What about operators who do not want to be cross-trained?

Question from Bret Matthews on LinkedIn:

We have been talking about cross training our people in the different areas of our shop and the question we have yet to answer is:

What happens when a person that is great at one process fails to meet the expectation in another area?

Ideally, We would like to have a crew that could do any position needed.

Do we just accept that they could be better at some things than others?
What if they just choose to not meet the expectation because they don’t want to do that particular job?

You have two seemingly contradictory objectives:

  1. You want your work force to become multi-skilled.
  2. You want to show respect to your people, particularly if they have spent many years developing specialized skills. You don’t want to punish them for having done what the company used to expect.

This is how I would recommend managing the transition, and it involves  Human Resources:

  1. Create a new job category, that you may call “technical operators” or “superoperators” or “operator-technicians,” or any other name that conveys that they are an elite within the work force.
  2. Train the superoperators to be multiskilled and give them also extra training in areas like quality and problem-solving.
  3. Post the skills matrices on the team performance boards, and make each certification of an operator on a new skill a small ceremony at the daily team meeting.
  4. Establish a policy that all new hires will be recruited at a higher level of education, will receive special training, and will join this group.
  5. Setup a road map for existing operators to receive the appropriate training and join this group.
  6. Revise the wage system so that the superoperators earn slightly more than regular operators.

The idea is to allow the old categories to coexist with the new for the transition period, and eventually disappear. Most operators will come around when they see that the company is serious about cross-training and shows it in visible, concrete and tangible ways. For those who don’t, you need to find the best way to use the skills they do have. To the extent it’s not disruptive, they can stay in place, but they can also migrate to other functions in Maintenance, Quality, or even Training.

You should also keep in mind that cross-training is a never ending quest, because people who are fully trained on all the jobs in a shop are first in line to be promoted out of the shop and new people come in.