I first heard the term “cross-training” when I was working at a bank fresh out of college. The bank hired me as a personal banker, but the corporate headquarters wanted more. In fact, they wanted all personal bankers to learn and understand the teller job responsibilities. At first, I was a little taken aback, my 22-year-old know-it-all self thinking I knew best. After all, why should I waste time learning to do someone else’s job? Instead, shouldn’t I be focusing all my energy on developing my skills as a personal banker? Wouldn’t it make sense to become really good at one thing? Fortunately, my manager was patient enough to take time to explain why cross-training employees is important. In doing so, she opened my eyes to the impact cross-training can make in a business.
Hopefully, you aren’t as self-righteous as I was at that age. However, if you are in the dark about why cross-training employees is important, know you aren’t alone. Still, let’s not be content with sitting in the dark. Here is why you should consider cross-training employees.
Bank on Cross-Training Employees
Now, personal bankers weren’t the only workers who had to learn others’ roles. In fact, most employees had to learn the ins and outs of other positions within the bank. The tellers were also learning what we personal bankers were doing, including the goals and quotas we had. What was this all about?
Knowing Your Role
The first reason my manager gave to support cross-training employees is this: knowing other roles helps you better understand your role. Thus, deeply understanding your own role is best for business. What does that even mean? Well, if you know the responsibilities of others’ roles, and you know your own responsibilities well, you are more than just a cog in a wheel. You are the keeper of knowledge, and your expertise extends beyond your immediate position. Besides being a more confident employee because of your expertise in your role, you are more vested in all aspects of the company, so to speak.
My manager then went on to explain that cross-training also makes it possible to fill in during someone’s absence. Imagine this: you are a sales rep walking through the reception area around noon. The receptionist has gone to lunch, and hasn’t yet returned. A customer is standing at the reception desk, patiently waiting to be received. Even though you aren’t the receptionist, you greet the customer and ask if you can help. The customer asks to speak with accounts payable. Since you were cross-trained in the accounting department, you know exactly who to send the customer to. In the end, you promptly assisted the customer, instead of enabling a delay, and that is best for business.
Besides these two things, cross-training employees also allowed us sales reps to upsell. In other words, if the tellers knew what we were doing, they could refer customers to us. In a bank, tellers and personal bankers seem to operate on opposite sides of the universe. Tellers are in a nice, neat line facing customers as they enter. Personal bankers, on the other hand, might be tucked to the side, oftentimes surrounded by cubicle walls or in a glass office. It might appear that they work independently of one another. However, the tellers know that the personal bankers have quotas to reach if they want to keep their job. So, tellers refer customers to personal bankers to open accounts, lines of credit, and to help problem solve issues. In return, personal bankers often have the liberty of giving a referral fee. This mutually beneficial relationship is best for business.
Hopefully you are starting to see a pattern here. Generally, cross-training employees is simply best for business.
CrossFit and Cross-Train
When I finally entered the payroll world, I thoroughly understood why cross-training employees is important. By that time CrossFit had not only made its debut, but was also wildly popular across the country. CrossFit is a popular fitness regimen founded in 2000. I understood the concept– focus on incorporating many aspects into health, not just a single element. In other words, we will have more success reaching our health and fitness goals if we recognize the role of diet in exercise, and how they work in community with one another. To me, this translated nicely to business, especially as I began learning about the payroll world.
Similar to my experience in the bank, learning to become a payroll sales representative came with a period of cross-training. All sales reps were required to sit with the integration team, followed by the customer care department, and finally watch the check printing process before being released into the field. We went out to businesses, armed to sell and explain every step along the way. As much as I had learned in banking, I was never as prepared to represent my industry as I was on the day they cut me loose to do my thing. Based on my experience, there are few industries as good at cross training employees as the payroll industry. Why is the payroll industry so good at cross-training employees? Well, they know it’s best for business. We fully understood that all aspects of our business worked together for our company’s success.
Cross-Trained Employees Are Pinch Hitters
Now, I previously mentioned the hypothetical stand-in receptionist situation. Let’s expand on that thought and consider how cross-training employees helps if you get in a real bind.
Heaven forbid one of your highly qualified and hardworking employees is unexpectedly terminated. Maybe he left for another employer, or maybe he was fired. Either way, you are up a creek without a paddle and you don’t know how you will find a replacement soon enough to keep business flowing. Well, fear not! Remember, you cross-trained your new employee Haresh when he started three months ago. So, even though Haresh might not know everything about the newly vacant role, he is still a better stand-in than someone who had not been cross trained.
Besides a negative situation where an employee leaves unexpectedly, there is also the positive situation where you recognize employee growth. Cross-trained employees are excellent candidates for promotion opportunities, or even lateral movement, in certain situations. For example, after years of sales, I decided the operations side of payroll intrigued me. The time I spent cross-training allowed me to see the underbelly of the machine, and I made a fairly easy transition to the integration team. After a couple years in that department, I accepted an opportunity to return to sales in another capacity. Cross-training was what allowed me to move fluidly between positions and departments, and it gave me immense perspective.
Cross-Training Employees Will Change Your Business
Sure, cross-training employees may take a little extra time and effort. After all, you are pulling resources from one department to spend time in another. It’s hard to know when the fruits of the labor will emerge. However, you can be fairly certain those cross-trained employees will come in handy eventually. Cross-trained employees are more knowledgeable, make great pinch-hitters, and can upsell like no ones business. So, put your doubt aside and know cross-training employees is best for your business.