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Creating an Employee Cross-Training Plan Template

By Michelle Gouldsberry
June 16, 2022
7 minute read

The work environment is changing rapidly, and to respond to change, you need a reflexive and agile workforce. Cross-training offers a compelling and accessible solution for distributing important skills, abilities, and knowledge throughout the workforce. An employee cross-training plan template can get you started.

An employee cross-training plan provides direction for matching employees to learning opportunities across the business. You can take an intentional approach by starting with the business strategy and moving down to each individual employee’s learning goals. An employee cross-training plan template can help you align all of these elements as part of a strategic plan.

Learn how to develop an employee cross-training plan template for your business.

What Is Employee Cross-Training?

Employee cross-training occurs when an employee learns to carry out some of the tasks assigned to another role. Cross-trained employees can perform more than one job role, learn new skills from their peers and expand their skill sets.

Employee cross-training is typically an experiential form of learning, where one employee shadows another and eventually takes over some of their tasks. Because they’re learning on the job, this form of training is highly accessible, cost-effective, and less time-consuming than other types of instruction (such as learning modules), which employees may struggle to prioritize against their day-to-day tasks.

Cross-training presents variety to employees, who can decide which roles and responsibilities are most attractive. And because they’re experiencing other roles firsthand, employees can make informed decisions about what they’re best at and where they want to go in the company.

Why Are Cross-Training Programs Important for Your Organization?

Cross-training programs produce several important benefits for your business and set the stage for a more successful talent strategy. Here are four benefits of employee cross-training at your business.

Enhance Employee Performance

Cross-training expands each employee’s skill set so that no matter where they go within the organization, they’re bringing greater nuance, understanding, and ability to their work.

Training in other roles also promotes cross-pollination between departments. Such employees are more likely to share their ideas for improving processes — including those siloed within a team or department. By improving and unifying processes, cross-training promotes greater collaboration and efficiency.

As employees learn more about what their colleagues do, they become more aware of their own work as it relates to other roles. A greater understanding of other steps in the workflow can improve employee productivity across the business. Cross-training drives home the sense of being part of something bigger, which can help employees perform their jobs better and with greater precision.

Create a Resilient Workforce

Traditionally, vital information regarding task priorities and processes for each role has been confined to the people in those roles. But if only one person knows how to do something (process payroll, for example), you’re at a greater risk of performance gaps if that employee isn’t available to carry out those tasks.

Cross-training creates a more resilient workforce by distributing skills and knowledge to “backup” employees who can take over when a colleague is out. Knowing where that versatile talent is located in the organization can help your HR team with scenario planning that keeps the business running during a crisis.

Increase Employee Engagement and Retention

When executed with intention, your cross-training program has the power to increase employee engagement and retention. By matching employees to learning and growth opportunities that correspond with their interests and play up their skills, you can show the workforce that there are no “dead-end” jobs.

Employee engagement is sustained when people have feelings of growth and working toward something bigger. And because employees don’t have to look externally for opportunities to grow, retention is likely to improve, too.

Improve Talent Mobility

One of the most important benefits of cross-training is creating a culture where talent is shared. By cross-training employees to fill roles across the business, you can build a culture of agility where employees are empowered to move within the organization.

When groups of employees are used to filling in for each other, they’re more likely to see fluidity within the organizational chart instead of feeling restricted to a linear career track. Demonstrating options for mobility helps employees find where they feel most at home, which improves their output and their chances of staying longer.

How Do You Build an Effective Cross-Training Plan?

Cross-training, like any aspect of talent development, must start with the business strategy and move down the org chart to each employee’s quarterly goals. Here are seven steps to building an effective cross-training plan.

Identify Your Goals

The first step to developing a crossing training plan is determining what you want to get out of it. Start with your business plan and talent strategy. If you know where the business is going, you can prepare a cross-training plan to support those desired outcomes.

With the business plan in mind, consider these questions: At what points is your workforce the weakest? What skills, abilities, and competencies are the highest priority? Where are you most at risk if employees leave?

The responses to these questions can help you pinpoint opportunities to cross-train employees in specific roles.

Train Your Trainers

In a typical cross-training program, employees are trained by their colleagues in those roles. But not just anyone is ready to train their peers: Teaching someone requires patience, excellent communication skills, and the ability to delegate tasks.

For the best outcomes, find employees who have experience training co-workers or onboarding colleagues. You may also use assessments to find employees with the right qualities for cross-training their peers. You can then begin moving these employees into roles where they can share their knowledge with others.

Once you’ve identified the employees who make the best candidates for training roles, approach their managers about those opportunities. Employees can build training into their personal goals to help them take the next step in their careers.

Prioritize Training By Department

Each department will have different training needs. In each area of the business, identify the roles and responsibilities that are most crucial to maintaining business operations. Those are key roles for cross-training programs to target.

Cross-training can occur within each department or across departments. Employees within the same department likely have greater visibility into the work everyone performs and will have a better sense of the role they’re cross-training on.

But you may also pull employees from other departments who have adjacent skills that would benefit from cross-training. An employee from IT, for example, who has experience in spreadsheets and data sets, and who presents excellent analytical skills, can cross-train to serve in the people analytics role.

Ask Employees What They Want to Learn

One of the most important components of a cross-training plan is finding the right candidates for training in another role. Managers play a key role in this process.

When managers serve as coaches, they gather information regarding employee aspirations and career goals. As part of an employee development plan, managers can match employees to cross-training opportunities to help them learn the skills and competencies they need to grow.

Using aggregated data gathered from performance management conversations across the business, your HR team can develop a composite picture of workforce interests and potential for mobility. With greater visibility into the workforce’s strengths and interests, you can create a fluid org chart to respond quickly when change occurs.

Document Your Procedures

While cross-training programs may not have a set curriculum in the traditional sense, each and every role should have standard operating procedures for employees and trainees.

Work with department heads and team leads to document procedures, starting with those you’ve identified as most important to cross-train employees on. Some roles may have documented procedures, but even these could be due for an update. Review what’s on file for each role, and update them accordingly after collecting insights from team leads and employees in the role.

Without standard operating procedures, there’s a risk of different trainers applying different definitions or standards. Documented procedures produce a single source of truth for trainers to refer to during cross-training programs.

Develop a Training Process

Similarly, the cross-training process itself must have standards. By developing a standard process, you can account for differences in learning styles to produce the best possible outcomes for each and every employee.

To capture that variety, build in opportunities for different types of delivery. Include audio and visual elements, for example, within a brief orientation video. Kinesthetic learners will learn by doing, so make sure that trainers know how to delegate specific tasks to trainees so that they can gain practical experience.

Your employee cross-training plan template can help trainers maintain a standard process throughout the learning period.

Assess Your Program’s Outcomes

Every training program is an opportunity to learn more about what works for your workforce and how you can improve delivery of training and development.

Assess learning outcomes at the individual level. Has your training program been effective? Were your operating procedures clear? If trainers repeatedly skipped part of the training process, for example, you’ll want to revisit that element and gather feedback from users for improvement.

Assess outcomes at the workforce level, too. Aggregated performance data can reveal where your cross-training program has strengthened workforce capabilities and where weak spots remain.

Your Employee Cross-Training Plan Template

You don’t need fancy tools or technology to develop effective cross-training plans. Some of the tools your workforce already uses can serve this purpose. For example, you can develop an employee cross-training plan template in Excel. In fact, to empower managers and trainers to take ownership of the cross-training process, your template should be straightforward and delivered in an easily accessible format.

A basic employee training plan template should include five key components. Here are the elements you need to include.

Candidates for Cross-Training

Employees are the most important piece of the cross-training puzzle. Make it clear who’s training for which roles and the skills they need to sharpen. Help employees consider what they hope to get out of the experience.

Leave room for employees to reflect on why they’re interested in a particular role, to draw connections between what they’re learning and their overall goals, and to keep track of their progress. Provide prompts for managers so they can turn the employee cross-training plan into a coaching opportunity.

Roles and Responsibilities

Specify which roles trainees are mastering. Lay out their responsibilities in the role, and highlight potential development opportunities. Use the format of your cross-training plan template to spread out each of the responsibilities that fall within each role so that employees can target each task or responsibility separately. This can drive a greater sense of accomplishment and provide more detailed data on learning outcomes.

Assigned Trainers

Each cross-training plan has to match the trainee with a trainer — typically someone currently in the role. Trainers will need to provide feedback on the employee’s progress, so make sure your cross-training plan template is user-friendly and easily accessible in the flow of work.

Provide prompts for trainers to record important information on the employee’s progress and on the program’s overall success.

Goals for Cross-Training

An effective employee training program requires goals to work toward. These goals go beyond refresher training, mastering new skills or taking over some tasks for a colleague. Cross-training goals can dovetail with each employee’s overall goals, as well as those of the business.

You may use the plan template itself to prompt managers and employees to align their quarterly goals with cross-training goals. For example, a call center employee who is cross-training to handle in-person customer relations can learn important communication skills that can serve both the business and their own career journey.

Metrics for Meeting Training Goals

Goals are meaningless if there’s no way to demonstrate that you’ve completed them. For each cross-training goal, include one to three metrics indicating that the employee has met their training goals.

If an employee is cross-training to learn better communication for a front-of-house role, for example, their metrics might include customer satisfaction rates, time to resolve open tickets, or feedback from colleagues.

When creating your training plan template, include a column where managers and employees can brainstorm key results that indicate goal completion.

Cross-Training Across the Workforce

With a comprehensive employee cross-training plan template in place, you can empower the workforce to chart their own paths in your organization. Building a culture where cross-training is the norm creates an agile workforce and helps employees feel dynamic rather than stagnant in their careers — and that’s good for business.

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