Too many companies focus exclusively on training employees for their primary role. They’re willing to invest whatever time and resources are necessary to help them succeed in a single department, but never go beyond those confines. As a result, their company ends up with silos, and employees struggle or find it impossible to take on someone else’s role.
The solution is to cross-train your employees (and your partners, while you’re at it). Basically, this means educating and training employees in the tasks and responsibilities of another department or those of another person. And if you do this correctly, it can greatly improve your company’s efficiency (while protecting you from some of your greatest threats).
Preparing for the Worst.
What would happen to your company if you were suddenly out of commission? If you died unexpectedly or if you were in a car accident, would your partners be able to step in and completely take over your responsibilities?
What if your star employee decided to leave for another opportunity? How long would it take you to get another employee to step up to the plate, or how long would it take you to hire a replacement?
Cross-training gives you protection against these unfortunate outcomes. While you’ll probably never get to this level of efficiency, if all your employees could feasibly take over any role in the company, you’d have ultimate redundancy; no single loss could disrupt operations more than momentarily.
Cross-training isn’t just about preparing for the worst, however. There are also running benefits to having your employees cross-trained on different roles:
Teamwork and fill-ins. First, cross-trained employees will be able to jump in for one another whenever someone takes a vacation or isn’t available. This will make people feel more comfortable taking time off work when they need it, and will prevent your business from being interrupted whenever someone has to take an absence. It also facilitates more teamwork during typical days; employees who otherwise wouldn’t even talk to each other can now collaborate on common projects, and help each other.
Workload balancing. No business has fully balanced workloads between its employees; there will always be some people who are busier and working harder than others. Cross-training helps you mitigate this, giving you the ability to assign different tasks and projects to people who aren’t as busy as others. It also empowers your individual staff members to delegate work as they see fit.
Company understanding. Getting cross-training from other departments will instantly broaden your knowledge on how the company functions overall. Your customer service team will be able to explain concepts in further detail to customers. Your developers and salespeople will be able to work in closer coordination. Everyone will be able to do their jobs better, in one capacity or another.
How to Start a Cross-Training Program.
If you’ve never cross-trained your employees before, how should you start?
Designate authorities. First, designate authorities to handle the project. If you’re working with a large team, you could establish someone to oversee your cross-training program overall. Otherwise, establish a point person in each department or on each individual team to oversee the cross-training of other departments. Require them to create criteria on how to establish whether someone is “trained” on a new position, and make them responsible for getting every other relevant role in the company to that level of training.
Create time slots. Next, you have to make time (which can be extraordinarily difficult for busy business owners). Depending on your needs and availability, you could consider establishing a few hours per week as “cross-training time.” For example, you could designate the 9-10 am hour on Thursdays to oversee cross-training in a new department. Cycle through the departments week by week until you feel confident in the success of the program.
Test in a live environment. Don’t just assume that your cross-training has been effective; it’s important to test your training in a live environment. In many cases, this means having someone step into someone else’s role for a day, or even for just an hour, to see if they have the skills and knowledge necessary to perform it.
Stay sharp and reeducate. Invariably, you’ll get feedback from employees and real-time data about their performance, which will indicate areas of your cross-training program that need to be improved. Pay attention to these data, and work actively to improve your training program over time.
Cross-training should be one of your highest priorities as an entrepreneur. Not only will it protect you against the unexpected loss of an employee or a leader, but it will also strengthen your team bonds and improve your productivity overall. Don’t underestimate its value or importance as part of your team development.