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ATD Blog

Cross Training Is Not Only for Athletes


Mon Oct 22 2012


I believe improving on your strengths will improve performance.  But, at a certain point, a manager utilizing the same skills over and over may find their professional development at a standstill because they are not being challenged to do something new.  The question becomes, how do you improve on this employee’s development?   The answer is cross training.

Any athlete who is training for a race and wants to improve performance knows that at a certain point continuous practicing of the same skill will only lead to minimal improvement and many times, the athlete becomes bored and may lose their motivation.  It becomes necessary to introduce new skills for enhanced improvement.  The same is the case for improving leadership skills.  At a certain point it becomes necessary to introduce and develop new skills that complement the current skill set in order to improve performance. 


To start the process, it is essential to assess the current skills and strengths.  While there are many tools and resources to use I like StrengthsFinder and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.  Once the strengths have been identified, choose one to improve upon.  Improvement means change and too much change can be overwhelming and challenging – make sure the employee doesn’t bite off more than they can handle by choosing too many strengths for improvement.  Once you have identified the strength to improve upon, you want to (1) ensure it is aligned with furthering the goals and objectives of the organization and (2) it is a strength the employee is passionate about.  Once the strength has been identified choose a complementary behavior or competency companion to enhance it. 

I coached an executive who was interested in being promoted to director.  While he was doing a good job in his current capacity, he wanted to make sure he was seen as being able to fill the shoes of a director.  We identified the competencies necessary for a director position and identified his strengths.  Looking at the competencies necessary, we decided that taking initiative was important and honing in on the competency companion of inspiring and motivating others would really make him shine and further the goals and objectives of the organization.  A few techniques my client used to improve this competency companion were (1) setting stretch goals for his staff; (2) learning to read motivational signals; and (3) learning to allow his staff to be more involved in projects by not giving as much direction.  My client found that empowering his staff by allowing them to take ownership increased their motivation and inspiration.  This exercise proved fruitful as my client was promoted to Director of Communication. 

Employee performance and development is pertinent to advancement.  When continuous practice no longer improves performance, it is time to embrace other methods.  Cross training is a great technique which can be utilized to enhance performance in your top performers.

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