Smooth Operations

Smooth Operations
Creating a Seamless Cross-Training Plan Between Business and Human Resource Departments

By James Robinette, Ed.D., pHCLE 
Director of Personnel and Recruitment
Consolidated High School District 230

The business department and human resources department look different in every school district you walk into. Some districts have massive manpower at their beck and call, whereas other districts may have one or two team members that are the lifeblood of the organization. You may even find that some districts have one department that is both business services and human resources! It does not matter how big or small the offices are or how they are designed, when a staff member is out for a period of time, it is detrimental, especially if it is unexpected. If there is not somebody ready and equipped to step in to complete the necessary tasks, issues will occur and some may be extremely costly to the organization. Hence the importance of cross-training.

When discussing the value of cross-training, one needs to consider why it is so important. Many times, when the necessity of cross-training is discussed, it is already too late. We want staff to take time off from work to recharge themselves. Planned time off from work is not necessarily what impacts the work because colleagues can plan and be ready for the leave. The concern is when an unexpected situation occurs and the staff member is out for a longer period of time and there is no plan in place. Staff should take time off from work and should not feel guilty or feel that things are not going to be done properly. This is easier said than done. This feeling occurs far more often than it should. Having staff cross-trained will help ease this feeling and create a better culture when time off needs to be taken. 

It is imperative to have both the business department and the human resource department work extremely close together on a day-to-day basis. Why wouldn’t it be important to have members of each team cross trained for if/when a need arises?  Cross-training doesn’t have to begin by being across the two separate departments. It can begin intraoffice, but it should definitely not end at that stage. Cross-training is a simple concept that is overlooked in many jobs, but when it comes to people getting paid or the support they need, the simple concept becomes very complex. 

The first step in this cross-training process is to have the departments work together to create a plan. Having the business department and the human resource department work together to create this plan is just another way to build the bonds between the departments to be successful as a team. This plan must include what areas need to be trained, who is conducting the training and when the training will occur. The plan may be as short as one semester or one school year but could also be as long as needed to ensure all staff are adequately trained. The longevity of the plan should include cyclical reviews as new employees come into the department and need to be cross-trained as well.

One key starting point is identifying that every person’s job description is up to date and that all tasks and responsibilities in the job description are being done properly. Reviewing job descriptions is something that should be happening on a cyclical basis. Ideally, the person in the position should be the one that is conducting the cross-training. If the person currently in the role isn’t performing their job duties properly, they may not be the best person to cross-train somebody, or even be in that role to begin with. 

The next step would be to identify key areas of the job in each job description that need to be done on a daily basis for the department to be successful. Key areas of these daily jobs need to be the major focus for training others. Everybody has an important job, and all their responsibilities are needed and important, but we want to look at the most, “this must be done or there will be major issues,” tasks for this part of the process. This task analysis is imperative and will allow the cross-training plan to be developed. If one or more of these tasks are not supported when the regular staff member is out for an extended period of time, the district could be in trouble. 

Identifying the key players to be trainers is imperative. This may not be as easy as it sounds because there may not be key players in the right positions currently. When reviewing the job descriptions to determine what needs to be trained, administrators need to take a deep look at the performance of the current employee in the position since they should be the ideal trainer. The current employee may not be the right person to do cross-training but it doesn’t mean that they can’t be. The process of identifying key players will allow for the continued development of the people in their current positions. If there is an area which the team feels should be cross-trained and the current employee isn’t necessarily where they should be, the team can first begin by developing the 
current employee in their deficit area. Working with the staff to improve their own deficits will allow them to grow and build the confidence in the tasks in order to be the trainer. This may delay the timeline a little, but it will make for a stronger team in the long run. 

Once the job descriptions have been scoured over and the key players are identified to be cross-trainers, the next step is to figure out who should be cross-trained for what position. This needs to be a next-man-up mentality. It would make the most sense to first begin the cross-training process intraoffice. If you have a person who does a great job managing the payroll, you can start cross-training someone in accounts payable. Maybe you have somebody that is extraordinary in credentialing staff, the person who conducts most of the onboarding processes could be cross-trained in this area. A great measure of choosing who should be cross-trained in which areas can be to look at the job descriptions again and identify areas that are similar and that could actually be beneficial in the daily job roles. 

Now comes the hard part, finding the time to actually conduct the cross-training. Do you train during the work day? Do you train after a normal work day and allow overtime? Do you create a working lunch, with compensation, for the staff to train during that time? These are just a few of the questions that can be asked when developing a way to create a schedule for cross-training. Each one of the questions can be answered in many different ways according to the district and there definitely isn’t one simple answer on creating a schedule. 

One caveat when creating a schedule with extra spending attached is that it could be something that may need to be approved by the board of education. The extra time training may result in overtime or some type of compensation that may or may not have been budgeted. If presented properly to the board of education, there shouldn’t be too much of a concern, but every school board is different and you never know what will be approved or not approved. Not only is the potential school board approval for extra spending a concern, but another concern could also be finding the extra money to support the initiative. This is where the business and human resource departments can work extremely well together in the decision-making process. 

Ideally, once staff members are cross-trained sufficiently within their departments, it will now be time to train interdepartmentally. The planning process begins completely over again. This plan must include what needs to be trained, who is conducting the training and when the training will occur. The only difference this time around is that there are more people to support the training and it can be divided up differently. Obviously, you don’t want somebody that was just trained on something training someone else, but there is now flexibility in daily responsibilities as others can support the department while training is occurring. 

Cross-training intra-departmentally and inter-departmentally is not going to be all sunshine and rainbows. There will be speed bumps in the road along the way, but once the speed bumps are gone, it will be smooth operations afterwards. One concern that may arise is the unique personalities involved in the departments. Everybody is different. Everybody has different beliefs, values and experiences. Through cross-training, the differences can be turned around and viewed as strengths for the departments and the district. There will no doubt be some form of relationship building that happens during the cross-training. One would hope that some deeper understanding of job functions would occur, but an underlying benefit can and should be stronger relational bonds between the trainer, the trainee and the departments. 

The largest benefits that come from cross-training are the relationships that are built during the process. Everything begins with the two departments working together to create plans that first work for the individual departments but then for cross-departmental development. Stronger bonds are built just by creating the plan together and will lead to better relationships down the road. Not only will this build stronger departments, but also a stronger district climate and culture as cross-training will instill a culture of job advancement and continuing education within the district. 

Trust is a key component of any team, but it is definitely a key building block with the cross-training both intra- and inter-departmentally. By working together to teach and learn, trust of the person being able to perform the duties is grown the more and more training occurs. This trust allows the staff to be as hands-on as possible when a need arises and allows for roles to be divided so that not only one person takes the brunt of the extra work. If many people know how to do the different jobs in the business and human resource departments, there will be a sense of trust that things will get taken 
care of. 

Communication, transparency and efficiencies between the two departments will also improve when cross-training occurs. There will obviously be a lot of communication during the training that takes place, but the overall communication intra- and inter- departmental will increase once the training is completed. Through improved communication, the transparency of the departments will also be better. Improved transparency is almost a natural benefactor of cross-training since more people will know more about each other, the job tasks and the departments. This transparency will hopefully allow for more efficiencies to be identified in each department as there will be more people able to support the departments’ operations. More people will be able to offer suggestions on how to improve these areas since they will have a more intricate understanding of everyone's roles. A new set of eyes on processes and procedures never hurts the development of efficiencies.

There are obvious benefits to cross-training staff. It is evident on the surface to keep the district afloat in times of need. However, one of the most beneficial aspects of cross-training staff will most likely never be seen in a tangible form. When somebody has the opportunity to assist others' growth, there is a sense of accomplishment and ownership created. A sense of belonging and commitment in the district occurs and grows which supports the growth of a positive climate and culture within the district. The same effect happens to the person being cross-trained as they will feel appreciated and supported. 

It can be argued that the most impactful benefits from cross-training are the ones that cannot be seen. By creating a culture of continual staff improvement and support, the culture and climate will be drastically improved. Along with improved culture and climate will come staff that want to stay and support each other and the district. Cross-training doesn’t have a trickle down effect, it actually has a trickle-up effect, as everybody in the district will be affected. Cross-training between the business department and human resource department is a no-brainer and a match made to create smooth operations for any school district. 

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