Cross-train your way to labor savings

By Shana Owens

Creating greater staff flexibility is a focus in almost all industries, and a promising avenue for cost savings in business service units.

The goal is to develop groups of staff that can move to where work volume is greatest, rather than over-hiring in each unit to meet the busiest times of year.

Cross-training is a proven method to increase flexibility and produce cost savings, especially for units that have natural peaks and valleys in workload. For example, several institutions have cross-trained select staff in Accounts Payable and Bursar to leave their home unit and work in the other during its busiest times of year, and vice versa. This enables both units to operate with slightly less staff but still get their work done.

You can't cut your way to savings. Discover 100 tactics for immediate labor savings

There are two cross-training questions members ask us most:

  • Where should we cross-train staff?
  • How do we train them?

Successful cross-training pairings

Click on the table below to explore successful cross-training pairings. Many of the pairings near the top benefit from complementary peaks in work, meaning one unit is busiest while the other is less busy. Other pairings benefit from similar work and more straightforward training. We recommend pairings that have one (or both) of these advantages.

Cross-Training Opportunities

Three steps to make cross-training manageable

Regardless of which two units are paired, successful cross-training also depends on scoping and coordinating the training to ensure it’s manageable for staff and leaders. Three steps are key:

1. Teach discrete tasks one-by-one

Teach staff new skills through smaller, more digestible pieces of information, which will be easier to absorb and retain. One institution creates development plans for all cross-training staff, listing specific tasks they learn to do, rather than abstract skills.

2. Enable just-in-time refreshers

Provide workload forecasts to give cross-trained employees advance notice and allow them to prepare for cross-unit work. This also alleviates stress caused by the uncertainty of if and when staff will move, often the most personaly taxing component of cross-training.

3. Provide practical job aides

Create detailed guides to support training and provide on-the-job assistance. FAQ documents and process flowcharts are common but highly effective in helping staff acclimate to a new unit.

100 tactics for immediate labor savings

While labor accounts for the vast majority of operating budgets, indiscriminate across-the-board cuts can lower staff morale and negatively impact productivity. Discover 100 rebasing tactics that can help you immediately pursue labor savings. Download the infographic.

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