How To Build a Versatile Workforce

By: Debra Wheatman

Debra Wheatman, CPRW, CPCC is president of Careers Done Write, a premier career-services provider focused on developing highly personalized career roadmaps for senior leaders and executives across all verticals and industries. Debra may be contacted directly at Visit her site at: careersdonewrite.comFollow Debra on Twitter.

Is your company prepared for an unexpected departure of a key employee? Do you have positions that are highly dependent on one particular person staying on in perpetuity? If you answered no and yes to the two questions, respectively, here are three practical tips to help your company build and develop a more versatile, multi-skilled workforce to minimize operational risk.

  • Encourage cross-functional collaboration as much as possible.
    Having a ‘silo’d’ organization where front office, management, finance, operations, human resource, and administrative employees barely interact with one another can lead to costly inefficiencies driven by poor communication and redundancy. Encourage team members from different departments to exchange ideas and network with one another through both formal and informal channels. A good best practice within many organizations is to set up process improvement teams staffed by representatives from all departments with the goal of “changing one thing” for the better. Encouraging collaboration will facilitate idea sharing and help overall morale and operating effectiveness.
  • Implement regular training requirements.
    Training does not have to mean week-long sessions with an external consultant putting on a formal lecture series. Quick-hitting, online, and PowerPoint presentation-based training regimens can be equally effective in training your employees. Make a minimum amount of training, e.g. 50 hours of training per year (or 1 hour of training per week) across hard (quantitative, role-specific, regulatory) and soft (interpersonal communication) skills to institutionalize the exposure to new and different operating models to all of your employees.
  • Allow for stretch assignments that expose employees to opposite functions.
    As an employer or manager you should be willing to bear some of the risk that providing stretch assignments to your employees will entail. Emphasize the process and path to learning rather than the end result—doing so will allow your employees to experiment freely in their given stretch assignment where failure is a possibility. Provide support personnel with the chance to manage a client relationship and allow your sales force to take on an operational role where they will understand the details required to make your company run and remain profitable. You will find a more engaged and committed workforce with the willingness and ability to strive to achieve new levels of excellence.

The economic benefits of a more versatile workforce far outweigh the costs, particularly in an environment where employees can come and go at will. As a manager who never knows what skills you will have to fill and when, implementing such tactics will drive flexibility that will be of benefit to you and your shareholders. Encouraging versatility is also be a key selling point to potential employees looking to learn as much as possible when considering accepting a role at a new company.

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