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Keep Your Company Running Smoothly With Cross Training

03/21/2023 Kelsea Faulkner

Familiarizing employees with multiple responsibilities is critical to developing the business and dealing with the unexpected. This strategy, known as cross training, is a sure-fire way to guard against unforeseen circumstances and unavoidable turnover.

Learning multiple responsibilities gives team members a better look at the whole operation and keeps them motivated. Cross training may save money and help strengthen a succession plan, too. Above all, cross training makes your staff more valuable and helps ensure that your company will continue to move forward in times of crisis. So, train your filing clerk to fill in for the receptionist, train the receptionist to cover for a sales rep and train one department head to fill in for another.

Here are seven cross training tips to keep your company in top condition:

  1. Facilitate the buy-in. Present cross training as a learning opportunity for everyone. Ask staff members for suggestions and feedback.
  2. Help them see the big picture. Written job descriptions are useful, but they shouldn’t be carved in stone. Mention in descriptions that employees may be asked to cover secondary, overlapping duties. Explain to employees that they’ll get a better understanding of the whole organization and a glimpse of opportunities within the company. Companies with strong core values and mission statements can lead these initiatives back to those values the Company holds close.
  3. Start an employee lending program. Let one department borrow an employee from another department to play a role in a project. Let’s say you want to launch a new marketing campaign. Invite a clerk in accounting to help out. It may take only a few hours a week, but the experience will enhance the employee’s sense of value, which is critical to job satisfaction and retention. It will also help prevent the problem of departments becoming too proprietary and seeing themselves as isolated rather than parts of the larger whole.
  4. Set up a “honcho for a day” program. Give solid performers a one-day training session as a department head. Top managers and their assistants can cross train in different positions. Another technique:When a manager is traveling or on vacation, let a top employee fill in, rather than automatically turning to another manager. Having the added perspective of being in charge, even for a little while, may help these employees to begin to think in terms of problem solving, rather than always turning to managers for solutions. It may also cause employees to have a new appreciation for what’s involved in managing.
  5. Shake things up. Cross training can revive or bring to light different strengths of poor performers. Temporarily moving to a different job or department can trigger warning bells or, more positively, act as a refreshing change of pace. Often, the employees return to their usual jobs with better attitudes or employers could find a shift in responsibilities more rewarding for the employee and Company.
  6. Rotate jobs. Put staff members in other positions for anywhere from one to six months. Make them completely responsible for the jobs, rather than treat them as trainees. They may complain at first, but you can point out to them that knowing more than one job makes them more valuable.
  7. Groom for the future.Start training an ownership successor as early as possible while the current owner is still around. This prevents a crisis if the owner suddenly dies or becomes incapacitated — a circumstance that has recently been top of mind because of the COVID-19 crisis. You can expand this initiative to management positions as well. After all, you could lose a key manager without warning, so it pays to be prepared.

The seven cross training tips above are best implemented with strongly documented processes and procedures setting up each transition and each role with the tools in place to succeed. A well-planned cross training program can boost motivation, increase productivity, rejuvenate departments, and promote teamwork. If it’s not a cure for what ails your company, it’s certainly a good start.

For any questions related to this article, contact Kelsea Faulkner at kfaulkner@vlcpa.com or 800.887.0437.

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