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COVID-19 Reveals the Hidden Benefits of Cross-Training

May 15, 2020

By Carrie Helmle, Manager Audit Services

Even before the pandemic crisis shined its bright light on business continuity preparedness (or lack thereof), employers across many industries were aware of the need to address siloed duties. Just 6 percent of executives told Deloitte they were excellent at moving employees from role to role. Now, as businesses with retail models deploy a variety of employee rotation and remote work strategies to meet social distancing guidelines, the need for a well cross-trained staff has become even more clear.

As credit unions begin to think through the lessons of COVID-19, a plan to enhance cross-training is sure to rise to the top of the strategic pile. This will be driven by a desire to satisfy business continuity goals, of course. But, there are additional benefits to having a cross-trained staff that many credit union executives will be considering. For instance, job enrichment may become more critical for retaining high-value staff in a post-pandemic workforce. Employees who participate in cross-training programs often feel more valued by their employers and more engaged in their work.

Cross-training programs have evolved over the years. Yet, several best practices remain. The following are a few tips your credit union may want to consider if cross-training has moved onto your radar as an important initiative for the near future:

Take small bites.

Cross-training does not need to be deployed enterprise-wide, nor tackled all at once. Identify those teams – or those functional areas –that are critical components of your business and start there. Member-facing representatives are a natural place to begin, given the criticality of their work in maintaining member satisfaction, especially during times of crisis or uncertainty. You will undoubtedly learn as you go. Apply your newfound knowledge to the next set of cross-training events to steadily improve outcomes over time.

Reward initiative.

Credit union people are accustomed to wearing many hats, and they are no strangers to doing whatever it takes to solve a colleague’s or a member’s problems. It’s highly likely your employees have invented all kinds of new ways to job share over the past several weeks. With childcare, distance learning and other family-centric challenges, not to mention the myriad hurdles remote working has tossed in their paths, team members probably have lots of tales to tell. Encourage employees to share their stories of creative collaboration by celebrating them. Reward their ingenuity and use real-world examples of how employees have pitched in on different duties to make your cross-training program highly relevant.

Let some employees ‘bee.’

Credit unions, like all people-centric organizations, perform best with a diverse workforce. Not every employee will find value in cross-training opportunities, and some may even see it as a stressor (particularly if they are also facing personal hardships). It’s okay to center a training program on individuals who get their energy from learning new things. In fact, it may even be optimal. Every high-performing organization counts on worker-bee personalities to keep operations running smoothly. Respect their contributions and tailor your cross-training program to those employees who thrive on gaining new skills.

Build-in checkpoints.

Cross-training is far from a one-and-done event. Design your program to be iterative and flexible so that frequent touch-base or check-up meetings result in tangible outcomes. Thanks to technology advancement and experience-based process improvements, the financial services industry is changing rapidly. It’s essential cross-trained employees are able to update each other on how their day-to-day duties are shifting to meet new demands from modern members and internal customers. An added benefit to frequent check-ins is the application of different perspectives. Putting a fresh set of eyes on a process or procedure can create incremental improvements that deliver big-time results.

Test, test, and test again. 

Every good training program involves an element of testing. Cross-training should be no different. In fact, testing of job-sharing responsibilities may be even more critical. That’s because employees who are learning new skills are probably not putting those skills into practice daily. Their core duties get the most attention, and that may get in the way of recalling essential activities when it comes time to fill in for a colleague.

Cross-training improves credit unions in so many ways. There are a huge number of operational benefits, but the relationship wins are even more meaningful. COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn is adding a great deal of stress to everyone’s lives, and members need their credit unions more than ever. Creating a collaborative, empathetic work environment for your team members spills over into the experience they deliver to the people they serve. Cross-training is just one way to build a culture of empathy, but it’s a really important one to prioritize as members and employees lean on each other to get through this difficult time.


Services performed by ViClarity are compliance and not legal in nature, and do not form an attorney-client relationship or any of the protections attendant to the attorney-client relationship.


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