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Dear Workforce How Do We Get Our Employees to Embrace Cross-Training

Dear Handcuffed:


Often the best way to sell any new idea is to focus on the benefits to the person being asked to accept it. When it comes to cross-training, there are many such benefits:

• First and foremost, being trained in a variety of tasks/skills/functions enhances job security. Staff cutbacks are more likely to spare those who can fill multiple slots than those with a more limited menu of offerings.

• Aside from job security in one’s current organization, being cross-trained affords greater career security in the workforce as a whole. Don’t be afraid to use this as a selling point. The employer-for-life model is long gone, and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that your organization may be but one port of call on the employee’s career itinerary. It serves the employee well to have as many arrows in his or her quiver as possible.

• Cross-training equips employees to provide better customer service, and people who have more successes each day typically are happier in their jobs. Customers view such employees as going “above and beyond,” and are more likely to provide positive feedback. If you have good reward systems in place, the likelihood of being recognized and rewarded for outstanding performance goes up. (Whether or not your organization is a for-profit enterprise, make sure your customer concept is operative—whether those “customers” are patients, parishioners or citizens.)

• In today’s world of leaner, flatter organizations, with a premium on speed and innovation, many jobs have far less definition than they formerly did. To the degree that they are defined, that definition tends to be more in terms of outcomes rather than tasks. By and large, customers don’t care what tasks get done or by whom. Their primary interest is a particular outcome. Cross-training allows people to weave numerous tasks into a single customer-focused outcome.

• It also gives people a window into the rest of the organization and helps them see how their core job fits in with the rest of the operation. It also gives people a better sense of how their work affects customers. This, in turn, puts people in closer contact with the meaning of their work—and the source of their paycheck.

• Having a widely cross-trained workforce makes it easier for managers to approve requests for vacation and other time off.

However, avoid limiting the application of cross-training to coverage of sick leave and vacation. It allows employers to be more nimble, flexing with customer demand, seasonal trends and economic cycles. It makes it easier to send people to training, and to allow healthy employees to care for children or elders. It helps organizations survive natural disasters, temporary bad weather and flu outbreaks.

Don’t overanalyze it, but in setting up cross-training systems, consider the needs of the organization, your customers and the employee. Consider the needs and capabilities of both the functions giving and receiving the training. Ask where the need is most acute and start there. It’s also smart to start with willing participants, leaving the “prisoners” for last.

Finally, remember that a person’s natural talent in one area doesn’t guarantee a similar knack for everything else. Just as you hire for job fit, cross-train with an eye to that as well. Don’t force it.

SOURCE: Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette, co-authors, Contented Cows MOOve Faster, August 13, 2009

LEARN MORE: Make initial cross-training or job-rotation efforts a selective process and clearly recognize both the subject-matter experts and those chosen to be trained.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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