Dear Workforce How Do We Move Toward a Formal Approach to Cross-Training?

What are the basics of designing an effective job-rotation system? The managers in our company have said they would like to see a formalized system developed to help cross-training or "cross-skilling" their employees.

September 7, 2011

Dear Training at a Crossroads:

Cross-training and cross-skilling are often used interchangeably to refer to a training effort that addresses business continuity needs, so that no one person holds unique skills—a situation that could halt or bottleneck operations. This provides a backup and protects the organization if a key person goes out sick, quits without notice or is otherwise unavailable to perform their function.

Job rotation, on the other hand, normally means moving a person from one role to a different role within the organization. This might be for a week, a month, or longer. A good example might be having an HR person at the corporate office take a field or line position for a period of time to better understand the population they support. Although learning different skills may be part of cross-training and job rotation, additional benefits could include increased engagement and employee retention, along with improved collaboration and overall job satisfaction by the employees.

You did not state your reasoning for wanting to do job rotation or cross training. If the primary purpose is to ensure the continuation of operations, then the basic design should follow these three initial steps:

  • Identify and rank critical processes or roles that need to be protected.

  • Identify who has the required knowledge that needs to be transferred (these people are sometimes referred to as subject-matter experts

  • Identify the best candidates to be trained (to receive the knowledge).

From there, whatever training methods are appropriate can be utilized to accomplish objectives.

To achieve more global benefits for the organization, a key element of a successful cross-training or job-rotation initiative is the mind-set by which it is entered into, by management and by employees. The critical question of "why" needs to be woven into the fabric of the initiative to create the right culture and attitude about it, along with the desired results. If you don't key in to the overall reasoning behind the effort, and benefits to the employees, the whole endeavor can produce diminished or even negative results.

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. This fosters positive culture around the initiative and reinforces its importance, and also praises employee learning and the transfer of knowledge. Ideally, you should tie these behaviors to increased career opportunities and advancement.

Whether you are protecting key processes or improving scheduling flexibility, cross-training employees is a way to strengthen your organization and improve employee engagement and your organization's overall culture.

SOURCE: Scott Weston is author of HR Excellence: Improving Service Quality and Return on Investment in Human Resources, October 31, 2007.

LEARN MORE: Please read how aerospace firm BAE Systems uses job rotation as a tool for employee development.

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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