As companies try to stay lean and mean, many are turning to formal cross-training programs to make sure they’re getting the most out of their staffs. Here are some ideas on how to get started.
Some workers are going to be gung ho about learning a new set of skills and making themselves more valuable to your company.
Sadly, not all of them are going to see it that way. Some will drag their feet and complain about taking on extra work, while others might confuse the quest for staff flexibility with a red flag about layoffs.
The steps taken to prepare for cross-training go a long way toward making sure your plan’s a success.
Here are some strategies employers can use to start laying the groundwork for a successful cross-training program:
Ease into it
When it comes to cross-training employees, the best bet is to take it one step at a time.
Jumping into a mass training initiative can cause a lot of unforeseen snags — not the least of which is a confused and intimidated group of workers.
A better strategy is to move into the program gradually, increasing the number of employees involved as the workforce gets more comfortable with the new procedures.
Put it in a new light
One of the biggest barriers most managers have to overcome when it comes to cross-training is the “it’s not my job” mindset.
Some workers just like their routines, so any change, even if it’s for the better, is looked at as a negative.
Sports can be an effective method of getting around that mindset.
According to Timothy Chan of the University of Toronto and Douglas Fearing of Harvard Business School, flexibility is crucial to success in baseball and in business.
The pair conducted a study which found “positional flexibility” – or baseball players’ ability to play multiple positions – could account for as much as 15% of a team’s runs.
Reason: If a star player went into a slump or got hurt, the team already had a strong backup player in-house.
Gauge the impact
Most workers probably feel like they’ve got a lot on their plates already. Maybe some of them even think they’ve got more than enough.
Before adding to that by locking anyone into a cross-training regimen, it’s important to take a peek at their to-do lists.
Talk to employees about their current workloads and find out if they’re having trouble hitting any quotas or deadlines.
This way supervisors will know for sure if any of their tasks need to be delegated elsewhere, or if possible canceled in order to create more time in their schedules to devote to cross-training.
Overcome fear of change
Of course, sometimes the reason a message falls flat is because workers don’t want to hear it.
Fear of change caused by a misunderstanding – like cross-training is a forerunner of downsizing – can sabotage even the most well-crafted training sessions.
If workers don’t understand why cross-training is necessary, it can lead to a lot of ugly rumors circulating around the workplace.
To stop these rumors before they start, send around an email to all trainees, explaining:
- what the goal of the cross-training is
- what will happen during the training sessions
- what’s in it for them (i.e., preventing the boredom that goes with doing the same thing over and over, keeping unexpected absences from throwing a wrench in productivity)
- the reason for holding the training at that particular time, and
- how long it should take.
The more information workers have early on, the more comfortable they’ll feel with cross-training.
This way supervisors won’t have to worry about facing down a barrage of questions or skeptical looks, and instead will have a more open – and even eager – audience.
Get supervisors’ input
Frontline supervisors tend to have pretty good insight into what makes employees tick.
Make it a point to get supervisors and team leaders to share some of that insight before the next cross-training session.
Try to pick their brains a little bit to find out what methods they use to reach each worker they supervise and in what roles each worker shines.
That way, if it seems like a message isn’t hitting home with a certain employee or group of employees, they might be able to help uncover why.
Ask the top brass to sit in
Nothing can hammer home the importance of cross-training like seeing a member of the company’s top brass sign off on it.
So invite some of the C-level executives to sit in on any meetings announcing the new training program.
Having a member of upper management take time out of his/her busy schedule to sit in on training shows workers just how important having staff flexibility is to the company.
Tip: If no one from the top brass can make it to a meeting, ask one of them if they’d be willing to send out a company-wide email voicing their support for the initiative. It won’t carry as much weight as actually seeing them in the room, but it’s definitely the next best thing.
Start it early
The sooner workers are trained across multiple areas, the better. So consider making cross-training a part of the onboarding process for new hires. This way, workers don’t have a chance to get used to only doing one job all the time.
However, just like with veteran workers, it’s important not to overload newbies with too much information too soon.
Give them up to 90 days to settle into life at their new company. Then, once that grace period is over, start introducing them to new areas and new concepts.
Tip: During the interview/onboarding process, look for cross-training opportunities. Identify new hires or job candidates who seem to have a more diverse skill set and might benefit from working across several areas.