Cross Training Can Save the Day or Even the Year

Players on Bench shutterstock_1126105685Do you have a highly skilled bench of back up personnel ready to be pulled in as substitutes as needed?  If not, you should think about building one. 

When managing a department that has many siloed or varied duties, how do you plan for employee turnover, sick leaves or even increased volume or peak periods? I found this to be a challenge because in order to run an efficient team, no two members on my team have the same role. There was very little crossover, so I had to create some.   

Many departments manage a peak season that isn’t flexible – which means you need to be optimally staffed for those periods, and include a contingency plan for unforeseen circumstances involving personnel shortages.

I recently took the business continuity approach to my department and ensured that each member on my team has a back up for all parts of their respective roles (cross training).  This involved looking at the skill set of each employee and defining a compatible partner employee who could mirror that skill set on any given day or extended period of time if needed.  I found that all the members of my team were open to learning more.  We did have some flexibility in this model, offering members of the team a choice when possible on which additional tasks they would be interested in learning in order to be back up for a peer.

As cross training is being conducted, each partner team should document the role and task.  This assures that there is written reference if needed, creating a guide to important tasks that may not occur frequently or daily (for example a quarterly report and distribution).

Does it work? Once you have determined the backup system and gone through cross training, a simulation is good test for your back up plan.  Emulate an absence so that a person can “go live” so to speak in their new expanded role, but have the security blanket of the designate subject matter expert still in the office to assist as needed.  This hands on experience helps to get the kinks out and raise questions not previously thought of during the training.  Chances are afterward the simulation team members will be ready to go officially solo as needed.

The upside: 

  • When positioned correctly, employees feel a sense of confidence conveyed by their manager as well as growth in their own personal development. This can be preparation for career growth and greater exposure within the organization for the person expanding their skills.
  • Covering vacation periods can become much less stressful for all parties involved as the pre-work has already been done. Employee on vacation can be more relaxed while out of the office and customers receive fewer delays or stop gaps during a vacationing employee’s absence.
  • Extended absences become less of a crisis. While a loss of FTE for an extended period of time can increase workload for the balance of your staff, the crisis then becomes more manageable because, although a staffing resource left your department, another has the knowledge to get the job done. 

Some additional resources on cross training that might save your day or year sometime soon.

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