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Before one can have an opinion on cross training, they must first identify what cross training in the workplace is. The term is defined by many different people using many different words and phrases, but there is a central theme to go with cross training. According to Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer (1998), cross training is simply training different employees in different areas than the one they are accustomed to. In other words, if employee A works in accounting and employee B works in recruiting, cross training would consist of something like training employee A to work in recruiting and employee B to work in accounting. Cross training in the work place is getting more and more common in today's world, especially considering the struggling economy. While at first glance the concept of cross training appears to be a really good idea, there is no question that there are some concerns that arise within the concept.
Why Cross Train?
There are many reasons why companies cross train their employees. Of course the common goal is to always better the organization, and many companies feel that cross training is one way to dramatically enhance their organization. Cross training employees main strengths are that it offers a lot of flexibility to management, it allows employees to learn a new skill, it can be a relief from inevitable boredom that may take place at work, and most of all, it promotes more qualified and valuable employees within the organization (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer, 1998).
It goes without saying that managers love flexibility within their workplace. The more flexibility they have, the smoother the company will run. According to Reh (2009), his company thrived as he cross trained his employees because he had a lot more flexibility with his workers. He recalled multiple cross training experiences where the flexibility not only saved him time, it saved him money. One example Reh (2009) presented was when he cross trained customer service representatives that normally handled phone calls, to start dealing with customers face to face. He added that increasing the flexibility within his company added to strength of the company, and also served as a security blanket. For example, if one of the employees that handled walk in employees is sick one day, or even quits, cross training serves as a security blanket as there will be someone to fill the shoes of the absent employee. Not only will the shoes be filled, they will be filled immediately (Vee, 2009).
There is no doubt that the economy is struggling right now, and many companies are being forced to lay off employees. As companies downsize, they run into many problems. Of course it is difficult to let go of qualified individuals, but many positions that need attention are losing good workers. In a sense, cross training offers flexibility to managers in the event that a company has to downsize. Reh (2009) talked about a time when he had to downsize, and cross training was his saving grace. He had to let go of certain employees, but the positions still needed to be paid attention to. Because he had cross trained, he was able to shift employees around within the organization to not only fill the positions or departments, he was able to do it without doing a search and hire process. Searching for and hiring new employees can be a daunting task and it is very expensive. Not only is there a solution for downsizing, a lot of money can be saved as less employees are paid, there is not a need for a hiring process, and an employee can be plugged in right away to a new position (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer, 1998).
As suggested by various forms of research, one of the overwhelming positives to cross training employees is the fact that the company gains a great deal of flexibility in doing so. As employees learn new skills, they take a load of stress off management should something happen to another employee. Additionally, with current economic issues, it makes sense to cross train, just in case the company has to downsize. Not only can cross training serve as a form of flexibility in terms of jobs being covered, it can also be flexible in terms of the finances of each organization (Vee, 2009).
Reh (2009) commented on cross training from his experience as one that was cross trained, and one that cross trained others. He has seen both sides of the picture and argues that one of the positives of cross training is the fact that employees will learn new skills. It is ideal for managers to feel like they have not only good employees, but well rounded employees. As employees learn new skills, the company can potentially strengthen (McCann, 2007).
One of the things cross training does as it teaches new skills is helps the employees to understand and appreciate the importance of another field. As they understand the importance of another area, the company can potentially gain cohesiveness (McCann, 2007). For example, if a customer service representative is trained on how to stock shelves, they may realize that they are really dependant on the shelf stockers to do their job. As they gain an appreciation and learn this new skill, there is no doubt that the company will be strengthened (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer, 1998).
Another area learning new skills can be a huge help is the fact that it will help employees to figure out their future within the company (McCann, 2007). For example, if there is an employee that may be looking for a promotion or a transfer to a different department, the cross training strategy can serve as a catalyst for this individual as they will become more informed about other areas within the company. As they become more informed, they may get a clearer understanding about what exactly they want to do with the company, or where they see their future going. McCann (2007) describes this process as employees gaining "knowledge and experience needed to make informed decisions about their career path with the company." There is no doubt that the best employees have a really good idea what their individual goals are, and cross training can serve as a legitimate way to open the eyes of employees in regards to what they want to do for their career with the company.
As earlier mentioned, the learning of a new field or new skills gives management flexibility. One could also argue that it helps an employee to be better at their current job (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer, 1998). This could be the case in an example that includes a recruiter that is getting cross trained in accounting. As the recruiter gains a wealth of knowledge and new skills in the accounting field, he or she can use those skills to become more proficient at their job. The accounting job requires one to be very efficient and extremely organized. Perhaps the skills they learned at the accounting job can be translated to their recruiting job to make them even better at that job. In other words, cross training allows employees to gain new skills and to become more well rounded workers. As this occurs, the skills they learned in a different field may largely contribute to them using those skills to make them better at their current job (McCann, 2007).
When researching the positives of cross training, almost every scholar makes the same argument. They all seem to argue that cross training is one of the best ways to alleviate boredom in the work place. Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer (1998) argue that it is very common for a lot of people to become bored with their jobs and they as a result can get complacent in their jobs. As this occurs, many of these employees daydream about getting to do a different job or even grow to dislike their own job (Vee, 2009). As they are presented the opportunity to cross train, their boredom may be subsided as they learn a new skill. Additionally, cross training may serve as a way for an employee to gain even more respect and appreciation for their current job (Reh, 2009). In other words, if they experiment in a new field, they may find that the job that bores or frustrates them is actually better than they originally thought. With this in mind, cross training can produce job satisfaction (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer, 1998).
Teamwork is one of the essential pieces that make a workplace thrive. If teamwork is really good at an organization, it is safe for one to conclude that the company is a well oiled machine. On the contrary, if teamwork is not good, the company likely has issues. According to McCann (2007), cross training employees can actually be used as a tool to promote teamwork and eliminate competition in the workplace.
It is inevitable that teamwork does not just take place in one department; rather, teamwork is essential amongst the whole company. All the way from the highest person in power to the lowest person in power, teamwork needs to exist all throughout the organization. For example, if the people who stalk shelves cannot get along with the customer service representatives, there may be large issues that will arise (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer, 1998). All different departments are dependent on one another in order for the organization to run at a smooth and respectable rate. McCann (2007) argues that when a company moves their employees around, it generates and strengthens relationships that will help the company run better. Additionally, as these individuals get to know each other better, they are less likely to be motivated by competition at the workplace; rather, they will be motivated by unanimous teamwork.
Recapping the pros
There are a lot of compelling arguments in favor of cross training in the workplace. As companies move around their employees and train them in different areas, a lot of good can come from this. First, inevitable flexibility is offered to the organization should there be an absence within the organization (Reh, 2009). Even if the absence is permanent, there is luxury in cross training because rather than hire externally, the organization has the option to do an internal transfer. This of course saves time and money (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer, 1998). Cross training also promotes the learning of new skills, which in turn will eliminate boredom and complacency at the workplace. Lastly, cross training creates an environment that encourages teamwork. As the teamwork and relationships flourish, it goes without saying that the organization will work a lot better because the employees are cohesive, and not separated by competition.
Cons of cross training
As there are many compelling arguments in favor of cross training, there are also many arguments that are against cross training. Much research has been done on this topic, and three main negatives have been brought up by researchers like Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer (1998). These three common cons are that cross training can give employees a false sense of hope, it is a very time consuming process, and the organization risks giving an employee too much access.
A false sense of hope
Goessl (2009) is one of many researchers that argue that cross training may end up doing a disservice to the employee in the end as it may give the employee a false sense of hope. Often times, cross training is done right before a promotion (Vee, 2009); therefore, while an employee is receiving cross training, he or she in the back of their mind might be thinking about the promotion. Unfortunately in many instances, the organization has no intentions of giving the person the promotion they think they may be getting; rather, they are just training the person to gain flexibility as a company (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer, 1998). This potentially could be damaging to the morale of the employee, causing a huge lack of satisfaction at the workplace (Vee, 2009). Goessl (2009) additionally suggests that sure, the cross training may serve as a temporary morale boost for the employee, but their demeanor will actually worsen once they come to the realization that they are not going to get the job they hoped for. It is possible when this happens that their attitude may turn poor, damaging the overall morale of the company.
One of the cons to cross training is the fact that it is very time consuming. In many cases, people view cross training as a waste of time (Goessl, 2009). As earlier mentioned, hiring and training a new employee can be a very expensive process. Many fail to realize just how expensive and time consuming cross training can be. This can be especially problematic in a really large business that has many different areas or departments.
Training a large number of team members in unfamiliar areas can be a very daunting task that costs a lot of money. Not only does this cost money, there are other expenses that will take place. Goessl (2009) argues that one of the main expenses is the expense of time. As one person is getting trained in this area, time is being taken away from what they usually do, and what they are best at. Additionally, someone will have to be paid to do the training. This may be an internal or external individual; but regardless of who it is, there is a large financial investment that has to be made if cross training is going to take place. Because of the amount of time and money it takes to do a proper cross training, many argue that it may not be worth it (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer, 1998).
Too much access
Many times, companies worry about one primary thing when they are cross training. They at all costs want to avoid feeling like they are giving too much access to whoever it is they are cross training (Vee, 2009). In other words, this con is that too much about the organization is revealed to people, which in turn could create problems. One of the arguments Goessl (2009) makes is that a lot of cases of fraud are from a result of cross training. For example, during the process of cross training, one may get access to a certain security code they usually did not have. If the person is immoral, they may stoop to use the newly accessed codes to their advantage if they are looking to steal from the business.
Another compelling argument made by Goessl (2009) is that if you cross train someone, you may be cross training them to run their own business someday. As they learn about the operations of the business and why it's successful, they may take those strategies with them to start their own business. As Goessl (2009) puts it, "someone may be absorbing how production works in order to someday open their own business. You could be training your competition."
Recapping the Cons
There are several cons to go along with cross training employees. Three of the main cons that stick out when researching the topic are the fact that it can give employees a false sense of hope, it can be a very time consuming and expensive process, and it may give too much access to the wrong employee. It goes to show that no matter how good something may appear to be on the surface, there will inevitably be problems to go with it.
Now that researched pros and cons of cross training have been presented, one must ask the question if cross training is the best way to go. Like any evolving concept, there are always going to be issues when a company adopts something new. In the human resources world, it is no different. As new concepts are introduced, some companies adopt them as their own, and some are resistant to change.
When it comes to cross training, there is no question that it can be a wonderful thing. The flexibility it offers to companies is fantastic, especially in a struggling economy. Often times, employees miss work for one reason or another, which can cause a lot of inconvenience in regards to the flow of the organization. If quality cross training has taken place, an immediate solution exists should something happen. Additionally, the economy is forcing so many companies to cut back, and cross training serves as a security blanket should cut backs need to happen. Indeed, employees are forced to wear more hats in the workplace, but the versatility and skill level of the employees is inevitably higher. On the other hand, there are of course some problematic issues that come with cross training that of course should create some concern with management.
Yes or no?
The simple answer to whether or not cross training should take place within an organization is yesâ€¦so long as it is done thoroughly and with intelligence. The "con" arguments of course are compelling, but these issues can really be avoided. To start, companies need to understand that training costs time and money no matter what. Whether they are training someone internally or externally, the process is going to be time consuming and it will cost a lot of money. Secondly, companies need to be upfront and honest with their employees before they cross train them. Honesty negates the con that suggests cross training can give a false sense of hope to the employee. If management tells the employee from the start that this is simply a cross train to make the company better, then the employee wont expect anything other than to get a new skill set. At the conclusion of the cross training, the company can exercise their option to promote the individual. Lastly, the con of "too much access" can be negated by being very selective of who gets cross trained. For example, the company needs to make sure that they are cross training the employees they feel to be most trustworthy. If someone has a history of being dishonest, then it would not be smart to train them with the finances or anything that has control of the money.
Picking the right person
So long as the right people are selected to participate in cross training, it can be a very good thing for the flow of a business. It is imperative that management takes very serious precaution before they commit to cross training employees. They need to make sure they are picking the right person to cross train. For example, cross training someone in accounting should be a very selective process. They should make sure they use an employee that has great organizational skills, on top of being good with numbers. Picking the right people for the right areas of training is the essential key to being successful in the cross training process.
After conducting hours of research, cross training makes perfect sense. It offers so many more pros than cons, and the cons are easy to avoid so long as the proper precautions are taken by the organization. The flexibility and money saved in the long run makes cross training employees a bit of a no brainer for just about any company. The more versatile and skillful employees a company has, the more successful the company is likely to be (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and Blickensderfer, 1998). There is no doubt that companies are continuing to evolve in their strategies to be excellent. In regards to human resources, one of these strategies is cross training. As employees are trained in many different areas, they will become more valuable to the company. Flexibility, increased skill sets, and the encouragement of teamwork are just a few of the many reasons why cross training employees makes a lot of sense.