A staff member's first responsibility is to take care of his or her own job, but staff have broader responsibilities, too. Every staff member is also responsible for the success of his or her department and ultimately for the success of the whole company, says Klaus Hilgers, founder and president, Epoch Consultants Inc.

For that reason, staff should be able to handle the various problems they may see as they walk the floor. The manager also needs to have trained substitute help when people take vacations, leave unexpectedly or call in sick. None of this, however, can happen if cross training of staff hasn't occurred first.

Cross training is a plus for both the club and staff.

“An untrained person works slow and adds to the confusion in the place and makes mistakes,” says Hilgers. “A trained person works fast and feels confident. So it's in the best interest of the club to make sure they train people so they work fast and can control their area of work.”

Through cross training, staff become prepared for more senior positions when they are available.

“You make yourself more valuable if you know how to do more,” Hilgers says of employees. “Are you going to take the person who knows the most jobs and is really confident and fire them? I don't think so.”

So the more knowledgeable a staff member is, the more secure his or her employment is and the more valuable he or she is to you. That may also mean the more you will need to pay that employee. Someone who knows how to handle multiple areas of the club without supervision needs to be compensated for that additional knowledge, Hilgers says.

Hilgers suggests the following when it comes to cross training your staff:

  • Know in which areas to cross train

    All staff have two areas of responsibility: general duties (basic skills that all staff should possess, such as knowing where the towels are, how to promote classes, how to encourage people to keep coming in) and specific responsibilities (which are dependent upon a person's title and responsibilities). Everyone should be trained in all the general duties.

    However, only some people should be cross-trained in specific duties. Whom you train depends on which employees have a desire to learn, which possess a proficient skill level and which have the education level or certifications required for new responsibilities.

    For example, a personal trainer should be able to motivate and educate his or her clients, but that personal trainer should also know how to walk the floor and cover the fitness area, says Hilgers.

    “They should be able to know how to sign people up for events and programs,” he says. “They should know general things about the equipment so they may be able to fix it or know the procedure to get it fixed.”

    However, if that personal trainer eventually wants to become a general manager, then he or she should be trained in creating staff schedules, budgeting and other areas of importance for general managers.

  • Put together “how-tos.”

    Most clubs don't have detailed “how-to” training manuals for any position, let alone every position at the club, but to successfully cross train staff, a club must have those manuals in place.

    “Most people have a training system called ‘watch me and do what I do,’ which is inefficient,” Hilgers says. “That's why I recommend a manual.”

    Ask a valued, high-performing staff member to write down everything he or she does and how he or she does it. Make sure everyone you ask writes down their responsibilities in the same way so that once they are done, you can take what they've written, edit it and put it into a format that can be easily used by future employees. Make sure to keep these manuals updated on a regular basis since jobs, responsibilities and procedures can change over time.

  • Don't assume

    Just because someone is a good sales representative doesn't mean that person will be a good sales manager, says Hilgers. Make sure to give people the training they need when you give them new responsibilities. That can come in the form of hands-on training at the club, outside training and attendance at conferences.

  • Cross train only when ready

    A staff member should know his or her job thoroughly before you attempt to cross train that person in another job, says Hilgers.

    “Once they can control their job, they can handle more,” says Hilgers. “Otherwise, they get confused.”

  • Avoid musical chairs

    If you move someone around to too many areas and responsibilities, then they may be able to do many things but they may not be able to do anything really well, says Hilgers.

  • Decide whether to cross train in-house or hire an outside company

    If you have the staff and/or the time to cross train staff yourself, then make sure you are trained enough to provide the training that the staff need. If you lack the time or staff to do the training yourself, then look to outside companies to do it for you. The monetary expenditure may be well worth it in the end.