You’ve barely finished your first cup of coffee. You’ve settled into your favorite chair, ready to preview the emails and voicemail messages that wait for you in the office so you can get a jump start on your day. You delete the irrelevant junk mail. You flag a few for follow-up later. And then you hit the message that threatens to derail things. An employee, the one that’s elbow deep in a big project with a looming deadline, is sick and won’t be in.
That’s okay. You figure you’ve got a little breathing room on this one and she can just leap back into things tomorrow without missing a beat. The project is in good shape, after all. Later in the day the call comes that her illness is a bit more complicated than a one-sick-day ailment. She’s going to be out for a while. You certainly empathize. You wish her well. You assure her things will be okay at the office. You’ll hold down the fort, but even as you’re saying it, you feel the dread welling in your gut as you wonder how you’re going to find someone to step into this employee’s shoes without missing a beat.
Maybe you aren’t facing such a dramatic scenario. I’m willing to bet, however, that as a leader you do deal with other challenges that would benefit from pre-emptive cross-training.
What Is Cross-Training?
In a business setting, cross-training is teaching your employees to do multiple jobs, so they can lend added support within business areas outside their day-to-day responsibilities when needed. This can take on a variety of different looks. It might mean that your sales team sits together weekly to review key accounts so that any member of the team can step in and service a client without missing a beat when their primary account manager is unavailable. It may mean that your marketing manager is trained on the programs your social media team uses or that your admin teams are trained to troubleshoot basic IT issues.
Benefit to the Employer
Things happen. Employees get sick. They leave for new jobs. Deadlines get moved. Project estimates fall short and the demand on our resources is greater than anticipated. Cross-training employees builds in a solution. For example, it can mitigate the problems that would arise if your tech failed the week your primary IT support person was out of the country.
Employees that are well-versed in multiple aspects of your business can also better troubleshoot potential issues as they arise. If your inside sales team, for example, has been trained on how your marketing team is collecting and logging marketing leads, as well as how other teams in the organization are viewing and using those leads through the customer lifecycle, they may be able to better identify a mechanism to track leads or recognize why some of those warm leads are failing to convert.
Benefit to the Employee
Consider it on-the-job-training. You may love your job (and I hope you do!), but that doesn’t mean you can’t stand to learn some new tricks. Every one of us can benefit from expanding our skill sets. Cross-training gives you the opportunity to learn something new. It increases what we can contribute to our organizations. It makes us a team player – and that’s pretty awesome in and of itself! Having a broader understanding of tasks throughout the organization also helps groom us for future promotions. Think about it: The candidate who understands what happens across multiple departments is more valuable as a manager than the one whose field of vision is limited to their own departmental box. Finally, as content as you may be, learning new skills may turn you on to a passion you never knew you had. Maybe you’ve spent the last 20 years working in accounting, but your cross-training in basic IT support functions made you realize that you might really enjoy coding. Whether that skill becomes the beginning of a new career path to explore or a great new hobby is up to you.