Cross Train Your Employees

Training your employees is important, but cross-training your employees might be more important, especially for small business owners.
Photo Credit: ATA

Author: Cassie Scott

What would happen if your best employee quit? Would you panic? Would your business need a few weeks to hire and train someone else? Or, could you continue business as usual with your current staff?

Although training employees improves retention and customer service, and increases profits and productivity, cross-training employees reduces company risk and loss by creating capable, well-rounded employees who can step in when the need arises.

Choose two employees you feel are capable of doing each other's tasks and train them as backup. Photo Credit: ATA

What’s cross-training?

Training employee A to do employee B’s job and vice versa is called cross-training. A Forbes article explains cross-training employees makes them more agile, efficient and flexible. It also creates a more durable and sustainable company, because an essential team member won’t crumble the company if they quit, get sick or take a vacation.

Use these tips to combat indispensable employees and create a cross-training program.


Carefully Select Program Recipients

You can choose to cross-train one, two or all of your employees. However, AT&T Business recommends that you identify employees who have the foundational skills to succeed naturally in a new role. In other words, don’t throw your employees to the wolves. For example, if your bow technician lacks people skills and is more comfortable in his or her current role, then consider another employee, such as an archery instructor who might be better-suited to handle customer service inquiries. Don’t just cross-train to cross-train. Make smart business decisions that make sense.

Don't force an employee to do a job they dislike. Listen to their feedback. Photo Credit: ATA

Let the Employees Decide

Even if you believe an employee would succeed in another role, don’t force them to learn something new if they’re unwilling. Instead, ask for volunteers and present the experience as an opportunity, not an obligation. Have them identify skills or tasks they’re interested in learning. Then, have them coordinate their own informal cross-training work with another team member. This freedom allows them to work closely with other staff members, which improves teamwork and communication. Win-win!


Add it to Your Existing Training Program

Kurt Smith, ATA’s director of industry relations, said most businesses have an orientation or initial training process for new employees, but good managers invest in ongoing employee education. Instead of having a week of onboarding, inform new hires they’ll slowly be learning new things throughout the year. Build cross-training into your training program, along with certifying your staff in CPR, first aid or as an archery instructor. Your employees will be thankful they didn’t have to learn everything at once, and they’ll likely remain eager and curious for what’s next. Smith said once your employees have been trained in all areas of your business, they’ll only need little refreshers to improve their skills.

If you want to create a formal, separate cross-training program, read “6 Steps for Managers to Cross-Train Employees Effectively,” by Alli Blotter.

Place the employee in the secondary position for a day and see how they adapt. Photo Credit: ATA

Test Your Success

Lastly, no matter which approach you take, give your employees multiple chances to use and demonstrate their new skills. Run simulations or designate employees to swap roles for a day. You could even create a formal rotation where your employees work their secondary position once a month. These tests ensure you have a back-up person on-hand when the occasional illness, injury or family emergency surfaces. The Right Staff, an employment service firm, said, “cross-training can smooth out any potential dips in productivity without requiring an organization to consider temporary help.”

Although cross-training your employees can be time consuming, the benefits often outweigh the drawbacks. It’s the first step to building a well-rounded team.

If you have questions or need help creating a cross-training program, contact Kurt Smith, ATA’s director of industry relations, at, or (717) 578-0736.

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