing a cross-training program, and the steps required to implement it with your workforce. 

Benefits of Cross-training your employees

At first, it might seem that cross-training is just teaching employees new skills and plugging them into different, unfamiliar roles. In reality, companies seek this program to ensure that employees have the necessary proficiency in leading the business in the future. This might seem contradictory for managers whom themselves are looking to move into leadership roles. However, the intention isn’t to create hostility within the workforce but rather to strengthen the team and give employees more opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills. So, the question remains, “Why do companies want to cross-train their employees?” and “How does it benefit the company?”. 

Improve Employee Engagement:

Any new employee to a company requires understanding the business goals and expectations to understand their role. Without a clear understanding, employees often disengage and counterproductive behaviors. The worst part about lack of clarity is that employees tend to be the most motivated at the start of their tenure at the company. As a result, managers must use this time to provide new employees with a training program that clarifies their role and encourages them to take on new opportunities and develop additional skills. A research study by Gallup shared that 87% of millennials seek ‘professional or career growth and development opportunities within their current jobs. Cross-training employees is a way to provide these opportunities to new employees and make them more valuable. 

In return, companies can take advantage of such engaged employees, encouraging them to work collaboratively and provide better results. Moreover, a similar study by Ladders claims that 86% of millennials would stick to their jobs if given ‘career training and development’ through their employers. This shows that by making your employees more engaged, they are more likely to stick around. This would keep the company’s retention rate high, and employees feel more “empowered”. 

Flexibility for Scheduling 

The introduction to flexible working has brought great success to companies worldwide. The success that accompanies flexible jobs is through employees’ freedom to perform their tasks without feeling micromanaged by their employees. Here, it might seem that only employees benefit from flexible jobs. However, that’s not the case. By providing employees with cross-training, managers can hire employees looking to go beyond completing standard tasks and train them to perform organizational citizenship behavior. This means there is a give-and-take relationship associated with Cross-training. Businesses implement cross-training programs for employees to take on more challenges, resulting in developing their skill-set and making advancements. 

Companies benefit greatly from such employees as they make them more agile and better respond to external business conditions. For example, the recent pandemic led to various internal issues such as unintentional turnover and workflow bottlenecks. Through cross-training, employees can step up a notch and take additional responsibilities to cover shortages. Cross-training can instill the philosophies Winston Churchill, and Thomas Edison shared about rising from failure. 

Career Development 

As an employee, it’s normal to feel that the current training programs that jobs provide aren’t beneficial for growth and development. 74% of surveyed employees feel they aren’t reaching their full potential due to a lack of development opportunities. That is not great to hear as a manager. Resultantly, managers must make training programs more incentives for new hires rather than a mandate. Cross-training programs create such incentives for employees, which significantly improve the company’s culture. Statistically, there is clear evidence favoring cross-training employees rather than onboarding new employees.

  • 70% of employees would be somewhat likely to leave their current job to work for an organization known for investing in employee development and learning.
  • 60% of millennials want leadership training.

Sadly, only an estimated 42% of critical roles can be filled quickly by internal candidates, based on Lorman’s survey on many companies in the United States. Generally, employees assess their future in the company once in a while. Knowing that an opportunity for growth is visible gives employees a sense of belonging. While companies are required to train their employees for specific tasks, cross-training employees is an additional investment that would provide employees with this sense of belonging. After all, managers train employees for seeking some economic return, right?

Succession Planning 

Every company seeks sustainability in one way or another. Companies seek committed and motivated employees, who complete their tasks and other responsibilities on time. Moreover, companies hope that employees do their work with conviction. Why so? The reason is that companies often look for employees that have a knack to take additional responsibilities and are eager to learn about the business. This helps the company make decisions as some employees retire or leave over the long run. This way, the managers wouldn’t have to worry about discontinuity every time an employee leaves. Moreover, while succession planning comes very handy when businesses transition, only the cross-trained employees can adapt to such changes. 

From ensuring that all roles are covered to improving efficiency in their work, any cross-trained employee is more likely to benefit a company than any other employee. With the aid of Cross-training, companies save money from onboarding processes and overall improve the “employability” of the workforce—Result: Happier workforce and happier customers.

Steps necessary to implement a Cross-training program

Identify roles and responsibilities.

An essential step required to cross-train employees is to list all the employees and group them based on job descriptions and roles. Once the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, managers can identify responsibilities that very few employees share. Through this, the manager’s task is to cross-train other employees with skills that can help them perform the same responsibilities that they weren’t initially set out to do. Sometimes, it turns out that employees that do not have the responsibility are better skilled to fulfill these tasks. 

Cross-reference skills 

Staff Scheduling Software

In addition, a match between skills required and skills desired is the ideal scenario. Usually, this requires a well-versed employee to become the mentor/trainer. Similarly, there has to be an employee who shows promise or has the potential to improve those skills or is eager to take responsibility. Through searching the pool of talent in the workforce, it is possible to match potential mentors and mentees that can work together to develop the necessary skills. 

Identify the method

The next step of cross-training employees is to identify the medium or the method in which the training would occur. Usually, the technique would differ as per the trainer or instructor’s abilities, but here are some ways of implementing the program:

  • On-the-job training: This is the most common and effective cross-training of employees. Usually done under normal working conditions, this way of cross-training involves the trainee ‘shadowing’ the trainer for a period to learn new skills. This requires the trainer to be effective in teaching. Consequently, managers have to ensure that the trainer is trained in teaching the new employee the necessary skills.
  • Instructor-led training: This type of cross-training involves an expert instructor that teaches employees the necessary skills that the manager wants the employees to develop. However, for training to be practical, the employees must then have the opportunity to put the skills they’ve learned into practice in a working environment.
  • Online training: Similar to Instructor-led, the only difference is that employees can cross-train at their desks with online training 

Explain the benefits

Explain the benefits of the particular cross-training program to the employees taking part in the program. This way, the employees can understand its purpose and think of it as positive rather than negative.   

Launch the training program 

Launch the cross-training program and ensure that the training is happening. Moreover, it’s vital to ensure that the training actively involves the employees and allows them to practice the necessary skills. 

Rotate tasks

The skills used in the cross-training require to be practiced regularly. After the team has completed the cross-training process, consider implementing a rotation plan in which members spend a half or full day every few months working in the role for which they have cross-trained.

Get feedback 

Encourage the employees to give feedback regarding the training program to see how they feel about its effectiveness. Feedback can help for future cross-training programs.

Employees are the most expensive component of most firms. When done correctly, cross-training increases employee engagement codifies institutional knowledge and stimulates productivity gains that lead to bottom-line results.

However, cross-training employees is only one way to develop your employees. Cross-training is a valuable tool to provide employees with broader knowledge about the business. As a result, cross-training might not necessarily be helpful in highly specialized industries. 

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