As a supervisor or manager, why does cross-training on the job matter?
What is cross-training?
Cross-training is a term that is often used in physical fitness programs. It refers to developing different muscles so that the entire body is more healthy and efficient.
But cross-training on the job isn’t about physical fitness. It’s about mental fitness. It’s getting better at your job as a professional.
Managers use employee cross-training for several reasons; better understanding of a co-workers’ position, when there is not enough work to keep a person busy at their normal position, or when the cross-trained position is understaffed for some reason.
But there is a deeper reason, especially when you are the manager or supervisor, and that is what this episode is about.
Here’s why it is important:
Good managers and supervisors make good decisions and they make those decisions efficiently. One of the foundations for good decision making is a broad base of experience. It’s like big-picture thinking. The more you see, the more you know. The more you know the more you can process ideas effectively and efficiently.
Cross-training is getting exposure to experience and education in a position that is not normally yours. You will get to see things from a different perspective than your own. When we think of another person’s position, we tell ourselves a story about that other position. If we have little or no experience in that position, then the story is most likely incorrect. It’s a natural human condition.
As a manager, you have to overcome that inclination for story-telling and ask questions to understand the other person’s actions, motivations, and ultimately, their decisions.
That is what this is about – cross-training to make better decisions as a peer, and over-all.
If we were talking about skilled trades and crafts, we might be talking about an apprenticeship program, like the progression of becoming a crane operator.
You might not see being an oiler, a rigger, a signalman, and then an operator as cross-training. You may not see any apprentice program as cross-training, but it is.
This is because experience in each position makes it easier, faster, and safer, decision-making for crane operators. The exposure to different scenarios, at different levels, broadens their ability to make decisions. This is why the experience of being an oiler, a signalman, and a rigger make for better operators. As one progresses through each level or position of that trade they are exposed to the same situations as the operator, but they each have a distinct viewpoint and experience. Ultimately, as an operator, they will be able to use those experiences to make better decisions.
Why is this important to you, the manager, or supervisor?
Remember three things:
First – Being a supervisor or manager is your craft. It is yours to develop in the same manner as your previous trade when you were in the field as labor, apprentice, then journeyman. Treat your new craft as you would your old one. Develop your skills like your professional life depends on it.
Second – Good managers make good decisions, and good decisions are made with a broader and deeper set of experiences.
Third – if you really want to be a big picture thinker, in other words, if you really want to think strategically and act tactically, then cross-training will make that happen a lot easier.
What do you do with this information?
First, take a few minutes and think about the times in your life that you made a decision and it worked really well then look at that decision and see whether it had anything to do with experience that you got from someplace else. Experience you got not from your current position, or even the position you were in. The experience might even have had nothing to do with your job, but you put it together to come up with an asset on the job.
If you are the manager of the manager, read this:
If you are a manager that sees the benefits of cross-training your managers, great! A word of caution, though. Be careful of the way in which you approach them and the words you use to tell them that you want to do this. The wrong approach will make them begin to wonder whether they are about to be replaced. The correct approach helps with team-building.
Try your hardest to tell them why you want to do this, and the deeper reasons. Help them to understand that this benefits everyone, and creates a more professional workplace.
This is not the time to write a memo to them. Do this in person so that they can ask questions and measure your sincerity.
After your managers or supervisors have swapped positions for a period of time, get them together, and have an informal conversation about lessons learned. Ask questions to see whether their experience has shifted their thinking and decision making.
Document this in a positive way in their personnel file.
If you are the manager or supervisor that wants cross-training, then read this:
Next, have the conversation with your peers – not your boss, yet. Talk to the people that you work with and are at your level. Talk to them about why it’s important to cross-train and get them on board with the idea first. Here’s why: If you go to your boss and ask for cross-training you look like a go-getter. Then your boss announces that you asked for this, or maybe they don’t announce it. They just tell your co-worker that you are going to be doing their job for a while.
How would you feel? In that scenario? How would you feel if your boss came to you and said “Your buddy is going to do your job for a while. Just to see how you do it?” How would that make your co-worker feel?
Flip that. How does it look to your co-worker and your boss if you both approach your boss and ask for a temporary switch or tag-a-long? Explain the deeper reason to your boss. Explain all of the reasons, but make sure they understand the part about decision making. This shows them that you are making an effort to be a better manager or supervisor.
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