Cross-training is often thought of as a routine staffing event designed to provide additional flexibility and backup for the laboratory’s day to day operation. However, it is far more than that; it is strategic management. It affects all aspects of the laboratory operation from staff development to test menus, from operating hours to customer service.
Today, laboratory medicine continues to evolve, with new demands for laboratory services, new technologies to answer these demands, and new challenges for management to Implement solutions. At the same time, we have a chronic shortage of new laboratory techs entering the profession which has led to increased work pressure on current staffs. Cross-training is not only good for managers, providing more flexibility in managing the workforce;, but it is also good for employees because it helps them learn new skills, increase their value to the laboratory and maintain enthusiasm for their work. These benefits improve employee morale, recruitment and retention.
Operationally, the benefits of cross-training your laboratory staff include*:
- Improved employee awareness of their roles and responsibilities within the laboratory team.
- Increased flexibility for scheduling, including multi-shift capabilities
- Increased opportunities for employee advancement.
- Opportunity to improve customer service with more knowledgeable employees.
- Potentially reduced absenteeism and employee turnover.
- Increased ability for managers to evaluate employees across an array of roles.
Borrowing a term from IQCP programs, cross-training is a form of risk mitigation, in that the increased staffing flexibility allows the laboratory to better respond to sudden changes in workflow, as well as sudden changes in personnel, minimizing disruptions in service to physicians and for patient care.
Cross-training your staff should not be done in a casual, informal manner. As with any training program, it should be structured, documented, carried out by competent individuals, and verified. Competency assessment of the newly trained should be performed as with any “new” employee.
Suggested considerations for an effective cross-training program include**:
- Look for opportunities to cross-train. Encourage each staff person to identify roles and tasks they are interested in and coordinate their cross-training work with qualified team members.
- Talk with your team leaders and department / section heads about establishing a formal job rotation program across your laboratory
- Gain the support of human resources to coordinate cross-training and job rotation initiatives and incentives.
- Measure employee feedback on their interest in and satisfaction with the cross-training. Ask for their ideas on improving the initiative.
- Model the behavior. Make certain to seek out job expansion and job enrichment programs for yourself.
Create a culture of collective success***: for some employees, being indispensable is a point of pride. Make it clear that your organization values people’s ability to support each other and that single points of failure are a company-wide weakness. Show employees that their capacity to help their co-workers in times of need will benefit them when they need additional support.
Although cross-training may result in some short-term loss in productivity, it’s a small price to pay for long-term risk mitigation and increased efficiency. Think of cross-training as insurance against the inevitable.
No matter how great your organization is, there will be times when employees are sick, are on vacation, or leave to pursue other opportunities. When that happens, it’s your duty to make sure your team is prepared.
* Reh, E.J. Cross-Training Employees to Promote Engagement and Performance. The balance. An About.com Brand. August 7, 2016. An About.com Brand
*** Cancialosi, C., Cross-Training: Your Best Defense Against Indispensable Employees. Forbes. Entrepreneurs. Sept.15, 2014. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140917200415-7459271-cross-training-your-best-defense-against-indispensable-employees