Cross Training is Beneficial to Business Success, Especially Now
In printing, mailing, and direct marketing companies, most production work is highly functional with distinct departments. There are separate units for data processing, creative design, pre-press, printing, finishing, mailing, and shipping. Cross training is defining a path so employees are trained to be proficient in doing other jobs and performing tasks other than their primary role or in other departments.
The cross training process begins by defining all the specific skills and tasks needed from an operational perspective to run your organization. By breaking down tasks and functions into steps, you create the detailed documentation needed to train employees and establish expectations for operational excellence.
Why do it
As many companies have implemented contingency plans in the past few weeks in response to the coronavirus, many may have confronted the challenge of staff members with specific skills that could not come to work. And many companies have uncovered gaps in contingency plans as there was only one person who knew exactly how to run a process or a piece of equipment.
In many facilities, there is often an operator or production staff person on each shift who is the resident expert on certain pieces of equipment or software programs. That person is often truly the expert, while others may know significantly less about specific tasks or equipment. Having only one expert proficiently trained creates a liability when that person is unavailable to work. As consultants, we strongly recommend formal cross training programs to share knowledge. This ensures daily production still happens when any number of staff people are unable to work and contingency plans can be executed when needed.
Many operational and production staff take pride in being subject matter experts at specific tasks or running specific equipment. Knowing that others are properly cross trained brings more than piece of mind for management staff. Cross training can be a core piece of an inclusive culture, supporting employee growth and providing excellent customer experience.
Many well run print mail facilities have a strong commitment to cross training staff in all operational areas. Cross training is a best practice that has many benefits including:
- Challenging and rewarding employees to learn new skills
- Building compassion among staff and departments and comprehension of other roles in the company
- Creating paths for promotions and expansion of responsibilities
- Building a culture that all roles are important to deliver completed work and meet customer expectations
Why do it now
If your company lacks a formal cross-training program, now may be the perfect time to launch one. It starts with an organized approach to document the specific skills, tasks, and procedures in each department and assess the staff doing the work. The goal is to define who is an expert, who is competent, and who needs training in each area. This is work that can be done remotely and in small chunks of time.
Communication is key
It is critical to define and present cross training as an opportunity and not an obligation to staff. There’s a big difference in defining the content and process for the training program and explaining why a cross training program is being implemented to your teams. Take the time to define a clear communication plan. It’s imperative that the staff see cross training as an opportunity to learn and advance their skills rather than an obligation to fill in when someone is out.
In our consulting engagements, we assist clients in mapping out priorities and defining a plan for cross training. A multi-phased approach over time will enable an ongoing commitment to cross training during the regular flow of production. While we are all experiencing a new normal in our work lives, cross training is a valuable strategy for long-term stability and engaged employees. We recommend mapping out a plan to prioritize departments and teams that would benefit the most from cross training. Some departments may have gaps due to understaffing, newer employees and unanticipated departures. Some departments may have more critical roles in meeting customer expectations or larger risks if errors are made. These considerations should drive the priorities and phases in your cross training plan.
Cross training is often part of a well-rounded human resource and talent development strategy. Knowledgeable staff can become mentors in training others. Evaluations and recognition systems can be a core part of cross training programs. A simple recognition and reward system that publicly acknowledges employees for cross training accomplishments will demonstrate an ongoing commitment from management. It will also enable employees to define personal goals for learning and recognition.
We have seen many additional benefits in implementing cross training programs. Employees who were previously unengaged enjoyed learning new skills and changed their behaviors and improved communications with co-workers. Employees found they enjoyed mentoring others and took on leadership roles in their companies.
I would love to hear your stories about implementing cross training programs. Cross training is having a plan to be ready for the unplanned and unexpected changes that will come.
Input for this piece was provided by Mark M. Fallon, president and CEO, The Berkshire Company:
Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. The company develops customized solutions integrating proven management concepts with emerging technologies to achieve total process management. He offers a vision of the document that integrates technology, data quality, process integrity, and electronic delivery. His successes are based upon using leadership to implement innovative solutions in the document process. You can contact Mark at email@example.com.
Lois Ritarossi is the President of High Rock Strategies, a consulting firm focused on sales and marketing strategies, and business growth for firms in the print, mail, and communication sectors. Lois brings her clients a cross functional skill set and strategic thinking with disciplines in business strategy, sales process, sales training, marketing, software implementation, inkjet transformation and workflow optimization. Lois has enabled clients to successfully launch new products and services with integrated sales and marketing strategies, and empowered sales teams to effectively win new business.