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Cross-Training Employees: Your Best Defense

Running a business is predictably unpredictable regardless of the industry. The temporary absence of an employee from work due to vacation leave, sickness, family emergency or leave can result in loss of revenue, decreased productivity, and strained customer relations. The leave provided by, for example, New York’s newly enacted Paid Family Leave Benefits Law (“PFLBL”) further complicates this issue.

This is why cross-training employees is a necessity. Cross training employees to perform multiple jobs to support each other as needed and easily shift job positions enables a business to be flexible and not flounder when an employee takes short-term, intermittent, or long-term leave.

Cross-training, a systematic process that should be executed both horizontally and vertically throughout a company to be effective. Vertical expansion of a job includes the addition of job enriching tasks to provide an employee with more responsibility. For instance, you may choose to cross-train an employee who works in human resources or on payroll or benefits administration to support the company’s recruitment process by teaching behavioral interviewing skills and including the employee in the creation of an interview plan and execution of that plan.

Vertical expansion should not be limited to only lower level positions. It should include cross-training managers and upper level positions. This means managers should be cross-trained to perform in lower-level positions when needed. Horizontal cross-training entails enlarging the scope of an employee’s role by adding tasks on the same level of responsibility and skill. For example, managers should be cross-trained to take on the job responsibilities of other managers where the level of responsibility is still the same.

Cross-training is a two-way street that provides benefits to both business owners and employees. By implementing cross-training efforts, employers will have a well-rounded team of employees who can use their varied skills when the unpredictable occurs. This can mitigate a business’ risk and maintain stability when there is a disruption. Cross-training is also likely to result in higher efficiency and productivity because training forces the trainers to reassess the way they perform tasks routinely associated with their job. Trainees can also increase productivity by providing a fresh set of eyes and may suggest new cost saving or time saving ideas when being trained. Employers can also reduce costs by reducing the need to recruit new candidates from outside the organization.

Employees are also afforded great benefits from cross-training. The addition of new tasks and job responsibilities can reduce boredom and stagnation and increase employee productivity. Employees will also feel more confident and valued by the company because the company is investing resources and time to teach them new technical and professional skills. Cross-training can also provide employees with the opportunity to build new relationships with people they might otherwise never have contact with, and it can also serve as a unique way for employees to develop leadership skills and help fast-track promotions.

Of course, cross-training will not just happen by itself. To strengthen your business and ensure it is equipped to handle the unpredictable, create a cross-training master plan to yield successful results. Here are some helpful guidelines to help create an effective cross-training plan:

• Identify the critical tasks and areas where your organization requires cross-training. Evaluate both the business as a whole and the individual departments where cross-training would be most effective. • Identify the employees who are capable of performing the cross-training tasks by matching the learning capability and skill set of the workers to be cross-trained with the required skills for a particular position. • Avoid suspicions that the cross-training program is designed to replace employees or eliminate jobs by explaining the benefits employees will receive from cross-training, and how the organization will benefit from the program. • Ensure that adequate time, funds, training materials, and training facilities are scheduled and prepared to allow the cross-training program to run smoothly. • Set achievable short and long term goals and establish intermittent benchmarks in the cross-training program where both trainers and trainees can evaluate the progress of the program to track success and adherence to the plan. Utilize the benchmarks to gather feedback to improve cross-training in the future. • Due to the fact that it will take a new person longer to perform a task until proficiency is achieved, temporarily reduce the workload of employees receiving cross-training. • Create a reward and recognition program for workers who have successfully finished cross-training and share those achievements with the whole organization. Not only will this show the employees that cross-training is an essential part of their overall development plan, but it will also demonstrate the organization values their hard work. • Finally, don’t forget that periodic re-training will be required because workers not performing the tasks each day may not retain the cross-training skills forever.

Implementing a cross-training program reaps benefits for both employers and employees. Do not let shortsighted cost controls hurt your company in the long run. By proactively taking the initiative to cross-train employees, your business should be able to handle any unexpected absence of employees.

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