Volume 46, Issue 7 - August 2011

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Cross-Training Your Team
This Technique is Not Just for Olympic Athletes
by Paul Bieber


Summer is just about over. You have your full workforce back after all those vacations and you are ready for the busy fall season. You werenít your normal smooth-running machine when people took vacation.

People will take time off from work, no matter how much you wish they didnít. In these economic times you are not carrying the extra people on payroll, so you limp through when you are short a person. But you donít have to. Cross-training is the key to solving this problem in your company. It doesnít matter what size you are, you should be doing this at all levels of your glass shop.

Cross-training is having more than one person know every task in your company. At our glass fab plant we did this, and the biggest hurdle came from the entrenched employees who did not want to share their specific knowledge. Many felt being the only one who knew something enhanced their job security. I first started with these folks by training them in another job, so they understood the process. Many felt this was just another waste of time from the office. But suddenly, we had one key person take a leave of absence and, for the first time, someone stepped into his role with little difficulty. The proverbial light bulb clicked on over everyoneís head.

Jobs take months or years to learn. So, in the short teaching time, the student wonít be an expert, but should be able to do the basics.

Planning Ahead
You need to do some serious planning to make a cross-training program work. Sounds easy, but you really do have to work at it. Set up a schedule where every employee does someone elseís job for a week each year. This involves training of both employees; one has to learn how to teach their job and be comfortable sharing information, and the other has to learn the new skills. First, spend time with the trainers explaining the value to the organization. Get their input regarding whom to select to learn their job. Plan to have the student spend two or three days with the teacher on a monthly basis. After approximately four training sessions, let the student take over the job for three or four days, while the teacher becomes a student in another job.

Jobs take months or years to learn. So, in the short teaching time, the student wonít be an expert, but should be able to do the basics. The most important thing is that the student has confidence when stepping in when needed. You can plan around scheduled vacations, but when an accident or illness occurs you wonít struggle getting work done.

Many jobs have a key assistant. In the cross-training concept, the student first would learn the assistantís job, and two years out would learn the leaderís job. Simultaneously, the assistant would learn something completely different and not just step into the leaderís job as their assignment. One of the true benefits is that all people will have greater respect for each other and their jobs. How often we think others have an easy job. Everyone who did our cross-training came away with a fresh outlook. This was invaluable.

When someone learns a new job, they are more valuable to your company. Reward them with a very small raise after they complete your training program. For example, a glazier who gets his CDL and can drive your larger trucks is an asset to your company.

If you give people the opportunity to grow, many will. This will help you and your company, gives you a better trained and coordinated staff, and will ultimately improve your service to your customers.

Authorís Note: Please send your questions about business issues to paulbaseball@msn.com, call me at 603/242-3521, or fax to 603/242-3527. I donít have all the answers, but I will research your question with experts and get the answers. All questions will be verified with the writer, so please include your contact information. Your name will be withheld from the article at your request, but I canít accept anonymous questions. Whether it is an ethical, legal or accounting question send me a note. If you want advice on marketing or a business plan, help with an employee situation or succession planning, Iíll help you get the answers.

Paul Bieber has 30 years in the glass industry, including 21 years as the executive vice president of Floral Glass in Hauppauge, N.Y., from which he retired in 2005.


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