A company’s success is based on its performance, which is a factor of the kind of effort put in by its employees. It is a well-known fact that employee attrition or a poor quality workforce can prove to be a major undoing for a company’s efforts and could cost it a lot of money, time and other resources and also be the prime reasons for poor customer service and sub-standard products. In order to avoid these detrimental consequences it is important for a company to train its staff and cross-functional training proves indispensable. Not only does cross-functional training increase efficiency in employees it also encourages professional development, team performance and overall cohesion in the workplace. At times, cross-functional training proves to be a more effective tool to enhance the company’s productivity than any other method.
While each employee is in their current role because they possess a particular skill set, cross-functional training provides them with additional skills and proficiency in roles that are outside of their core responsibilities and skill sets. From a customer service perspective, for example, it would be required for the agents to also have product knowledge and some amount of trouble-shooting skills as well. They would be adept at marketing and selling also. The purpose of cross-functional training in this case would ensure that the customer service agents are able to be more efficient when interacting with customers and be able to resolve the maximum number of queries at this level, thereby saving time and effort for the customer, raising their satisfaction and happiness levels and encouraging them to provide repeat business to the company.
While running a business, one of the biggest hurdles to smooth processes and workflow often is absence of employees either due to illness or time off for other reasons. This becomes a huge problem during a critical project or a crucial time of the year for a company. At such times the benefits of cross-functional training can be truly appreciated. With suitably trained and multi-skilled staff work schedules will hardly ever go awry and neither would critical projects come to a standstill in the absence of a particular staff member. Lack of cross-functional training could lead to a shortfall of resources thereby drastically lowering the productivity levels of the company. Such training also raises the knowledge base and skill levels of all employees.
We have earlier discussed that on-going training of employees is essential for any company and business. Through cross-functional training, employee morale gets a boost as they feel that they are being valued by the company by way of the investment being made to develop them professionally. Employees remain engaged and competitive and learn to appreciate the talents and skills of those they work with. Cross-functional training allows all employees to understand and appreciate the limitations and challenges of their co-workers thereby promoting a happy workplace with limited stress and conflicts.
As competition increases and prices sky-rocket, resources and manpower becomes scarce. All companies would benefit from having on their payroll, cross-trained employees. Irrespective of level or designation, the absence of any staff member can put a spoke in the smooth operations of the business. The situation can quickly turn grave and disastrous in case of extended absence or if people decide to quit for whatever reason. Re-hiring or hiring temporary employees may not be ideal as they would take time to reach optimum efficiency or may not even have the required skill sets, knowledge base and attitude for the job.
Cross- functional training significantly reduces recruitment costs and saves the company valuable time. If such training has been provided, any absences or vacancies can be immediately taken care of without worrying about productivity. Cross-functional training proves extremely useful in succession planning too – there would always be staff members ready and willing to take on new assignments and move into critical roles as soon as the need comes up. Of course, it does not imply that external hiring would never happen – however, the need would not be as much and as often. The existing employees would see the available opportunities within the company and be more willing to learn new skills and gain better and higher positions than leave to find other opportunities. Cross-functional training is also a major tool to attract some of the best talent present in the market as it provides a path for an individual’s career growth.
Cross-functional training promotes team work. When a team member is learning the complexities of another’s role the person teaching becomes a mentor, guide and coach. This sort of ‘support’ promotes self-esteem and the overall quality of the jobs being performed. When employees join a company and stay with it for a long time, they not only expect monetary recognition but non-monetary appreciation – which is a great motivator. Cross-functional training and other kinds of training programs are great motivators – it lends a sense of security and faith for employees that their employer genuinely cares for them.
Cross-functional training like all other training programs must have the required return on investment. There are definite costs for training programs and these costs must be offset by the results and benefits for each employee and the company as a whole. Cross-functional training also requires time and commitment and hence a company must weave it into the business plan, daily operations and overall culture of the company. As part of the strategy the company must also put in place incentive programs to encourage employees to take on new assignments and roles and also have a robust reward and recognition program for consistent and on-going efforts towards personal and professional development.
Post training, it is necessary that, as all business strategies, the effects and benefits are measured. Measuring and monitoring will ensure that any deficiencies of the system will be removed and whatever is working well can be further improved. As programs get better and more employees get involved in the process of cross-functional training, the top management must be seen as providing complete support to the efforts. Cross-functional training commitment and investment also lets employees know that they have job security. They feel in control of their career and growth paths in the company and allow them to remain committed and engaged. They would also be more likely to provide creative and innovative ideas for improvement and be ready to do extra in order to achieve success for themselves and the company.
While cross-functional training is not always easy to achieve given a number of challenges – employee resistance, compensation issues and other such obstacles – could inhibit the success of such an endeavour. One possible way could be to weave cross-functional training into the performance appraisal with clear guidelines as to its benefits and the kind of rewards and growth prospects that could come about. There must an incentive program and strategy that articulates what the employee can expect from the company if they are willing to expand their knowledge base and upgrade and add to their skills. This is a program that cannot be successful by coercion but will be highly efficacious when there is employee buy-in and a robust and well-thought out strategy for its implementation.