Tailored Label Products, Jeff Kerlin
By Jeff Kerlin , President & CEO at Tailored Label Products, Inc.
Milwaukee Business Journal Leadership Trust
 
When it comes to employee engagement, we often think of things like profit sharing, celebrations, communication and recognition. While these things are certainly important, we’ve found that having a robust cross-training culture not only allows us to better serve our customers, but it also increases the engagement of our team members.
 
My company uses a cross-training program that we call 3×3. The goal is to have three employees (at least) trained to “rock star” level on every machine or process in our plant — and the same for every office position as well.
 
We have a large matrix that lists each machine or process on one axis, and then every employee on the other axis. Each employee’s level of training is denoted by an A, B, C or T, or it’s left blank. We want every employee to be at a level A in at least three different areas.
 
  • A is a fully trained rock star.
  • B is someone who can do approximately 85% of the work.
  • C is someone who can do the basic, routine work.
  • T is someone who has just begun training.
  • A blank space denotes no training in this area at all.

Benefits of Cross Training Employees

The benefits of a robust cross-training system are obvious. Staffing flexibility and increased machine uptime are immediate wins that pay huge dividends when you’re constantly reacting to changing customer demands.

There are several side benefits, however, that we didn’t anticipate:

  • Competitive, high-achieving and self-confident employees love this program. Employees compete to see who can have the most A’s in a particular department.
  • It’s an easy way to identify strong learners and not-so-strong ones.
  • It reinforces the idea that no one exclusively owns a process or machine. Gone are the days of “This is my press,” or “This is my customer, and no one should touch the account while I’m out.”
  • Employees may discover that they absolutely love a new process and would like to work more in a particular area.
  • Employees are often surprised by what they learn about themselves as they take on the challenge of learning something new that they’ve never been exposed to.
  • Employees who are being cross-trained in a new area or process quickly develop an appreciation for what their teammates do each day. And they often offer up new ideas as a result of their fresh perspective.
  • Employees genuinely appreciate the investment you’re making in them as individuals as well as the investment you’re making in the company as a whole.
  • Employees understand that cross-training allows the company to keep headcount as low as possible and thereby share the profits with fewer folks.

cross training employees, benefits of cross training employees

If you’d like to implement a similar system in your own company, here’s my advice.

First, conduct a risk assessment of each department in which you’d like to implement 3×3. The assessment should reveal your current level of risk for each process/role, answering questions such as: What is the likelihood that there could be no trained employees on this process? How big of an issue is it if you are without a trained employee for a given time? How long will it take to train someone new in this role?

Once your assessment is completed, you can prioritize your cross-training plan according to your risks and the availability of existing employees who are capable of learning other roles. If you have a high-risk role and no one internally who can learn it, you may need to consider hiring someone.

For obvious reasons, getting a department completely trained in 3×3 takes a lot of time. Consider setting an initial goal of 2×2, and strive for a time when no process relies on just one person.

Remember, this program should not only mitigate risks and provide you and your team with peace of mind, but it should also be an exciting opportunity for your team members to learn new skills and help each other. As with any change in an organization, though, be prepared for resistance. Sell your team on the “why,” and maybe even incentivize them or make a competition out of it.

This program has brought us closer together as one big team and made it a whole lot easier for our teammates to have each others’ backs. Hopefully it can do the same for you.


Originally published in the Milwaukee Business Journal Leadership Trust: Original Article

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