Cross-Training Employees to Promote Engagement and Performance

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Cross-training is training an employee to do a different part of the organization's work. Training worker A to do the task that worker B does and training B to do A's task is cross training. Cross-training is good for managers, because it provides more flexibility in managing the workforce to get the job done, and it is good for employees because it helps them learn new skills, increase their value to their firm and combat position fatigue.

 

Cross-Training:

Cross-training can be used in almost any position in almost any industry. Organizations where representatives have high customer contact frequently cross-train their service representatives on a variety of roles to help ensure empathy with the customer. Retail organizations cross-train cashiers and customer service representatives on a variety of aspects of store operations. Technology-focused firms often require employees to become "certified" on the entire portfolio of offerings and offer bonuses and other benefits for those individuals who invest time and energy in broadening their knowledge. 

Benefits of Cross-Training:

As you prepare cross-training plans, you need to consider both the company benefits and the employee benefits. Cross training an employee gives them the opportunity to learn a new skill. That new skill can make them more valuable, either in their present job or in a different job.

Learning the new job can keep them stimulated and reduce worker boredom. Key benefits of cross-training include:

  • Improved employee awareness of organization's roles and functions.
  • Increased flexibility for scheduling. 
  • Increased opportunities for employee advancement. 
  • Opportunity to strengthen customer support with more knowledgeable employees.
  • Ability to keep employees motivated and "fresh" through assignment rotation. 
  • Potentially reduced absenteeism and employee turnover. 
  • Increased ability for managers to evaluate employees across an array of roles.

Job Enlargement and Job Enrichment: 

Try to structure cross-training for job enrichment wherever possible. Sometimes, you may only achieve job enlargement, but that can benefit the employee as well.

Job enlargement is the horizontal expansion of the job. It includes adding tasks that are on the same level of skill and responsibility. For example, if you train your telephone customer service representatives to handle store-level or walk-in customers, this is an example of job enlargement cross training. The people cross trained to handle walk-in customers needed to be trained in some new tasks, but the level of responsibility is still the same. 

Job enrichment entails a vertical expansion of the job. This includes the addition of tasks that give the employee more control or more responsibility.

For example, a company may decide to cross train human resources generalists to support additional activities beyond benefits administration or payroll. One firm focused on recruiting new talent, cross-trained the broader human resources team on behavioral interviewing and challenged them to get more involved in supporting hiring managers during the interview process. Instead of simple screenings, the human resources professionals worked with the hiring manager to define an interview plan and coordinate the plan's execution. 

Job Rotation and Cross-Training:

The late, great quality guru, W. Edwards Deming, often described his belief that managers could not properly understand a business unless they had been exposed to working in all areas of the organization. He described a Japanese meat packaging company that required future managers to work every aspect of the operations for up to one year, including the messy processing work and the early morning delivery work. It was his belief that only through deep immersion in the many areas of the business could an individual hope to competently manage the business.

Today, effective managers and top performing organizations readily apply Deming's thinking to their work of cultivating future managers. High potential professionals are given assignments in different functions and in different locales around the globe to develop a deeper understanding of the firm's business and global markets and customers. 

Developing Your Own Cross-Training Program 

Cross-training can be an effective approach to strengthening your organization and improving performance. Ideas to help you form or sponsor your own program include:

  • Look within your own function for opportunities to cross-train on assignments. Let individuals identify roles and tasks they are interested in and coordinate their own informal cross-training work with team members. 
  • Challenge employees to identify enrichment opportunities as part of their cross-training activities. 
  • Talk with your unit manager or executive about establishing a formal job rotation program across your organization. 
  • Gain the support of human resources to coordinate cross-training and job rotation initiatives.
  • Offer incentives for certifying on a variety of positions, functions, systems or products.
  • Measure employee feedback on their interest in and satisfaction with the cross-training work. Ask for their ideas on improving the initiative.
  • Model the behavior. Make certain to seek out job expansion and job enrichment programs for yourself. 

The Bottom-Line:

Cross-training reduces risks, improves employee engagement and satisfaction and potentially improves your firm's support of customers and overall performance. Think creatively and aggressively about cross-training in your organization. 

-updated by Art Petty

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