The purpose of this article is to share a different method of cross-training employees for efficiency and success. Most companies have a general idea of how they want to teach their employees skills outside of their specific job descriptions. Companies may begin by asking managers which employees are best suited for cross-training, or by asking the employees themselves about their interest in diversifying their skills. Often the cross-training is either only superficially carried out or forgotten among the more pressing business matters facing the employer. Thus a proven asset is lost for many companies. My preferred approach is different in a couple of ways. I believe ALL employees should participate in cross-training, both as teachers and learners. Employers should be intentional in allowing time and opportunities for this colleague interaction. The most beneficial cross-training takes place among “nearest neighbor” roles. The nearest neighbor roles for a UI/UX Designer are graphic designers (upstream), and front-end developers (downstream).
Nearest neighbor cross-training: A better approach for IT
Cross-training according to the Oxford Dictionary: The action or practice of training or being trained in more than one role or skill.
The nearest neighbor approach to cross-training emphasizes a deep learning of roles of the employees nearest to you in the flow of production. In other words, the upstream employee provides the products/deliverables that you need to complete your day to day tasks. The downstream employee is the one who is dependent on your finished product/deliverables to complete their day to day work. The stream of work is made more smooth and efficient when the employees understand both their roles and the roles of their neighbors.
What are the benefits?
“Regardless of your industry, today’s businesses can’t risk failing because they lose a key player at a critical juncture. It’s essential to cross-train your employees so losing one won’t mean the end of your company.” -Forbes
The benefits of cross-training in organizations are numerous. Nearest neighbor cross-trained employees comprise a workforce that is more…
“In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics found that companies with fewer than 100 employees gave only 12 minutes of manager training every six months. Organizations with 100 – 500 employees provided just 6 minutes.”
By helping employees increase their knowledge in their specific roles as well as their nearest neighbor roles, your workforce will be more adept at strategic planning and efficient in their day-to-day work. During the course of cross-training an employee is both a teacher and a student. Teaching their downstream neighbor will improve understanding of their own roles and responsibilities. Learning from their upstream neighbor will stimulate interest and engagement with the production process. These valuable insights and skills will impact the employee for a lifetime.
Knowledgeable, interested, engaged, and responsible employees will contribute more accurate timelines during strategic planning sessions and better communication throughout the project lifecycle.
An employee who acquires first-hand knowledge of the difficult aspects of their nearest neighbor will be empathetic, more patient, and more encouraging. This new empathy produces a more helpful and less critical workforce. Learning from and leaning on fellow workers creates an atmosphere of camaraderie and your employee culture will reflect this.
As you invest in your employees by cross-training, you are communicating the value you place on their role in your company. Nearest neighbor training requires two employees at a time to step away from the tasks they are paid to complete. Employees will understand your commitment to them is long-term.
When employees know they are valued, they are more likely to value you as their employer and make a return investment toward the success of the company.
The ability for an employee to jump in and help a nearest neighbor complete a task is invaluable. This added assistance may be what allows a company to meet their deadlines. If an employee is out for an extended period of time the organization may be able to continue forward without investing in a search for a temporary replacement. If hiring is necessary the nearest neighbors will be well-positioned to support the onboarding process and maintain the flow of work. As employees experience the roles of their neighbors, they and the company may find sharing or exchanging of tasks to be an unexpected boost to the workers’ productivity and job satisfaction.
Lack of availability of resources is the number one reason an organization doesn’t deliver a product or service on time. The dynamic, interactive nature of the nearest neighbor cross-training approach ensures a steady supply of personnel resources.
Cross-training is a proven commodity when it comes to advancing an efficient and successful workforce. The nearest neighbor approach will bring additional benefits such as increased organizational knowledge, an empathetic and valued employee, and a more dynamic workforce.