The Case for Cross-Training Employees (and How to Do It)

Chris Cancialosi, a Forbes contributor, wrote a piece last fall entitled “Cross-Training: Your Best Defense Against Indispensable Employees.”

He went on to say this: “Imagine you’re part of a dangerous military combat operation. Suddenly, one of your team members with a mission-critical skill is injured or killed. Do you just pack up and go home? Of course not. In the military, cross-training is part of everyday life.”

Cancialosi went on to point out that while the operations in your business may not be a matter of life or death, or of national security, many of the same concepts apply when it comes to cross-training employees. He says it shouldn’t be seen as optional in the workplace, because losing a “key player at a critical juncture,” is something businesses can’t afford.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 10.34.04 AMSome of the many advantages of cross-training employees include:

  • An improvement in efficiency: When your employees have a grasp on multiple organizational roles and tasks they’re going to be able to move through the overall workload more quickly without gaps due to a lack of knowledge about a certain area.
  • Along with overall efficiency, when employees are cross-trained you don’t have that constant fear of losing a key team member because everyone is just as valuable as the next employee. If you run an organization where there is no cross-training and you lose that pivotal team member your operations could be completely sidelined as a result.
  • Cross-training can strengthen the sense of comradery amongst employees because not only are their more opportunities for them to interact with one another, but they also have the chance to take a more empathetic standpoint toward other employees because they understand the components of other people’s roles and positions.
  • When there’s cross-training built into a business employees tend to report feeling more engaged, more empowered and there’s less feelings of boredom or a lack of interest.
  • Cross-training can also allow you to be more flexible in your scheduling of employees, which can make for a better workplace environment and more satisfied employees since you won’t be relying on particular individuals to fulfill roles entirely on their own. When there’s cross-training involved employees can take vacations or enjoy more versatile schedules because there’s always someone who can fill in for them.

When cross-training your employees, consider these keys to success:

  • Cross-training should be something that’s viewed as a long-term part of your overall business strategy. While cross-training during onboarding is important it’s something that should continue throughout your employees’ time with your business.
  • Before creating and assigning cross-training it’s a good idea to assess each of your employees and gauge their strengths and weaknesses as well as where there may be gaps that can be addressed through cross-training. This will allow you to create training that’s individualized and targeted, maximizing your return on investment.
  • A good cross-training program is one that’s formalized and measurable, with clearly defined standards and a sense of accountability on the part of employees. Using a learning management system is the ideal way to deliver cross-training, particularly an LMS from eLeaP. The reason is that you’ll be able to take advantage of built-in reporting mechanisms that show you how each employee is performing in terms of training. Outline expectations of each cross-training module ahead-of-time and make the case as to why it’s something that’s important and beneficial for employees.
  • Pair e-Learning with hands-on and on-the-job training. Online training and e-Learning can be used to introduce cross-training and then those skills can be strengthened and deepened with hands-on training.

Developing a robust and comprehensive cross-training program within a business is challenging, but with a culture dedicated to learning and the advanced tools provided by using online training in the form of a learning management system it is definitely possible and it can help your workforce and your organization become more competitive and strengthen you against possible risks or interruptions based on personnel absences or changes.

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