Make Sure Cross-Training Sticks

checklistLet’s face it, a lot of cross-training just doesn’t stick. Despite your best efforts to provide an employee with adequate training, they just can’t seem to grasp what they need to do and when. People wind back up in the same class time after time, but forward progress is agonizingly slow.

Before we go any further, I think it’s important to point out the difference between training and coaching. Many people confuse the two, but to me there’s a huge difference. Understanding how they are distinct is key to what we’re trying to accomplish.

Training focuses on relaying information. There’s data that needs to be transferred; a base of understanding that needs to be built. This is often accomplished through classroom instruction, online courses, webinars, or even using emails and articles like this one.

The goal with training is, obviously, to increase a person’s knowledge about the given subject. We want to make sure the brain understands the what, when, why, and how. Training focuses on presenting information in a way that’s easily retained.

Often, we use some kind of assessment to gauge how much of this knowledge a person has absorbed. A product of the month quiz, for example, helps you see how much information about a product you have retained. This is the standard model used in schools and universities to gauge the level of knowledge a person has acquired regarding any particular topic.

Coaching, on the other hand, focuses on turning knowledge into action. After all, information isn’t any good if you can’t actually use it. Coaching is the process of turning information into observable steps that can be replicated. The knowledge has to travel from the brain into practical application.

The goal with coaching then, is a change in behavior. The result of coaching should be the observable implementation of what’s been learned. Since I can’t look inside your mind to see what you know, I have to rely on what I can see – the way you perform – to ascertain whether or not the knowledge that’s been shared is having an impact.

Therefore, the measure of success when it comes to coaching is the successful achievement of a goal. The change in behavior should lead to the attainment of desired performance outcomes. That means I have to have something to measure against. There has to be a benchmark of some kind.

Cross-training requires both of these components. You can’t have someone attend a webinar and say they’ve been cross-trained. You can’t just show someone the mechanics and assume they understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. Effective cross-training happens when the learner can successfully demonstrate the desired skill under the appropriate circumstances, and understands why it’s important to do so.

This all means that cross-training is a process. For it to work, cross-training has to be carefully planned and methodically conducted. Here are some quick tips to help make sure your next cross-training effort goes smoothly.

  1. Identify the key steps that need to be learned. Zero in on the four or five actionable parts of the process to be learned and write them down. Spell them out in basic terms. Describe the action to be taken, point out why it’s important, then explain the specific steps.
  2. Assign the best possible teacher. Pick out a member of the team that’s an expert and ask them to coach the new kid. Pick a top performer – someone who gets it right. Don’t leave cross-training to someone whose own performance is sketchy.
  3. Put the learner in charge. Provide the person learning a new skill with a checklist of your key steps. Give them questions to answer and problems to solve. Cross-training should end when the learner feels they’ve accomplished their goal, not when the teacher decides to stop.
  4. Provide some structure. Make sure both the teacher and the learner understand the rules of the game. Give them both a copy of the skills to be shared. Walk through particulars regarding when the cross-training is to take place. Explain what success looks like.
  5. Ask for proof. Ultimately, you have to witness the new skill in action for cross-training to have successfully taken place. Ask the learner to complete the steps in your presence. Have them explain to you what they are doing and why.

Developing the team is a key aspect of leadership. The care and attention you provide to the growth of your crew speaks to your level of commitment to their success. Don’t leave this one to chance, and they won’t leave you hanging.


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