Sportspersons are used to undergoing a cross-training regime, which helps them avoid injuries, balance the development of muscle groups, and also prevent monotony. Similar is the case with organisations. If the employees are given an opportunity to work in different functions, they end up more balanced, knowledgeable and productive. Also, such cross-functional employees ensure that the organisation is able to survive better and longer.
Employees who have worked in different functions prove to be more helpful to the business, as they can apply that diverse experience to a function, and also fill in for others if required.
FMCG company, India Philip Morris (IPM), has followed a culture of cross-functioning training at the workplace for some time now. This joint venture between Philip Morris brands Sarl of Switzerland and two Indian partners, Godfrey Philips, India (GPI) and K.K. Modi Investment & Financial Services, has only over a 100 employees in India on its payroll. Therefore, a strong cross- functional training culture is bound to stand the Company in good stead, especially in times of need, when its employees are able to take on the role for each other ensuring smooth operation at all times.
Talking about how they make this happen, Loma Hosne-ara, director-people & culture, India Philip Morris, described the whole cross-functional training process followed by IPM.
According to Hosne-ara, first, the Company identifies the future leaders according to their potential and performance. Then, it studies their aspirations and appetite for moving into cross-functional roles. After that, the Company analyses the learning agility of these potential leaders of the future, keeping in mind the following five traits:
1. People agility – This shows their ability to work with different types of people, with varying attitudes and abilities. In short, it determines whether they are agile enough and possess the interpersonal skills required to work in a diverse team.
2. Change agility – Here, the Company examines an individual’s ability to deal with change and new scenarios, and bring in a different perspective.
3. Solutions agility – The person’s ability to drive solutions in different scenarios using the limited resources available, is analysed.
4. Mental agility – This kind of agility in a person helps deal with pressure, ambiguity and complex situations.
5. Application agility – This kind of agility is found in people who are self-aware and know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are, and apply their best skills at work.
Once the ideal future leaders are identified on the basis of their abilities, performance, potentials and learning agility, the Company creates a development plan for them. This plan involves an analysis of the kind of exposure and experience they require so that they can be an asset to the business.
“Whenever an employee is moving into a new role, the existing people manager and the new people manager join together to chalk out a development plan for the said employee, with the sponsorship of the functional head”
The Company aids the whole process by providing different types of exposure, such as cross-functional growth at home, cross-border and international exposure, as well as opportunities to be part of cross-functional teams.
“Whenever an employee is moving into a new role, the existing people manager and the new people manager join together to chalk out a development plan for the said employee, with the sponsorship of the functional head,” shares Hosne-ara.
Once the employee makes the transition, the Company conducts a mid-year review as well as a year-end review to track the progress. If required, remedial action is taken accordingly to set things right.
Hosne-ara cites the example of a person from the marketing division moving to corporate affairs and doing extremely well in the new role.
As mentioned earlier, cross-functional moves are only undertaken for people who really possess the potential.
However, the Company also offers cross-functional exposure to other employees by allowing them to work together in cross-functional teams for specific projects. These are strategic projects, which are linked to the goals of the company. Employees from various functions— for instance, the finance, marketing, operation and HR teams— collaborate to work on these projects.
“Cross-functional teams work on projects, such as ‘How to enhance the customer experience’ or ‘How to enhance employee experience’. Better solutions emerge when cross- functional teams work together, as different perspectives are put forward,” explains Hosne-ara.
The Company very proudly claims that about 20 per cent of its employees have cross-functional experience even at senior leadership levels.
Apart from this, employees at IPM are also exposed to international projects.
While they are generally expected to learn on the job, employee buddies are also assigned to facilitate the process. Also, IPM has an e-learning platform where courses on cultural integration are available, which are accessible to each employee in the organisation.
For building leaders of the future and preparing the workforce for the uncertainty and ambiguity that are bound to be emerge in the times to come, organisations need to prepare well in advance. Imparting cross-functional experience is one way to do so.