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Cross Training as a Motivational and Problem-Solving Technique

By Claire Belilos |

Many managers, including human resources directors, mistakenly believe that employee motivation can be won through monetary rewards or other perks. They learn soon enough that such perks are taken for granted, and that money is not the key to employee motivation. A professional and unified management, in a good work environment, is the basis on which to build employee motivation.

While high employee turnover reflects on low morale and lack of motivation, when seen from another angle, the absence turnover quickly results in de-motivation, since the possibility of motion and forward-motion is taken away from employees. It is against human nature to remain static, performing the same duties day in, day out, without expectations of change in routine or opportunities for advancement. Following a reading or lecture on the subject, managers sometimes implement "job enrichment" in a misguided manner, adding un-rewarded responsibilities on the shoulders of their supervisors and employees. This results in a feeling of exploitation and has the reverse of the intended effect.

An effective training technique, which results in motivation, is cross-training, when implemented both laterally and horizontally. Department heads, assistants and employees can cross-train in different departments or within the department itself. With background support, employees can have a one-day training in the role of department head ('King for the Day'). When a general manager is away, department heads can take roles replacing him, which is a form of cross-training.

Cross-training should be carefully planned and presented as a learning opportunity. It should be incorporated in a hotel's master yearly training plan, covering all positions and departments. It should begin with supervisory level, and filter down to entry-level positions. Housekeeping should cross-train in Front Office and vice versa; Front Office in Marketing, Sales, Public Relations, Food & Beverage, Banquets, Security; Marketing & Sales in Front Office, Food & Beverage, Purchasing; Food & Beverage Service in the Culinary department and vice versa; Human Resources in different departments and vice versa.

This technique achieves the following objectives:

  • Prevents stagnation
  • Offers a learning and professional development opportunity
  • Rejuvenates all departments
  • Improves understanding of the different departments and the hotel as a whole
  • Leads to better co-ordination and teamwork
  • Erases differences, enmity and unhealthy competition
  • Increases knowledge, know-how, skills and work performance
  • Improves overall motivation
  • Leads to the sharing of organizational goals and objectives.

Sending people to work in another department at a moment's notice is not what cross-training is about. This has to be an effective planned process. Employees must "buy" into the idea, be encouraged to give feedback and make suggestions for improvement. They become "partners". Departmental communications meetings can be used to share lessons learned. When employees think "the grass is greener on the other side of the lawn", they soon realize their mistake after exposure to other departments. They return to their job with a better attitude.

Cross-training can be used to "shake up" supervisors or employees who have lapsed into poor performance. Upon being moved to a different position or department, albeit temporarily, they hear warning bells, shape up and usually return to their positions as exemplary performers.

Depending on the budget at hand and the objectives to be achieved, the time for cross-training can vary from one day to a week or more. Details must be co-ordinated with the "receiving" department head. The trainee is incorporated within the department's activities for the duration of the cross-training (briefings, meetings or obligations).

A more sophisticated form of cross-training is job rotation, which usually involves extended periods (from one month to six months). With job rotation, the employee's role is of a different nature. He is not considered as trainee, but is responsible over certain job functions, for which he has to prove himself.

Both cross-training and job rotation create a team of workers who are more knowledgeable, can easily replace each other when needed and who gain new confidence regarding their professional expertise. These two techniques lead to great motivation throughout the company.

Unionized properties face some difficulty in implementing such techniques due to the rigidity of union policies and labour agreements. It is up to management to win over unions on this concept and convince them of the benefits to employees' careers. Union representatives can be made to understand that company-wide cross-training involves substantial investment in time, effort and payroll. The benefits, however, are enjoyed by the three main stakeholders: employees, management and guests. Employees enjoy the rewards of added know-how, skills, career opportunities and future security due to business success.

Copyright ©1999 Claire Belilos

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