Cross-Training Employees: The Simple HR Strategy That Works Wonders

By Jenny Barnes on Sep 27, 2023
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Business owners and managers often don't realize the benefits of cross-training employees until it's too late. The idea typically comes to mind after a key employee has departed (perhaps suddenly), and everyone is left wondering how to possibly fill their shoes. 

But it's important to know, it’s never too late to implement an effective talent development strategy. It just might pay off big in the near future.

A good employee is hard to lose, and it can be even harder when there’s no one else at work who knows how to take over the tasks the former employee was responsible for. Cross-training employees is a simple human resources strategy that can do wonders for your workforce—especially when put into motion proactively!

In this article, I’ll share what I’ve learned from facilitating successful cross-training initiatives and leave you with a few solid tips for integrating an effective strategy within your own company. 

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Cross-Training in the Workplace 

Cross-training in the workplace refers to the practice of training employees to perform tasks or responsibilities that aren’t a part of their “primary” roles. The goal is to have various employees within your company trained, at any given time, to step in and take over the tasks of an employee that—for whatever reason—isn’t able to handle them anymore. 

Cross-training employees doesn’t have to take a ton of time or require a structured program to nail down. It can be a goal that is implemented bit by bit over the course of an employee’s tenure.

It also doesn’t have to mean that each employee knows how to do everything another employee is able to do.

Parts and pieces of each role or position may be cross-trained across many employees throughout the organization, with the end product of your cross-training initiative functioning as an operational mosaic of capabilities. 

Tip: Identify and prioritize the most important skill gaps. Is there one employee who a department would be lost without? Capture their knowledge first! 

Benefits of Cross-Training Employees

The benefits of cross-training employees extend beyond mere skill diversification; they lead to enhanced teamwork, greater adaptability and a more resilient organizational structure. By understanding and harnessing the benefits of cross-training employees, businesses can tap into latent potential, promote flexibility and ensure seamless operations even in the face of unforeseen challenges.

Here are three key benefits of cross-training employees:

  • Cross-training breaks down silos

Are certain functions or departments within your organization more isolated than others? If so, you may have what’s known in the HR world as “silos,” or reluctance (whether intended or not) to share information between employees of different divisions in the same company.

Silos may sprout from a spirit of independence, but they can give off an air of competition or even distrust. They can negatively impact morale, workflow, and synergy throughout an organization. 

Cross-training is an effective strategy in helping to break silos down. Cross-training helps employees in adjacent departments understand each other’s lingo, processes, software/systems, and end goals.

It also sheds light on the constraints and pressures employees within a siloed department face on a day-to-day basis, helping build empathy and teamwork within your workplace. 

Tip: During cross-training, encourage documentation. Have employees in "teaching" roles create instructions, how-to guides, and other aids to the extent possible. Encourage "learning employees" to lean into note-taking. 

Tip: Teach your employees basic a sampling of basic tasks first. If, for example, you need to cross-train employees on accounts payable tasks, make sure they know your payment terms and are comfortable with your accounting software before diving into nuances. 

RELATED:How to Cross-Train Employees When Your Workforce is Remote >> 

  • Cross-training employees provides opportunities for development

The Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey showed that 44% of employees were seeking a new job that year, with three-quarters of that pool actively planning to job hop.

With job searching on the rise, one of the best ways to alleviate the desire to look for greener pastures is to provide your employees with development opportunities. In fact, the Harvard Business Review reports that professional development is one of the most effective methods of improving employee retention. 

Cross-training employees is a win-win strategy (for the employer and employee) giving employees access to professional development opportunities. Allow your employees to identify areas of interest within the company and let those preferences (to the extent possible) inform what responsibilities and skills each employee gains exposure to.

Through cross-training, you may uncover hidden talents and aptitudes, or you may even find that an employee is happier and more efficient in a completely different role. 

Tip: Switch it up! Allow employees to cross-train in different functions and departments when possible, so they can get a feel for where their natural talents and interests lie outside of their primary roles. 

RELATED: PEOs and Management Training: The Smarter Solution >> 

  • A cross-trained workforce helps you save on labor costs and can buoy you until you’re able to find the perfect fit

As we discussed, a team that hasn’t been cross-trained can find themselves at a loss when a valuable member departs. Cross-training can help you keep operations running smoothly, as other members of the team step up to fill the slack. 

Humming along with one man down may not be sustainable long-term. However, cross-training grants companies a little bit more time to find the right backfill than they’d have if they needed to get someone in a seat right away. Removing the pressure to immediately hire new staff can save labor costs when budgets demand it and allow you to wait until the perfect fit comes along to make a new talent acquisition. 

Tip: Build a culture of cross-training. If you've never used cross-training as an HR strategy before, it may take some initial planning to get going. But once you've established a way that works for your company, you can begin cross-training employees as soon as they start in their roles. Soon, cross-training will be part of the cultural fiber of your company. 

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Axcet HR: Your HR Partner and Employee Training Co-Pilot 

As your certified professional employer organization, Axcet HR Solutions is here to help your small business thrive. We specialize in helping small businesses and start-ups increase operational efficiency and employee productivity from end to end. 

Training and development is just the beginning of what we offer at Axcet. Wondering if outsourcing human resources is right for you? Reach out to our consultants today to learn more

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Written by Jenny Barnes

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