If someone on the management team were to get sick, we’d need a replacement plan. What would that look like?

Thoughts of the Day: Having people ready to step into another job reduces personnel crises. Cross training makes it easy to train one’s replacement. Replacement training can be good for morale. Be sure to explain to people why you’re asking them to train their replacements.

When the inevitable happens and someone can’t come to work, things can keep rolling along smoothly if someone else is prepared to step in and cover. When people leave the company, there’s no wasted time figuring out how to do what they did. People can rest easy knowing they can take vacation and come back to a workload that is properly managed in their absence.

Cross training is the most effective form of training.

Cross training gives people a chance to participate in mastery learning, gaining new skills at an individualized pace, which is the most effective form of training. It prevents having to throw people in over their heads in emergencies. It’s never good to have someone who is unprepared taking on tasks when the person who should be doing the task is not around to watch.

Ask managers to spearhead cross training.

Starting at the top, ask every manager and employee to identify all the tasks they perform. Then ask them to identify one or more persons to train for each task. In some cases, there may be multiple people performing specific tasks. That’s great. Focus on the tasks that are performed by only one person.

Businessperson Looking At Vacant Chairs Through Magnifying Glass

You may need to staff up to allow for adequate cross training.

Staffing up to do cross training requires that everyone has a little bit of slack time. Focus on cross training projects during slow times of the year. Overstaffing by 10 percent to 20 percent gives everyone time to engage in training, and helps to reduce the need for overtime in busy periods.

Encourage a learning mentality across the organization.

Make it clear to everyone in the organization that learning to do additional tasks is an ideal way to get on track for a promotion in terms of both responsibility and income. Let people know you’re watching carefully to see who steps up and takes it seriously when given the opportunity to learn to do more. Factor into bonuses a calculation for people who keep adding skills to their toolkit. Build a roster of people trained to step up, so there’s no question who your go-to people are when there’s an opening.

Use testing to ensure that employees are properly cross trained and ready to step up.

Develop a qualification or testing process to determine who is ready to step up. Ask the person going through training to take notes, type them up and then hand those notes off to the next person to use to learn the task. Three rounds of using notes, making corrections and handing them off to the next trainee should get you a pretty well-proofed training manual. Do that for enough jobs and you have a procedure manual that is valuable to you, your current and future employees and any future owners.

Teaching employees new skills increases their value.

Teaching people to do more things increases their visibility, promoteability and value. Engaging people in learning keeps things from getting boring and stale. Training programs demonstrate that your company is willing to invest in building on individual potential.

Cross training reduces stress during busy times.

Make sure people understand that training their replacement(s) is good for them. Having a replacement means time off for vacation without worry. It means opportunity for promotion because there’s a replacement ready to step into their shoes. It means less worry about how to get work done in busy periods. And it demonstrates their skill as a trainer, leader and team player, all critical long-term employment skills.

Looking for a good book?

Try “Active Training: A Handbook of Techniques, Designs, Case Examples, and Tips” by Melvin L. Silberman, Elaine Biech.