Rebecca Hawk is the product manager for ASAE Business Services, Inc.
While most associations require employees to wear many hats, traditional organizational structures often result in siloed departments and knowledge-hoarding employees—not to mention employees who feel stuck in certain positions. A cross-training program can help.
Almost every organization has siloes. While association employees pride themselves on wearing many hats, a fragmented workforce doesn’t serve the organization well: It poses hurdles to collaboration and harms employee retention.
A cross-departmental training program that allows employees to try out different roles and responsibilities can be part of the solution. Cross-training can take many forms, ranging from job shadowing to role sharing to formal job rotations. These programs take time to design and implement, but they provide major benefits to the organization and its employees. Here are just a few of them.
You’ll give employees room to grow and can boost team performance. In a cross-training program, employees can test out different functional areas, which can build their skill sets and support their professional growth. The organization will benefit, too, as teams are pollinated with new ideas.
Cross-training a marketing specialist in development, for example, allows him to learn about your foundation’s annual campaign. With his outside perspective in play, the development team might find a new way to market to donors and drive results.
You’ll discover unexpected leaders. A successful cross-training program allows employees to apply their strengths as they take on new projects. Not only is playing to employees’ strengths a key factor in employee satisfaction (a 2015 Gallup study found that employees who use their strengths every day are 15 percent less likely to quit their jobs), but it’s also a great leadership development opportunity.
When you change the people your employee works with—perhaps a manager administering a training program shifts to a project team with a different dynamic—you provide new ways for her to contribute and allow her to demonstrate leadership potential that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
When you change the people your employee works with, you provide new ways for her to contribute and allow her to demonstrate leadership potential that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
You’ll enhance your recruitment and retention efforts. Professional development is one of the strongest benefits associations can offer. A 2016 Deloitte survey of millennial professionals found that they prioritize “opportunities to progress/be leaders” and “professional development training programs” when evaluating potential employers. If your organization is lacking in professional development funding or doesn’t have much room for upward movement, a cross-training program can help fill in the gaps and be a strong selling point to candidates.
Cross-training is good for retention, too. If star employees can’t move up the ladder, offering training in other functional areas can satisfy their desire to advance and learn new skills.
Some employers worry that offering training will encourage employees to look for opportunities elsewhere. For some staff, that might be true. But a 2017 SHRM study found that 21 percent of employees who were looking for a new job cited a lack of career advancement opportunities as the primary reason for doing so. An employee who wants to leave will leave, but you can often retain top talent by giving employees opportunities for professional development.
You’ll foster a culture of collaboration and innovation. When you allow employees to walk in colleagues’ shoes, you build empathy between teams, paving the way for easier interdepartmental collaboration. An “outsider” perspective on how a process could be improved or a potential innovation will likely be received better when the staff member in question has spent time getting to know another department’s areas of expertise.
To some employees, cross-training may feel uncomfortable—especially to those who hoard knowledge and like to be the expert in one narrow area of work. It helps to frame the initiative as a learning experience that will strengthen the whole organization. A cross-departmental training initiative can act as a layer of protection against the risks that come when staff are disconnected and disengaged—and serve as a powerful recruitment and retention tool.