Cross-training isn’t just adding a little yoga to your daily running routine. Cross-training employees can provide a major boost to your workforce’s productivity (and your bottom line!). Here are six major benefits of cross-training employees.
What does it mean to cross-train an employee?
Cross-training employees goes beyond showing everyone how the copier works in case your administrative assistant is out for the day. It starts by identifying the major tasks and skills in a specific area of your organization and then training each employee on these skills so that they can step in for support when needed.
Think of a small accounting firm. Right around tax time, things get hectic, and the more hands on deck, the better. If everyone in the office can be trained in certain intake procedures, then the accountants can focus on their highly specialized and complicated jobs.
Cross-training employees in healthcare is also common and valuable. It may be something as simple as training the office manager to prioritize (triage) certain types of cases that come into the office. Or, it could be giving physician’s assistants training on common insurance questions so they can help patients during their consultations.
As you’ll notice, neither of these examples require weeks spent in boardrooms with training manuals and assessments.
Cross-training simply aims to build the skills of everyone in the company so everyone better understands exactly what it takes to run the business. The idea is to empower employees to provide support from within the company instead of outsourcing or overloading one group of employees during hectic times.
6 benefits of cross-training employees
The benefits of cross-training in business are numerous. Here are six great examples of the benefits of cross-training employees:
- Great return on investment
- Better collaboration
- Increases employee motivation
- Increases workforce sustainability
- Improves efficiency
- Makes your company more agile
1. Great return on investment
It is important to hire employees that can do their jobs well, but looking at the talent you already have on staff can really boost your bottom line.
For example, if you are in education and need a curriculum developer, who knows the content and curriculum better than the teacher with the Master’s degree in curriculum design who is already on staff? Done well, cross-training empowers employees to share their knowledge without bringing in additional employees. This saves employee onboarding costs (and time!).
2. Employees are better able to collaborate
Tim Brown, the CEO of award-winning design firm IDEO, focuses on creating “T” shaped individuals in his companies. “T” shaped employees are experts in one particular aspect of the company (this makes up the leg of the letter) while still having a broad, working knowledge of other aspects of the company (the arms of the “T”).
In contrast, “I” type employees have extensive expertise in one area but because they are hyper-focused lack the ability to really collaborate with other people in the company.
3. Increases employee motivation
Nothing stops employee initiative faster than the perception of a dead-end job. If your medical receptionist can’t see any place for movement within your medical practice, they may start looking elsewhere.
If employees know there are opportunities within the company for growth, their motivation to seek out those training opportunities (and the corresponding increase in pay) grows. More motivated employees will gravitate towards additional opportunities for career growth and mobility.
4. Increases workforce sustainability
Imagine the three legs of a stool. If one leg falls off, the stool is useless. Now imagine a company in which only one employee knows anything about a process or a procedure. What happens if that person takes maternity leave or becomes ill and needs time off?
Cross-training employees holds up the seat of your business, even when your resident expert steps away. This makes your business more sustainable, even in times of transition.
5. Improves efficiency
If each department has to identify valuable skills to add to a cross-training program for employees, they will be forced to look closely at what’s important and how best to pass that knowledge along.
This activity in and of itself increases efficiency, especially in small businesses where each employee already has multiple layers of responsibility. Honing the skills needed and figuring out how to efficiently and effectively transmit them can help streamline every aspect of your business.
6. Makes your company more agile
Cross-training employees may entail on-the-job training that can help reveal hidden talents, increase employees’ skillsets, and provide a springboard for advancing the goals and objectives of your company.
This necessarily makes your company more agile and responsive, no matter the size or industry. It also makes you more flexible with scheduling and filling last-minute vacancies.
Are there any disadvantages of cross training employees?
Yes, but they can be avoided with some advanced preparation.
To start, some employees may view cross-training as an added responsibility with no added pay. It’s important to make sure that while leveraging each employee’s strengths you balance their workload as much as possible.
Sure, you want to get the highest level of productivity out of your employees while still protecting your bottom line, but the risk of burnout is high when you add too much, too fast. You want employees to know that you value their abilities, not that you think of them as beasts of burden.
Another potential risk is building a company filled with generalists. These are employees that know a little bit about a lot of things, but not too much about one.
While this can be very helpful to fill in gaps when an employee is out sick (especially in a small company), you run the risk of appearing to be a mile wide and an inch deep in terms of expertise in your field.
Imagine if a doctor in your medical practice was also responsible for checking in patients and dealing with the complexities of filing insurance claims. While it’s important for doctors to have a working understanding of the ever-changing landscape of insurance, having an expert in the office is crucial – both for the doctoring and for dealing with insurance companies. Let your specialists be specialists, even as they dip a toe into other aspects of the company.
There is a fine line between overloading your employees and reaping the benefits of cross-training employees. Let EdgePoint Learning help you review all of your options to find balance. You can learn more about our approach in our post on running a training needs analysis.