Why developing cross-functional skills is a must

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In today’s era, career growth is no longer linear. Even while upskilling oneself, a vertical approach within a single job function will not ensure continuous growth. Rather, only by skilling oneself by understanding functions beyond one’s own domain can one ensure professional growth.

At the outset, it is important to differentiate between cross-functional learning and cross-functional skilling. The former relates to an active and in-depth learning of a function beyond one’s own, along with a proper understanding of all nuances. This is not practically possible, as areas of learning are becoming more specialised and niched.

However, cross-functional skills entail developing a working knowledge of all areas of the business, especially the roles, goals and needs of the various departments. This is entirely possible, and is in fact, necessary at the top levels. For instance, leaders at the senior management, will have cross-functional skills and working knowledge of all areas of the business. That is how they become capable of steering the company towards a profitable goal.

Rani Desai

“When we are talking about management, cross-functional skills become more applicable. In administration, individuals are supposed to take initiatives and institute large projects. This requires project-management skills. Similarly, in HR, while implementing a new software or large-scale changes, such skills are necessary.” 

With the democratised dissemination of knowledge, coupled with the advancement in technology through AI or augmented reality learning, upskilling has become an easily achievable goal. Companies provide incubation periods for their staff to upskill themselves and return with better knowledge and a well-rounded view of the business, since it is easier to work with existing human resources rather than bringing in skilled talent from outside.

A well-rounded knowledge of other domains provides incentive for managers to consider individuals for career advancement because they come already equipped with the required skills. Moreover, cross-functional skills provide better value to talent as chances of innovation and creativity are higher among such groups. This is because they have a better understanding of how each domain functions. It is for this same reason that while developing employee policies or integrating a new software, all stakeholders within the company are consulted to make a well-rounded and effective decision.

Ravi Mishra, senior VP-HR and administration, Birla Carbon, reflected that with the changing demands in employee capabilities, skills and knowledge have become flexible. He highlighted that after AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), knowledge is no longer rigid and can be mastered quickly as it is easily available.

In his own words, “The process of knowledge transfer has become easier. Moreover, skills are also transferable faster than before. In a cross-functional worker, innovation is more than the regular worker. For instance, the CEO of a company will obviously have knowledge of all domains in the company, which gives him leverage to run the company and steer it in the right direction. Conservative jobs nowadays are all done by software.”

Ravi Mishra

“The process of knowledge transfer has become easier. Moreover, skills are also transferable faster than before. In a cross-functional worker, innovation is more than the regular worker. For instance, the CEO of a company will obviously have knowledge of all domains in the company, which gives him leverage to run the company and steer it in the right direction. Conservative jobs nowadays are all done by software.”

He went on to add that developing cross-functional skills can provide a means for career progression, even if the individual cannot get promoted vertically. People may be given additional responsibilities and expected to grow in a horizontal way. With the workplace getting more and more integrated, skilling in other areas has become necessary.

Having extra-departmental knowledge helps develop managerial and administrative skills. This is the advantage that cross-functional skilling offers. It enables a person to understand multiple viewpoints and communicate in a way that is respectful of the value of others. Business leaders, whether at the top or in the middle, do not have expertise in every field but they are responsible for managing people within various business roles. Managing others requires one to have not only a general understanding of their responsibilities, but also the expectations that employees should be setting for themselves. Cross-functional skills can enable managers to set expectations for their employees.

As Dr Rani Desai, CLO-Partner Matters, Deloitte, says, “When we are talking about management, cross-functional skills become more applicable. In administration, individuals are supposed to take initiatives and institute large projects. This requires project-management skills. Similarly, in HR, while implementing a new software or large-scale changes, such skills are necessary.”

Cross-functional knowledge can set the terms for an employee’s career progress. It is as necessary for the junior-level employees as it is for the senior management. No employee works in isolation and a working knowledge of the business can help improve quality of work and build professional relationships in the workplace.

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