Cross-Training Employees: 9 Practical Tips for Your Organization


Businesses are often constrained in the number of employees that they can hire. Some may even aim to keep operations lean and derive the maximum value from their current set of employees by enhancing their effectiveness. Typically, under such circumstances, businesses seek to cross-train their employees. 

Cross-training employees involves imparting technical knowledge and skills to an employee other than their core field of expertise. This is to ensure that in times of need, the said employee is able to take up the required role and assist the organization. Such a situation, for example, could arise in the middle of an important project due to an employee falling ill or quitting. The business would then find itself short-staffed to be able to deliver the project in time. Under such circumstances, having a cross-trained employee who can pitch in to fill the gap and help complete the project in time can be invaluable. 

Benefits of Cross Training:

Having employees who are cross-trained provides an organization with an edge over the competition. Cross-training, in addition to benefiting the organization, also benefits the individual employees and managers. The many benefits of cross-training employees include:

  • Improved employee satisfaction: Doing the same task over and over again causes a sense of boredom and could lead to demotivation. Cross-training keeps employees interested and motivated by periodically challenging them to learn new skills and take on new tasks. Cross-training employees also help instill confidence, infuse a sense of responsibility, and create the motivation to excel. 
  • Improved Processes: When employees are assigned tasks outside their primary role, they approach them with a fresh perspective. This helps the organization discover new and improved ways of performing its tasks. 
  • Enhanced Efficiency: To cross-train employees, businesses need to first identify the skills and competencies critical to the efficient functioning of the organization. Gaining clarity on what is critical to the business also helps enhance organizational efficiency.  
  • Greater Collaboration: When employees are cross-trained, they collaborate more readily and effectively. When employees can understand what their colleagues are doing, they are better able to work together and help each other out when necessary. This helps build strong and collaborative teams. 
  • Flexibility in Operations: A cross-trained workforce can react quickly and effectively to changing circumstances in a workplace. Cross-training programs for employees help unearth hidden talent and grow employees’ professional abilities as well. This helps the business in becoming more flexible and responsive to emergent business requirements. 
  • Succession Planning: Cross-training aids succession planning by providing insights into candidates identified as capable of handling greater responsibilities. Cross-training provides such employees with a rounded exposure to the working of the organization.  
  • Return on Investment (RoI): Cross-training makes employees feel valued because they see the organization investing in them. This leads to increased employee engagement and motivation. This, in turn, boosts employee retention and reduces turnover. The cost of cross-training an existing employee is significantly lower than training a new hire. These savings deliver a high RoI to the organization. 

The Downsides of Cross-Training

While cross-training confers businesses with many benefits, it is not without its downsides. The downsides of cross-training include:

  • Feeling Overwhelmed: Every employee is different, and each individual responds differently to cross-training. While some may relish the challenge of acquiring new skills, others might feel overwhelmed and overburdened. This could give rise to resentment among some employees that they are being asked to do jobs for which they were not originally hired. Cross-training could sometimes cause burnout and lowered morale. This adversely impacts the quality of training leading to poor business results. To avoid such circumstances, it is vital to develop a comprehensive and engaging training program. It is also recommended to brief the employees beforehand about the benefits of cross-training to encourage them. 
  • Diversion of Attention: Organizations are continuously balancing between promoting deep vertical specialization and broad basing competencies through cross-training. This sometimes distracts employees from focusing on their specific areas of specialization and their primary roles. To ensure that your employees are dedicated to their core roles, it is essential to establish performance standards and a proper schedule for the training program. 

Designing an Effective Cross Training Program

There is no secret to implementing an effective cross-training program for employees. A well-thought-out design is critical to the success of your training program. The important factors to be considered while developing an effective cross-training program are listed below. 

1. Identify Your Goals: The first step in designing a cross-training program is to identify the organization’s long-term and short-term goals. You need to consider questions such as – would you want your workforce to be specialized in a specific task, or do you want a cross-trained workforce that helps ensure uninterrupted workflow when faced with an absent employee?

You can begin by considering the factors that led you to consider cross-training in the first place. Once you have identified the goals, the factors that make cross-training necessary, and what is expected of the employees – communicate this information to the employees so that everyone understands the purpose of the cross-training initiative. This ensures that everyone pulls in the same direction i.e. towards achieving the desired organizational goals. 

2. Create Motivation: The surest way to get organization-wide buy-in for the cross-training program is to explain to the employees how they and the organizations benefit from cross-training. When employees see the potential for personal and professional advancement through cross-training, it creates motivation and incentivizes learning. Several studies have shown that cross-training internal talent provides superior business outcomes compared to hiring new talent. 

3. Ascertain Employee Knowledge and Interests: Get to know the current knowledge and skill level of your employees. Also, identify what they are interested in learning. Aligning your training plan with information on which employee can be cross-trained for what task and what the employee is interested in learning will help increase motivation among employees to learn and excel in their areas of interest. 

4. Identify Job Specializations for Cross Training: When planning for a cross-training program, keep the primary responsibility of the employees in mind. Avoid placing an employee in a situation where the area of cross-specialization is far removed from the primary responsibility. This could prove to be excessively burdensome and distract the employees from their primary responsibility. Ideally, the cross-training should be on a related skill/knowledge area so that knowledge assimilation is faster and easier. 

5. Use Experienced Trainers and Quality Courses: The effectiveness of the training provided depends largely on the effectiveness of the trainers and the quality of content in the training courses. Experienced trainers will know how to pace the delivery of the training for maximum assimilation and will be able to create a positive learning experience to keep the learners engaged. On the other hand, the content of the course will determine the value they get from the training; as close the content is to practical application, the more your learners will benefit from it. 

6. Evaluation Tests: Divide the training module into sections, and at the end of every section, conduct a test to evaluate the efficacy of the training. Testing will help managers and instructors ensure that the trainees have grasped the content of the instruction. Tests also help assess the ability of the trainees to apply their knowledge/skills in the actual workplace. 

Additionally, periodic testing helps identify any shortcomings in either the training material or the mode of instruction and enables appropriate corrections to be initiated. 

7. Prepare a Checklist: Create a master checklist or a dashboard with information on the names of the employees, their current roles, the skills they have been cross-trained on, etc. This will provide you with ready information on which individual can be redirected to temporarily fill an open position. The dashboard can be updated with information on the performance of the individual in the new role. Such information will help assess the efficacy of training provided and identify areas where individual employees might require further training. 

8. Collect Feedback: Upon completion of the cross-training program of either an individual employee or a group of employees, conduct a one-on-one follow-up to assess their satisfaction with the training. Collecting detailed feedback will help refine the future delivery of programs.

Final Thoughts

Cross-training employees is a proven means to enhance the effectiveness of the current workforce. It helps employees become skilled at multiple tasks raising their value for the organization. 

Businesses today operate in a market environment where technologies are constantly evolving, and the market’s needs are ever-shifting. In such a market characterized by uncertainty and hyper-competition, a robust cross-training program becomes a necessity for any organization to sustain. 

If you are interested in leveraging the power of cross-training, we can help! Auzmor Learn is a unified platform that lets you launch, track, and report all types of training in a single location. It also comes packed with course authoring tools and an extensive content library. Book a FREE demo with Auzmor Learn today!

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