cross functional skills

A perspective on candidates with cross-functional skills

As a general thumb-rule, companies generally prefer candidates who have diversified skillsets and learning flexibility. It is assumed that multi-talent candidates can accomplish more as compared to a single-dimension employee. The underlying argument in favour of hiring candidates with cross-functional skills is their potential to help other employees to improve their productivity. In the post-COVID-19 world, where companies once again will compete for the best talent, it is prudent to hire those who possess different skill-sets and help them reach their goal. This article discusses how candidates with cross-functional skills will be an asset to the company.

Who is a cross-functional skill candidate?

According to Glassdoor, a Cross-Functional Candidate is a candidate with jack-of-all-trades qualities. In other words, a cross-functional skill candidate is a person who has mastered one or more related skills or technologies but also has a grasp of other technology/skills. For example, a candidate with a BS in Statistics will surely have strong skills in statistics and at the same time may also be proficient in market research, data science, and/or machine learning. This can be a classic example of cross-functional candidate. In other words, in a fast-paced organizational scenario, it has become incumbent for organizations to assess the viability of achieving a mix of candidates with specialist skills and cross-functional skills.

Cross-functional learning vs. Cross-functional skill

When it comes to hiring a candidate with multiple skills, the recruiter must understand the difference between a cross-functional learning candidate and a cross-functional skill candidate. The cross-functional learning candidate is actively learning skills or technology on their own using various channels such as online training, offline training, including remote learning programs instituted and delivered by colleges and universities and internet-enabled MOOC.

Candidates with cross-functional skills, on the other hand have working knowledge of the skills they possess. The skills are typically attained by working across teams in different organizations based on their needs and goals.  Such candidates with cross-functional skills are needed at the top-level management where they will have the need as well as opportunity to display their skills and experience in different business areas/scenarios.

When it comes to hiring a candidate, the managers prefer a candidate with cross-functional skills with well-rounded knowledge in different domains. Such candidates have a creative mind-set and innovative thinking, and have a better understanding of how the different domains work. In most cases, when an organization is trying to design a new employee policy or implement a new software, the stakeholders consult employees with cross-functional skills candidates before taking any decision.

Candidates with cross-functional skills – asset to an organization

How does an organization leverage candidates with cross-functional skills? By virtue of working across different teams and organizations, candidates gain better understanding of both the internal and external clients. Secondly, such candidates have vast experience in working under different people in different teams. This enables the candidates to have a 360-degree view of the business challenges which in turn help them to find solutions to the problems that will work for everyone.

One of the most significant benefits of hiring cross-functional skill candidates is the expectation that they will step out of their comfort zones and deliver results every time. Transferring from one team to another requires a candidate to adapt quickly to the situation and acquire a new set of skills that are relevant to the new team/process. Work pressure requires the candidates to pick up newer skills without having to spend time separately on learning. Candidates who have a knack of learning new things and can hit the ground running are good fit for those teams/organizations where the turnaround time is less. This is where candidates with cross-functional skills can come in very handy to ensure business deliverables.

Roadmap for developing candidates for cross-functional skills

In the modern world, organizations are no longer one-dimensional, where all the employees perform the same tasks throughout their careers. The employee does need to work inside and outside of their teams and department to gain knowledge and experience on other crucial tasks.

Team members with experience in different domains hold greater value for the employer as these individuals can perform any sought-after task that increases the organizations’ credibility and reputation. It may not be always easy to find such candidates. Majority of the time, business leaders can develop various strategies to build capacities of candidates from within their workforce.

1. Rotating Employee to Different Teams

Large organizations have rotational programs where the employees are transferred internally to get exposure to working under different teams and managers. The employees can work onsite with another team for a day or a week, join other departmental meetings, and even participate in important tasks performed by these teams. The rotation of the employee need not be in the physical environment. It can even be performed while working remotely as they need to join for the daily huddle or weekly meetings and make their presence felt.

2. Assessing employee interest

Probing and assessing the interest areas of the employees is good place to start. If an organization is planning to build newer teams with specialized skills at their disposal, where employees from different parts of will be working for a longer, employees need to know and understand how other teams work. Companies can provide such information through documents/power-point presentations as self-learning tools. For example, a Developer may have an interest in marketing activities – his skills can be assessed and based on his/her understanding can be given additional tasks/KPIs around marketing . This information might be useful if there are budget cuts from the client’s end, and the developer might know how to proceed further on the project.

3. Finding the right candidates

The HR teams and managers can find interested candidates willing to learn and work in other teams for short/medium duration. HR teams can survey the employees which other departments or teams they would like to work with if they are given an opportunity. Providing training to the interested candidates can ensure smooth transition to new teams.

Cross-Skilling is the Future

As pandemic continues, organizations will most likely prefer candidates with diverse set of skills and experience. Such candidates offer a lot of flexibility to the teams and have the necessary leadership qualities to manage newer responsibilities. Organizations realize that the need of the hour is to have employees with a diversified skillset to not only ensure business as usual but also to gain a competitive edge.

Sourcing such candidates from outside the organization is difficult. However, HR teams and team managers can identify and nurture current employees into cross-skilling by allowing them to work in different teams, train under various leaders, and through participation in skill-based training.

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