The average workplace is typically so busy with projects, deadlines, and endless task lists that employees rarely have time to step back and learn. Focused on getting through the work that day or week, they forget to invest in themselves and their team members.
This is actually a serious mistake that can hold a company back, cost employers money, and stunt the growth of employees.
One way to combat this lack of training is with peer-education. Team cross training can make your business more versatile and help your employees become more effective and productive. Here’s why this should be a priority in your company.
Employer Benefits of Cross Training
Employers typically dictate whether cross training is a priority within a company. Without a manager or CEO’s drive to improve training, employees can become complacent and have no reason to grow their skills — or the skills of their co-workers.
Cross Training Reduces Production Gaps During Hiring Periods
Every employee wants to believe the company will crumble without them, and every employer wants to believe all of their employees are expendable. The reality lies somewhere in between.
In most companies, there’s a certain “down-period” in the time it takes a replacement employee to learn the ropes. Production might decline in the short term, but rebounds within a few months. Cross training helps employers reduce this time.
The team at Aliere Advisors explains that cross training mitigates risk by removing the odds that only one person at the company has the skills to complete a task. If one person leaves, others on the team can fill in for him or her during the onboarding and training process of the new employee. Production isn’t adversely affected because of one person’s absence.
Employers Are Not Reliant on One Employee
Employers take on significant risks by limiting skills to one of two employees, especially if those employees know how stuck their employers will be if they leave.
“The last thing you want is a situation where one team member holds you to ransom for high salaries or other perks because of key skills that nobody else possesses,” Ben Brearley the name behind Thoughtful Leader writes. “This results in these critical employees being overpaid for their roles, disadvantaging other team members.”
A higher salary or other perks can limit what other employees make. The so-called irreplaceable employee might also take advantage of the situation, taking more vacations days than strictly allowed, coming in late or leaving early, and generally hold the employer hostage. This reduces productivity while creating a toxic workplace as co-workers are impacted by that behavior.
Training Prepares Employees for Unexpected Losses
There are two types of employee cross-training. And Howard Kaplan, director of business development at LBi Software Engineering, says most companies provide a mixture of both whether they want to or not:
Pre-emptive cross-training occurs when employers train employees in the off chance that they will need to fill another’s shoes or take over their role.
On-the-job learning occurs when employees are given a role or have to step in unexpectedly to a new position. This might occur because another employee quits or needs to leave a company immediately.
While many organizations would want to schedule pre-emptive cross training, they can’t always predict when they will need other team members to step in due to an unexpected loss. However, teams that have set training plans in place are the best prepared to weather any unplanned absences.
Training Enables Employers to Hire Internally
Bruce Hayward, president at Commodore Technology, highlights an additional benefit for employers to cross training to employees: succession planning. High level managers can use cross training to see which employees have a knack for certain roles in the company and grow their skills to hire internally when someone leaves.
Even if the training doesn’t lead to an immediate promotion, managers see which employees take the initiative to learn and take on added responsibility. This helps identify those best-suited for a management position when one does open up.
Increased Retention Rates Save Money
Countless studies prove that cross training reduces turnover, and Stephen Maclaren, Head of Regional Sales Employee Benefits at Al Futtaim Willis, explored the numbers behind this retention. He explains that the average cost of a new hire is around $30,000, including time spent interviewing people, costs for recruiters, lost production and time spent training the new hire. Conversely, the cost of ongoing training per employee is around $1,500.
In a small company, these numbers might shift, but that’s still close to a 20 to 1 ratio in cost savings to train instead of letting unmotivated employees leave. In major companies with hundreds of employees, cross training could save hundreds of thousands, if not millions annually. Suddenly the cost of investing in training resources makes financial sense.
Employee Benefits of Cross Training
Cross training doesn’t just benefit employers. Employees can improve their status within an organization and in future companies by growing their skills in their current positions. Even if they’re happy where they are, an entire team can reap the benefits of cross training.
Cross Training Motivates Employees
Employees who feel stuck in one position can be motivated to grow with cross training. This adds renewed interest in the job and helps boost self-esteem.
“Recognition in the form of training and development works wonders for employee motivation because it’s proof the company is investing the necessary time and resources for employees to acquire new skills,” John Yurkschatt, Director of IT for Direct Consulting Associates, writes.
This is particularly useful for younger or smaller companies that can’t compete financially with major employers. An employee who is learning and has the potential to grow their career in one location might stay longer, even if another position pays better.
Exposure to New Ideas Helps Them Create Career Goals
Cross training can also help employees who feel like they’re stuck in their career paths. It can show them new opportunities to grow and expose them to additional career paths that could excite them.
“Working on something other than your regular tasks exposes you to a new set of co-workers, managers and customers,” Jennifer Arnold, an HR expert from Jacksonville, writes for SHRM. “This broadens your network and helps build your reputation within the company and the industry.”
Employees can realize that they’re actually satisfied with their current career path just by seeing what’s out there.
Employees Become More Empathetic
Chris Chase, founder of web design company Directive, says that cross training can give employees better perspective of their owns jobs and the jobs of others. An employee or a team of workers might think they work harder than everyone else, or that other team members slack off and have easy jobs.
Cross training can prove these perceptions wrong. Employees are able to walk a mile in each other’s shoes and see how challenging a particular job can be. This empathy can lead to better teamwork in the future and potential collaboration in various projects.
The Act of Training Teaches Teamwork
If you’re trying to help employees work better together then consider asking them to train each other on various skills. Sean Gordon at HR platform Hirenami writes that the act of peer-to-peer training can foster a sense of collaboration and create a team mentality.
Co-workers can learn to rely on each other for help and turn to each other for information. When a major project arises and those team members need to work together, they will already have experience working together because of their cross-training experiences.
Employees Can Learn How to Apply Their Skills
Having a skill is one thing, but knowing how to apply it is another. Your team members might have untapped skills that they have never put into practice. This is incredibly low-hanging fruit, as employers simply have to teach employees how to use their skills, instead of teaching them the skills themselves along with the application.
Inbound marketer Karla Gutierrez created a useful graphic that explains how employees could have skills but lack knowledge or opportunities to use them. For example, training can’t fix:
Employees placed in the wrong job for their skill sets.
Employees who lack coaching or support systems to improve their performance.
Flawed policies that prevent employees from trying new tasks.
If a team member doesn’t feel confident in their position, then they’re unlikely to learn new skills or take on new tasks.
Potential Drawbacks of Cross Training Employees
Every business decision comes with drawbacks and concerns, and cross training is no different. However, many of the issues that leaders have with cross training can be addressed or prevented with strategic planning and employee communication. Here are a few concerns that some people have with ongoing training of employees, and why the risks of training pale in comparison to the rewards.
Sensitive Information Can Spread to More People
If you’re sharing passwords, files and information with more employees because of cross training, then you’re increasing the chances that the information is leaked, putting the company at risk and potentially costing your organization significant amounts of money.
“There are reasons that security access of different levels is given on a ‘need to know’ basis depending on job description,” Leigh Goessl at All Things Business and Tech writes.
However, this isn’t an argument against cross training as much as an argument for strategic planning. Instead of giving half of your employees access to a certain tool in the name of growing their skillsets, managers need to determine the best people to train and give information to.
Employees Can Grow Overwhelmed
The idea that your employees will feel overwhelmed by the additional work underestimates your team’s ability to learn. In an article for PhaseWare, Hallie Dunn explains the idea that an employee might feel out of their element learning a particular aspect of the job or might struggle to remember everything they have been taught.
Once again, the fault lies with management, not the actual employee. Did you ask the employee if they want to learn the new concepts? Did you specifically choose them for that task because of their skills and experience? If not, then they have every right to feel overwhelmed because they’re learning something so far outside of their wheelhouse.
The Knowledge Base Can Quickly Grow Stale
Some companies cross train to make it easier for the organization to function when an employee is sick or takes a vacation. A few co-workers might have been trained on that employee’s processes but don’t use those skills for several months until the original team member leaves for a few days. During those months, two things happen:
Cross-trained employees are likely to forget what they learned months ago and never had a chance to practice.
System changes might not have been communicated, confusing cross trained team members.
“There would be few worse things for your customer experience than to get an agent who is out of touch with systems or whose knowledge is out of date,” the team at MyCustomer.com writes.
To solve this, train only those skills that current employees can use regularly as part of their own jobs, instead of treating cross training as a band-aid for employee absences. Additionally, a clear and up-to-date task description manual can prove invaluable.
Cross Training May Foster Unhealthy Competition
When presented in the wrong light, cross training can breed competition among employees. This is typically when employees feel insecure or when they use the new skills to make other team members obsolete.
“Consider how annoyed some employees feel when someone takes their parking space,” Matthew Geiger, founder of The Washington Outsider writes. “If employees see other individuals being trained to do their jobs or they are asked to train others, they may feel resentment and a need to undermine company interests through sabotage.”
The key is to present cross training as a benefit for the entire team — particularly the employee who will be sharing their information with the rest of the company.
“[You] can overcome many of these concerns by clearly communicating the purpose of cross-training,” Neil Sharp writes at JJS Manufacturing. The team needs to know that they succeed or fail as a single unit, and that cross training is a critical stepping stone to growing the organization as a whole.
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