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Cross-Training as a motivational and problem-solving Technique
1999 Claire Belilos
CHIC Hospitality Consulting Services

Terms: For reading only. Not to be sold, reprinted,re-written, distributed,
re-broadcast, uploaded, or used for  commercial training activities  
without the author's written consent.

Many managers, including human resources directors, mistakenly believe that employee motivation can be won through monetary rewards or other perks. They learn soon enough that such perks are taken for granted and that money is not the key to employee motivation.  A professional and unified management, in a good work environment, is the basis on which to build employee motivation.

While high employee turnover reflects on low morale and lack of motivation, when seen from another angle, the absence of turnover quickly results in de-motivation since the possibility of motion and forward-motion is taken away from employees. It is against human nature to remain static, performing the same duties day in, day out, without expectations of change in routine or opportunities for advancement.

Following a reading or lecture on the subject, managers sometimes implement "job enrichment" in a misguided manner, adding unrewarded responsibilities on the shoulders of their supervisors and employees.    This results in a feeling of exploitation and has the reverse of the intended effect.

An effective training technique which results in motivation is cross-training, when implemented horizontally, upward and downward.  Department heads, assistants and employees can cross-train in different departments or within the department itself. With background support, employees can have a  one day training in the role of department head ("King for the Day").  When a General Manager is away, department heads can take roles replacing him, which is a form of cross-training.

Cross-training should be carefully planned and presented as a learning opportunity. It should be incorporated in a hotel's master yearly training plan, covering all positions and departments.  It should begin with supervisory level and filter down to entry-level positions. Housekeeping should cross-train in Front Office and vice-versa;  Front Office in Marketing, Sales, Public Relations, Food & Beverage, Banquets, Security; Marketing & Sales in Front Office, Food & Beverage, Purchasing; Food & Beverage Service in the Culinary department and vice versa; Human Resources in different departments and vice versa.   

This technique achieves the following objectives:

  • Prevents stagnation  
  • Offers a learning and professional development opportunity
  • Rejuvenates all departments    
  • Improves understanding of the different departments and the hotel as a whole
  • Leads to better coordination and teamwork  
  • Erases differences, enmity and unhealthy competition
  • Increases knowledge, know-how, skills and work performance
  • Improves overall motivation
  • Leads to the sharing of organizational goals and objectives.

Sending people to work in another department at a moment's notice is not what cross-training is about.  This has to be an effective planned process. Employees must "buy" into the idea, be encouraged to give feedback and make suggestions for improvement.  They become "partners". Departmental communications meetings can be used to share lessons learned.  When employees think "the grass is greener on the other side of the lawn" they soon realize their mistake after exposure to other departments.  They return to their job with a better attitude.       

Cross-training can also be used to "shake up" supervisors or employees who have lapsed into poor  performance.  Upon being moved to a different position or department, albeit temporarily, they hear "warning bells",  shape up and usually return to their positions as exemplary performers.  

Depending on the budget at hand and the objectives to be achieved, the time for cross-training can vary from one day to a week or more. Details must be coordinated with the "receiving"  department head. The trainee is incorporated within the department's activities for the duration of the cross-training (briefings, meetings, or obligations).

A more sophisticated form of cross-training is job rotation, which usually involves extended periods (from one month to six months). With job rotation, the employee's role is of a different nature.  He is not considered as trainee, but is responsible over certain job functions, for which he  has to prove himself.

Both cross-training and job rotation create a team of workers who are more knowledgeable, can easily replace each other when needed and who gain new confidence regarding their professional expertise.  These two techniques lead to great motivation throughout the company.

Unionized properties face some difficulty in implementing such techniques due to the rigidity of Union policies and labour agreements. It is up to management to win over Unions on this concept and convince them of the benefits to employees' careers. Union representatives can be made to understand that company-wide cross-training involves substantial investment in time, effort and payroll.   The benefits, however, are enjoyed by the three main stakeholders: employees, management and guests. Employees enjoy the rewards of added know-how, skills,  career opportunities and future security due to business success.  

Addition to article: September 25, 2000:

Following a question about the cost of cross-training, which a University student from Georgia, U.S.A., asked, here is my response:

"  When there is an existing "learning" culture in an organization, cross-training should cost only two days' payroll.  If the period of cross-training extends beyond  two days, do not count it as "cross-training payroll cost" but as "regular departmental payroll".  Usually, when you organize cross-training programs for a company, you make departments "exchange" employees.  You take out one employee out of one department, place him in the "receiving" department, and do likewise with an employee from the "other" department.  You can say that the Department Heads "exchanged" employees for a pre-determined period.  The first two days can be considered as "training" investment since the time will be spent training and explaining to them, answering questions trainees ask, listening to their input, discussing, etc..  Usually, after the first two days, with the cooperation of each receiving department, the trainee becomes fully functional. "

Additional note:  October 24, 2000

This article seems to have raised some interest among various companies internationally.  Please note that cross-training must be carefully planned to help achieve organizational objectives, in harmony with the career objectives of the Supervisors and employees being cross-trained.  

When effectively planned, with a custom-tailored system, it helps create the ideal learning organization.  It involves serious preparatory work and should not be haphazardly planned or implemented by the inexperienced, new to the field of organizational development and training.

An effective cross-training program has to be created with the involvement of all members of the management team.  We will be happy to design programs for Companies on a professional basis, i.e. as a "Client Project".  There is serious work involved and there is no time to do so on a volunteer basis.  This last remark is aimed at the Human Resources and Training persons wishing to create and implement such programs within their organizations.  For this purpose, we can be contacted at
http://www.easytraining.com/contact.htm or at the company address featured below.

More on Cross Training:  below is an excerpt from our Easytraining News monthly newsletter ISSN 1499-8076  Easytraining News Vol.1, No.27 of December 12th on "A Leader who Inspires":


" ........ In this connection, I will give here a live example of how the meaning and message of my article on cross-training “Training as a Motivational and Problem-Solving Technique” at http//www.easytraining.com/crosstrain.htm has been warped and misused by others for their own purpose (playing around with employees under the guise of cross-training).

It is not I who invented cross-training.  I am certain that many trainers and organizations implemented “cross training”  before I ever dealt directly with training.  However, when I took over a training department (in a luxury hotel), the corporate literature and a great deal of professional material I went through never mentioned this strategy.  

Wanting to improve everyone’s knowledge, know-how, enhance the performance of all managers, supervisors and employees, and for the purpose of improving communications and coordination organization-wise, I thought of a “massive” cross-training program to achieve these objectives.  (Please note that I began thinking in this direction only after I took the trouble to acquaint myself thoroughly with everyone, all aspects of the operation, and defined the actual short-term and long-term needs of the organization).

There were many challenges:

(a) I had to plan cross-training very carefully while considering payroll costs, “acceptance” and cooperation by all department heads, supervisors and employees.

(b) Define and analyze the expected benefits to all those who would participate, to the departments involved, and to the hotel in general.

(c) Custom-tailor the cross-training to the needs of each individual, the needs of the organization, and the needs of both departments (the one lending out the "trainee" and the one "receiving" the trainee).

(d) Determine what was lacking and how to address shortcomings in individual and departmental performance.

(e) I had to arouse eagerness and enthusiasm among those involved, and convince them that this strategy was an “investment” in effort, time, and money, which had to “produce results” following the training   (improved understanding, communications, coordination, performance, inter- and intra-departmental relationships) and make sure that "trainees" would not regard this as a “reprieve” from work, nor was it to be taken lightly.

(d) I drew up a policy, procedure, and detailed planning for each activity, communicating it verbally and by memo to each trainee and each “receiving” department head (some people were sent to quite a few different departments to cross-train).  

The trainee had to meet by the end of the training hours (or day) with the supervisor or manager, with a pad and pen, ready with questions and comments.  Trainees  were expected to make open suggestions about possible improvements in work procedures and ask about anything which was unclear to them.  The ‘receiving’ trainer (supervisor or manager) had to pay attention to the trainee, and keep a personal record with comments.  

At the end of the cross training, the trainee came to see me (in my capacity as training manager) discuss the operation (department) and position he (or she) trained in, asking additional questions and making comments.  Some of them, who knew how to write reports, were asked to come prepared with a written report for their meeting, giving copy to the department head who trained them.    The trainer also submitted a written report about the trainee.

This has proven to be the most effective training technique.  It motivated department heads, supervisors and employees.  Department heads, supervisors, and employees,  all came with additional requests for cross-training activities.  Department heads and supervisors were reaping the benefits of improved performance and higher morale among employees.  They also learned new perspectives from the trainees.  

By popular demand, and with the full backing of the General Manager, my idea of “massive cross training” grew beyond my original plan.  The benefits transformed the hotel almost instantly.  People were excited, they were happy, they all worked with each other rather than against each other.  Guests (customers) felt the difference.  The benefit was universal.

No more miscommunication or lack of coordination.  Antagonism between individuals and departments evaporated.  Shortcomings were discussed and corrected.  Solutions were found to all problems by those directly involved.   People saw themselves as  “instructors” and “students” (either/or, or both) .  Each person felt that he (or she) played an important professional and individual role towards building and maintaining a more efficient organization.  People began volunteering to do unscheduled work   When something went wrong, people spoke with each other instead of casting blame.

The unexpected outcome was a thirst for knowledge, experience and professional progress.  The cross-training strategy turned us quickly into a “learning organization”.

Well, enough of this.  You get the picture.   

 I am constantly dismayed when I encounter wrong interpretations and applications of “cross-training”.   You may laugh at me, but I consider this as a “holy” subject since it can accomplish so much, and for so many.  

Some organizations shift employees around to other job positions, wrongly calling it “cross training”.  Others enable some of their good employees to earn some extra bucks by working in other departments,  also wrongly calling it cross-training.  These examples given are definitely “not” cross-training because there is no "organized" training plan, control, or follow-up, and no actual "trainer".

I get quiet upset when I see others use the excuse of “cross training” (one of the latest “hot subjects” since my article and others appeared on the internet) to put into action some other plan of theirs which has nothing to do with training.  This is why I explained above some details and aims of cross-training.   If a company wants to change its setup, job positions and allocation of duties, it should go about it openly and not call it "cross-training".  Of course, in all situations, one has to sit with the “other party”, explain and discuss the reasons for such changes.   One has to reach agreement and acceptance by all concerned, but one shouldn’t diminish the entire concept of training and development, and especially not that of  “cross training”.   Why lead employees to suspect ulterior motives and arouse antagonism and suspicion when the words  “training” and “cross-training”  would be mentioned in the future?

Two days ago I received a courteous e-mail from a healthcare professional, a nurse leader / supervisor, asking for permission to share my cross-training articles with her colleagues.  I asked what was meant by “sharing” and she answered that their management had instituted a new system whereby the whole nature of the job position of some of their registered nurses was changed “under the guise of cross- training’.  She added  “ Your article gives a clear explanation of what is and is not "Cross Training".  Something we all needed to know.”    I not only gave my permission to photocopy and distribute to whoever she wanted in her organization but recommended that she give a copy to her manager.  "

- end of excerpt"
Copyright 1999
Claire Belilos

This article is not to be sold or distributed in any form or manner without the author's written permission.  Contact us through our contact form at
http://www.easytraining.com/contact.htm    Because of spammers, we stopped displaying our email address.  Thank you.

Please Note:  If you wish to explore the possibility of hiring our services to create a cross-training program for your organization, please contact
us through our contact form at http://www.easytraining.com/contact.htm  

Further articles on employee motivation at http://www.easytraining.com:

Understanding Employee Drives and Motivations
Beyond Training
How Can I Motivate My Employees? - The Eternal Question
Conducting Effective Employee Orientations
Managers and Supervisors Expected to Create a Motivated Team
and the famous article by the late Mr. James Lavenson, Hotelier,
Think Strawberries

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Claire Belilos, owner of Chic Hospitality Consulting Services, Home Page: http://www.easytraining.com, specializes in Hospitality, human resources strategies, organizational training and development, Customer Service and problem-solving. She offers "on site", online and distance consulting and coaching. She creates job, training and evaluation tools, and custom-tailored solutions to people management problems.  Home Page: http://www.easytraining.com
She publishes the Easytraining Insights Digital newsletter http://www.easytraining.com/insights.htm. List yourself to be notified about the
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Home Page: http://www.easytraining.com

CHIC Hospitality Consulting Services
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