Don't you know it's time to get on board ... the cross-train

April 12, 2012 | by Marla Topliff
Don't you know it's time to get on board ... the cross-train

Picture this, it's 5 o'clock on a Friday and orders are starting to stack up. Your phone is ringing, and since your counter girl never showed up, you answer it and it turns out to be one of your best pizza cooks calling in sick. As you are hanging up the phone you turn around to see one of your drivers running out the door yelling, "she said yes, OMG she said yes," and it's a pretty good bet he's gone for the night as well. Well unless you plan on taking the orders, cooking the pies and delivering them yourself, you'd better have a backup plan.

It's called cross training, my friend, and it can be a lifesaver. Management describes cross training like this: "Training an employee to do a different part of the organization's work. Training worker A to do the task that worker B does and training B to do A's task is cross training. Cross training is good for managers, because it provides more flexibility in managing the workforce to get the job done. However, done right, cross training is good for the employees too. It lets them learn new skills, makes them more valuable, and can combat worker boredom."

All employees including you should be cross-trained so anyone can pinch-hit in an emergency. Ideally, cross training allows your business to function with a lean staff, without that constant fear of being caught understaffed. But there are definitely Do's and Don'ts.

Cross Training Do's

  • Explain how it works
  • Present it as a learning opportunity, a chance to grow
  • Make the objectives clear and explain all of the challenges
  • Emphasize that in a pinch, everyone needs to pitch in. It's a team effort.
  • Be aware that you may be asking someone to sacrifice wages/tips. If this is the case, compensate them.

Don'ts . . .

  • Implement the program in starts and fits
  • Cross-train during very busy or very slow periods
  • Train people who don't want to learn
  • Give the impression that cross training is an opportunity to slide and let someone else do the job
  • Allow participants to mock or dismiss the process. The rest of the staff will only take it as seriously as they do, and they will take it as seriously as you do.

It's important to view training as part of your daily routine, much the same as you would food prep or cleaning. You can never overtrain because a well-trained staff is the key to satisfying customer service. Remember that even the best athletes in the world train on a regular basis. Their natural abilities can only take them so far. They only succeed when they strive to continually improve their skills through ongoing instruction and repeated practice.

Ongoing training keeps your employees updated on changes in policy and procedure and gives them the opportunity to gain additional knowledge that would put them in a position to further their career path and maintain long-term employment.

Cross training enables managers to become the "trainers" and establish themselves as people who are in the know and who are willing to share their knowledge with someone else. It also eliminates the frustration employees feel when they are asked to step in and do a job they don't know how to do.

Certainly the need for training new employees is obvious. However, what is less obvious is the fact that training never ends. No one is ever fully trained, there's always one more thing more to learn. John F. Kennedy once said, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."

For us that mean's we need to put ourselves into every position to learn how everything works, to understand the mindset of each person doing every job. So go ahead, take an order, deliver some pies, clean the floor and make sure that the rest of your staff does it too. The next step after that of course, is for you and your team to start making more dough, together.

Topics: Customer Service / Experience, Hiring and Retention, Operations Management, Staffing & Training

Marla Topliff
Marla Topliff, president of Rosati’s Pizza, has helped grow the Chicago franchise from 60 stores in 1999 to the 170 national brand that it is today. She supervises all aspects of marketing, customer service, store communications and vendor relationships. wwwView Marla Topliff's profile on LinkedIn

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