ave you thought about other people in your business and wonder what on earth they get up to all day? Or looked at another role and wondered if you’d enjoy it, if you ever got the chance?
With the way our working structures are typically set up, few workers will get a chance to step outside the bounds of their chosen departments and into the shoes of someone else without taking a radical career leap.
But what if you could gain a little taste of a totally different role, without needing to start from scratch, or even leave your current job?
With cross training, you can.
What is cross training for employees?
Cross training is the process of training one employee in the role of another. The role may be of a person on the same team, a manager, or someone in an entirely different area of the business.
Cross training is more than just learning a few skills or tasks handled by a colleague. A cross-trained employee should be able to fully step into the role of the person they have trained with.
Cross training always involves an element of working alongside the person in the target role, and/or shadowing them for some time.
It can also involve elements of formal training, such as instructor-led training or eLearning, depending on the nature of the role.
The benefits of cross training employees
Cross training employees is beneficial in a number of ways.
Benefits for employees
Employees undergoing cross training have a chance to explore and learn new skills, sometimes radically outside their current speciality. This can be a highly enjoyable and engaging process for the employee, who may discover new strengths they did not know they had.
Employees who cross training can also use the opportunity for career advancement, particularly if they are able to shadow a person in a management or higher management position.
Lastly, cross training gives employees a new, more informed perspective on the working days and challenges of their colleagues, promoting better relationships, more empathy, more compassion and better communication.
Benefits for the business
Cross training is also highly beneficial for the broader business. For example, if someone suddenly departs without warning, businesses can often be left in the lurch, scrambling to keep things running as usual. But if the business has implemented a cross-training strategy, other employees are able to step in and maintain critical tasks and processes until the role is filled again.
Businesses can also save money by using cross training to identify employees for future promotion. HR managers organizing cross training programs should keep an eye out for employees who excel in the role they are training in, particularly if it is a management or higher position than their current one. These employees can then be quickly promoted at the right time, instead of undertaking the long and expensive process of hiring a new manager.
Lastly, cross-training can increase overall business and process efficiency. How often have you seen a fresh pair of eyes bring a new perspective to an old process and completely transform it - often, no doubt! Employees undertaking cross training can often spot previously-unseen ways to optimize workflows or improve collaboration opportunities.
The challenges of cross training employees
While cross training employees has many benefits for both employees and the business, few organizations attempt it due to the challenges of implementing this strategy.
The primary challenge of cross training is the amount of time it can take away from day-to-day tasks. A person undertaking cross training will not have time to do much of their regular work throughout the process. Meanwhile, the person they are learning from will have their attention divided between their job and teaching their shadow.
Another challenge of cross training can be resistance from employees if the strategy is not implemented properly. If your team does not fully understand the personal benefits of cross training, they may be resistant to taking so much time away from their role and spending it with someone they may not know well, learning about a role they may not be interested in.
Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate these challenges with the right preparation.
Tips for cross training your employees
If you’ve been swayed by the benefits of cross training employees, but you’re worried about the challenges, don’t be! Here are some helpful tips for establishing a successful cross training program.
Start with a pilot program
Sometimes projects are best launched all at once, but other times, it’s best to start small and expand over time. With new cross training programs, it is best to start with a small pilot group before you implement more broadly.
Why? Because a pilot program can help you get it right. By starting small, you can scope out individuals who are open and excited about the idea of cross training, and invested in the program’s success. You can then gather crucial feedback around the process from the pilot participants to iron out any wrinkles.
If your pilot program is successful, you will also have the very important benefit of word of mouth recommendations from your past participants to your future participants, thereby snowballing engagement and investment in your program.
Educate your participants
Ensuring your business leaders and program participants fully understand the potential benefits of cross training is critical to mitigating the challenges of cross training.
If your leadership team is not invested in the benefits, they will be much quicker to cut your program at the slightest stumble. Meanwhile, if your participants are not engaged, they will likely drag their feet, resist learning and complain at every turn. Poor participation will inevitably reduce the effectiveness, cause a negative reputation, and put the program at risk.
Allow participants to opt-in
Allowing participants to choose to opt into the program, particularly in the pilot and early stages, may make or break your program. Truly.
This is because participants who opt-in will be much more receptive to the program and understanding of its challenges and benefits than those who are forced in. An effective program generating positive recommendations will increase the number of employees choosing to opt in over time.
Complete your own program
Who is the first person who should opt into your program? You! In fact, this may come even before conducting a pilot program.
By going through the process yourself, you may be able to get crucial insight into any points of friction, as well as unexpected moments of joy and growth. This valuable insight can be used to both improve your program, and sell it to other team members.
While on-the-job learning is an essential element of cross training, relying on it exclusively is a risk. This for two main reasons. Firstly, job shadowing can be very time consuming, and it is often detail-oriented, meaning that employees may miss the bigger picture of a role. Secondly, The employee being shadowed may not be a very good teacher!
Instead, incorporate online learning (eLearning) into your cross training platform. With online learning, you can create courses that introduce employees to new roles, describing the bigger picture and what they can expect. You can also attach helpful resources, and let them know how to reach out for additional support during the process.
Online courses can also be used to coach both participants in how to get the most out of a cross-training experience. For the teacher, you can provide tips on how to best include and teach their shadow. And for the learner, you can guide them on best practices for retaining what they learned.
Online courses can also be beneficial at the end of a period of cross-training to recap what they have learned and to offer an important time of reflection. It can also be used to describe next steps and further opportunities for growth.
Every business should try cross training for employees
While a cross training program may seem challenging at first glance, with a little preparation, these challenges can be overcome to reap the rewards of cross training.
Cross training is a tried-and-true method for creating flexible, agile and engaged teams across your business, helping you to weather whatever storm may come your way.