It’s a classic rock-and-a-hard-place scenario: on one hand, having a lean staff and a busy production schedule makes it hard to cross train employees. On the other, what if someone calls in sick? Having a lean staff and a busy production schedule means you can’t afford not to cross train your employees.
What’s a small business manager to do?
Ramp Up Slowly.
Be realistic about the fact that your new hires may not stick around as long as you’d like. Get to know your people, and let them get to know you. Start with the easily trainable tasks, and ramp up in proportion to their enthusiasm. No sense in providing elaborate training to the person who’s already looking to leave.
Don’t let your employees wonder why they’re being pulled away from the job they were hired to do. Tell them what you’d like them to learn, and why; gauge their interest, and be open to their feedback.
Flexibility means adjusting your expectations. You may have anticipated that your pretreatment operator would excel at powder coating, and you may have been wrong. That’s ok. Find them something else to learn. Cross training is an opportunity for you to show your people that you value their skills and their interests – the more you play to your employees’ strengths, the more mutually beneficial cross training will be.
Flexibility also means taking advantage of opportunities as they arise. When our biggest industrial clients shut down in the spring of 2020, I could’ve sent the team home early; instead, we used the lighter weeks to cross train everyone. A slow production day is not a waste, so long as you’re using it to develop skills. No matter how bleak the landscape appears (and during Covid, it has often appeared bleak), train your team as though the future will bring an abundance of work.
Allow for Breadth and Depth.
Yes, we love a Jack-of-all-trades, but we also really need experts. Not everyone must know how to do everything. Make sure that your star sprayer gets tons of time in the powder booth. Make sure that your blasting expert gets to do what they do best. Don’t shuffle people around so much that they lose connection with the tasks they truly enjoy.
If it all sounds like walking a tightrope, that’s good – it’s supposed to. Growth requires a little discomfort, some trial and error, and a whole lot of flexibility.