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How Cross Training Can Benefit Your Accounting Team
By Andy Denka

March 2010 (SmartPros) Many accounting departments are operating with leaner teams today, a shift that has placed greater emphasis on each professional's role. If a key player leaves the organization or is out for an extended period, often there aren't staff members able to jump in and help.



One solution for managers to consider is cross training – orienting employees to do other jobs, or elements of other jobs, within the group. That way, you always have a back-up in place who can assume another’s responsibilities, if necessary.

This can be quite helpful in a changing business environment, where departmental priorities can shift quickly. At the same time, you’re building stronger teams because people who understand the unique pressures and challenges faced by colleagues are more likely to be supportive and work together more effectively.

Here’s how you can get started with cross training:

Address the areas in greatest need
Identify the functions that are under the most stress, and look for staff who possess the skills required to assist in these areas. For example, if your financial analysts are overburdened, is there an accountant who could step in to help? If you’re accounts receivable team is at capacity, do you have an accounting clerk who could provide extra support? By focusing on the activities in most immediate need of assistance first, you’ll help your department stay on track and effectively implement your cross-training program. 

Make matches carefully
The simplest way to cross train is to have employees train each other. To begin, make a list of the different roles in your group and look for overlaps in skill sets. Where does it make the most sense to cross train? Ideally, you want to match individuals who share at least some similarity in their work, since they are likely to master the other person’s responsibilities faster than if they share no common ground. For instance, you might have a senior cost accountant shadow a cost analyst and vice versa.

Narrow your training targets
Next, take a look at job descriptions and determine the key aspects of positions involved that you want others to learn. Remember, cross training isn’t about having employees teach others about all of their finer responsibilities, but rather concentrating on the most critical components of their work. If an individual is out of the office, the cross-trained employee should have enough knowledge to be able to fill in for the short term in key areas.

Expect some resistance
As you prepare to launch your cross training efforts, don’t be surprised if you get a less-than-enthusiastic response from some team members, who may be concerned they are training their replacements. When you initiate the program, reinforce the professional benefits to everyone’s careers. Also remind them that not only are they training others in their jobs, but they are also learning about other roles themselves and, thus, enhancing their value to the department and their long-term career marketability.

Evaluate outcomes
When developing your goals for the program, be sure to set realistic expectations. People being cross-trained may never be as competent in a new role as the individuals who trained them. Also recognize that cross training will take time and is not something that can be completed successfully in just a day or two of employees working together. Typical sessions can take a few hours each day or perhaps months over the course of a year. Ask participants for their feedback about the program, both during and after a series of sessions. Do trainers and trainees feel they were given sufficient time and support? What changes would they recommend?

Whether you are just getting started or your company already has a learning culture evidenced through mentoring, formal training and other programs, the addition of ongoing cross training shows your team that you value their knowledge and believe they are skilled enough to share it with others. This process also can renew motivation because people are being exposed to new areas of the company and developing abilities that help them grow professionally. In the end, cross training can be beneficial for employers and staff.

For more advice on management and career issues, listen to The Management Minute, Robert Half’s podcast series, at www.rhi.com/podcasts.

ABOUT ANDY DENKA
Andy Denka is the executive director of Accountemps, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. For more information about Accountemps, a division of Robert Half International, visit www.accountemps.com. Follow Accountemps on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Accountemps for industry news and workplace and career advice.

2009 SmartPros Ltd. All rights reserved.

Source: Accountemps

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