• Cross-training, or encouraging team members to pick up skills in more than one area of the business, can be a powerful strategy when facing a crisis like the pandemic.
  • Employees will gain new perspectives, become more engaged and invested, and may even discover new strengths. 
  • Even outside of a crisis, leaning on the workers you have rather than constantly making new hires can drive productivity and inspire upward career mobility. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

An important lesson I had to learn early on in my entrepreneurial journey is that, in the face of a crisis, you must leverage whatever assets you have to secure a solid foundation for your business. Lean on your skill sets, tools, space, and perhaps your greatest resource: your people.

When it’s time to get lean, encouraging and training the people on your team to develop skills in more than one area of the business is often a smart move. It’s called cross-training, and it could be the strategy that helps your business survive the toughest times.

Save money on headcount

The primary reason you hire an employee is because they can do their job well, which is of the utmost importance. But it’s also worth evaluating how diversifying an employee’s expertise to include multiple areas of the business can help improve your bottom line.

As a result of proper cross-training, your employees will build on their existing knowledge and develop new skills, ultimately becoming more empowered workers. Consequently, this approach can help save on the cost of onboarding additional employees.

Gain alternate perspectives

Often, bringing in a fresh set of eyes to observe and weigh in on different areas of a business can lead to identifying opportunities for improvement and efficiencies. I recently shared a story about an unconventional hire my company made during the COVID-19 crisis. This hire was not quite an instance of direct cross-training, as this person was not an existing Dotcom Distribution employee prior to taking on a role with us. But the role was new to him, so the same principle applies.

This employee didn’t have traditional experience in the position we were looking to fill, but throughout years of working closely with our program management team, he had developed concrete knowledge of many of our processes and procedures. What he lacked in direct experience in the role, he more than made up for with a complementary skill set, a unique perspective, and an intimate understanding of our processes and procedures that allowed him to onboard quickly and identify gaps that ultimately benefited the business.

Foster a more invested workforce

By being transparent about the fact that developing new skills in other areas of the business can help the businesses survive, not only will your employees understand that the alternative is unemployment, but with more skin in the game, hopefully they will also feel valued. Establishing how they fit into the long-term business plan can yield better engagement, foster loyalty, and increase productivity and morale.

Due to COVID-19, many of our clients in the retail business were reduced to skeleton crews, supporting only the e-commerce portion of their business. That impacted the B2B side of our business. Fortunately, our B2B team has been thoroughly cross-trained and was able to support our business-to-consumer team when the ecommerce volume spiked.

Discover hidden talents

One of the wonderful byproducts of cross-training employees is the exposure of previously undisclosed aptitudes. Talents may be showcased through performing a particular set of duties but, through this process, an employee may also emerge as an exceptional leader or manager, positioning them for future upward growth.

Now, a word of caution. Some employees may perceive cross-training as more responsibility with no corresponding compensation. It is imperative to make every effort to balance workloads to avoid burnout and dissatisfaction. To the extent that it’s possible, it is also in the best interest of all parties to play to employees’ strengths and interests. The prevailing message to your employees should be that you value their contributions and capabilities.

Unfortunately, since the COVID-19 crisis emerged, more and more businesses owners have been in a scenario that has warranted heeding this advice. But cross-training is a strategy that can benefit a business during any stage, not just a recession. It can yield a great return on investment, motivate employees, improve efficiencies, and create a more experienced pool of talent, which benefits everyone in the long run.

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