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How Should We Conduct a Cross-Training Session?

We want to conduct cross-training sessions to help some employees acquire new skills. We also have employees that already perform these tasks and don't want them thinking our cross-training is a reflection on their performance. How should we handle this to make sure everyone's on the same page? Is there a better alternative? —Don't Want Hurt Feelings, HR manager, finance/insurance/real estate, Grand Cayman
June 19, 2013
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Related Topics: Employee Communication, Employee Career Development, Training & Development, Dear Workforce, Talent Management
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Dear Don't Want Hurt Feelings:

Your question echoes a familiar theme, but with an interesting and particularly useful twist: focusing on how cross-training affects the engagement of those sharing their established skills, rather than only on those acquiring new skills.

Cross-training is a constructive activity that we encourage you to pursue, in spite of your concern. In addition to the undeniable benefit of helping people acquire new skills, cross-training produces a host of other dividends for workers and employers alike, not to mention customers.

A crucial first step is to think of cross-training as "skill sharing," and to talk about it in those terms. Be careful about entirely replacing the more traditional term with what might be seen suspiciously as jargon or "code speak." Be clear with everyone that cross-training really is the process of sharing skills and abilities across a greater span in the organization.

Next, if this endeavor is to be successful, the sharing has to be multi-directional. For the sake of discussion, suppose we have two groups, A and B. Group A is being asked to cross-train Group B, and that's the extent of it. As your question recognizes, Group A will naturally begin to ask if this is a reflection on their performance, and also will wonder what's in it for them if they give up something that distinguishes them in the workplace.

It may seem blindingly obvious, but if cross-training indeed is not a reflection on people's performance, then say so out loud and for all to hear. Make your communication clear, early and transparent to avert misunderstanding.

But the very heart of this issue is to eliminate the "us vs. them" aspect of cross-training. Do this by making sure everyone gains something in the exchange of skills and knowledge. Design the process so that the members of both Groups A and Group B acquire new skills and increase their value in the organization. Then, communicate precisely how all employees benefit by focusing on the following:

  • Being asked to share skills reflects the organization's confidence in your performance, than on doubts about it
  • Being trained in a variety of tasks, skills, and functions enhances job security. People who fill multiple slots are less vulnerable to staff cutbacks than those with limited skills
  • Having a widely cross-trained workforce makes it easier for managers to approve requests for vacation and other time off
  • Cross-trained workers fill a variety of needs report, which results in greater fulfillment, job satisfaction and higher engagement
  • Perhaps an even greater benefit than acquiring new skills is gaining a new perspective. Cross-training gives workers a needed sense of the interdependency of the various functions within the organization. It breaks down the "silos" that exist, even in small parts of an organization. This in turn puts people in closer contact with the meaning of their work and the source of their paycheck.

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, Contented Cows

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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 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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