Permit me to open with an assumption: I suspect those organisations which have already implemented cross-training as part of an internal strategy have been in a better position to deal with some of the effects of this pandemic. A pandemic is one of those unlikely risks that could not have been foreseen when plans and budgets were being made for fiscal 2020. There has been an occurrence of six in the last hundred years.
The effects of this global threat cannot be avoided. In our circumstance workers who are parents have had to manage work, with children being out of school for the past nine months and without access to any kind of publicly open nursery or daycare. Group babysitting/caretaking options are simply not available. Then there is the issue of quarantine. In the case where members of staff may have been a primary contact, the State recommends that people isolate for a maximum 14 days as a safety precaution. Another issue many businesses are now faced with is a downturn in economic activities. This has forced many of them to implement some kind of restructuring strategy including staff reduction in order to ride the current tide.
Because of the realities businesses are now facing, organisations that have developed and implemented cross-training strategies are more adaptable and their employees can function across the business allowing the organisation to be better able to “flex” in this season. Just recently it was reported that Tru Valu, Valpark had a number of employees who tested positive for covid19, and the supermarket announced that it will not close but move staff from other locations to work at the branch.
A cross-training programme will identify the major functions and skills in a specific area of work and ensure that others can perform it when necessary. Therefore, as an example, some of Tru Valu’s merchandising staff may have a bit of knowledge about the meat or bakery section or could have been trained for the opportunity that presented itself.
This new normal has proven to be an absolute necessity to have company or department as fit as possible to become flexible to adjust and adapt to a decrease in numbers at a moment’s notice. My company as well had to so do when we were operating with a reduced number of staff. Luckily, we are small yet somewhat flexible, as many times others would have had to perform other duties when rostered.
A more formal and sophisticated level of cross-training will require more than just training a member of your administrative staff, responsible for filing, to work the switchboard for a day. It may mean allowing your administrative staff to work in the warehouse and accounts personnel to work in supply chain and logistics.
In many instances, cross-training may be achieved by strategic job rotation or supported by external or online training with certification.
The result of such an initiative would allow staff to build their skill-sets, general competencies and allow them to better understand the company’s operations and how one role impacts or interfaces with another.
Cross-training is very compatible with a formal job rotation strategy. Job rotation is a planned and defined process of rotating employees in a structured manner through a variety of job functions at the same business. Indeed, this can be part of cross-training strategy or it can be used to determine the most suitable job for any employee. Notwithstanding the similarities and compatibility of these two distinct human capital strategies, it is not uncommon that where there is recognised majority union, resistance to their implementation often rears its head. This can be combated by the adoption of a paid-for skills compensation arrangement within the company.
Cross-training adds an element of job satisfaction when it can combat position fatigue and work boredom. Therefore, this strategy can also help reduce employee turnover and ensure continued employee development.
So, apart from company policy which may offer employees financial support for formal training in their current position, a company can also widen their scope and provide support for those employees who are motivated to learn a different skill which can be used elsewhere in the organisation.
What are some other benefits of cross-training?
• It adds a fresh eye about how things are done and can offer feedback and ideas on how processes can improve.
• Mangers will be allowed greater flexibilities in scheduling as the pool of competent employees grow.
• When staff can fill internal positions then there is less disruption to culture and process.
• Knowledgeable staff can better assist customers and improve services offered to clients and improve customer loyalty.
• The organisation is sufficiently supported with current staff when absenteeism is high.
• Staff that is satisfied and challenged sufficiently (not bored) can reduce turnover.
Like everything else there are risks that may include staff feeling like they are given additional duties without compensation or creating too many generalists without sufficient in-depth knowledge. Also, adding too much work too fast can cause employee burnout. These are issues which can be overcome with proper communication and effective implementation.
In a nutshell, it is well worth the effort when considering the right type of cross training suitable for your organisation and constantly monitoring and improving it.