Talent Development 1 Are You Doing Enough Cross Training?

June 20, 2020

Don’t you love the advertisements that promise to cure all your problems just by taking a pill? They try to convince you that all ailments are related, and for only $19. 95 plus S&H you can have a full month supply of the cure.

“But wait! If you order within the next 20 minutes, we’ll double your order; just pay separate S&H.” It is amazing that there are people who actually believe this drivel.

For organizational ailments, I believe there is a potion that really does attack many issues at the same time, and you can actually get a double dose for a very low price with no S&H (and the offer does not expire in 20 minutes).

The tonic I am referring to is cross training. Let’s look at some of the reasons why this practice is such powerful medicine.

Link Between Training and Satisfaction

Several studies over the past 50 years have established a strong link between training and satisfaction. Organizations that continuously train their people have more motivated employees and less absenteeism.

If you study the organizations in the Top 100 companies to work for in the United States, you will see that every one of them has a strong cross training program in place for employees.

Improved Bench Strength

It is not rocket science to discover the benefits of having people cross trained on each other’s job. Every time an employee is out for an illness or vacation, it is a simple matter of moving people around to cover the lost function.

Having several back-ups for each position generates the flexibility to operate efficiently in today’s frenetic environment. In sports, we know that a team with great bench strength has an easier time winning than one with monolithic superstars.

Better Teamwork

When people train others on their function, a kind of personal bond is struck that is intangible but powerful. It is really a large team-building effort to install a cross training program in a company.

People actually enjoy it and rightfully feel the additional skills have something to do with job security.

Interestingly in organizations that do not cross train, many people are protective of their knowledge thinking that being the only one who knows procedures makes them indispensable.

Actually, the reverse is true because when large numbers of people feel that way, there is high tension, and the organization fails when someone is out. Jobs are not very secure in organizations like that.

Reduction in Turn Over

An organization that focuses on cross training suffers less from employee churn. Why? Because people have more variety of work and higher self-esteem.
They have more fun at work and tend to stay with the organization. Also, the opportunities to learn new things adds to the equation.

Basically, people operate at higher levels on Maslow’s pyramid in organizations that cross train.

Leads to Higher Trust

Trust is directly related to how people feel about their development. In organizations were people have a solid training program for the future, people know management cares about them as individuals.

The discussions to develop the plan are trust-building events because the topic is how the individual can improve his or her lot in life. That is refreshing and bodes well for the future.

Not Expensive

Of all the medications an organization can take for their problems, cross training is one of the least expensive. Reason: Training can be inserted during the little slack periods within an operating day or week.

Training keeps people occupied in growth activities when there is nothing much else to do. So, the real cost to the organization is much lower than it appears on the surface. When compared to the benefits, the ROI is fantastic.

Keeps the Saw Sharp

We all know the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. This is because in order to explain what you are doing you have to understand it very well.

A cross training policy forces incumbent workers to have their job processes well documented and easy to communicate.

Also, in the process of training someone else, there is the opportunity for the trainee to suggest better ways of approaching a task, so the process is being honed and refined all the time. That is healthy because it prevents stagnation.

If your organization does not have an active and specific cross training process, get one started today. It has so many upsides and really no significant downside.

If you have a program, ask yourself if it is fresh and vital. Are you milking this technique well or giving it lip service? If the latter is true, you have a lot to gain by revitalizing your cross training process.


The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.



Trust: The First Law

June 22, 2013

Yin and YangAre you dissatisfied with the level of trust within your organization? If so, recognize that you are not alone. Few organizations have achieved a state where they are delighted with the trust that exists. Part of the reason is that trust is a bit like money; no matter how much we have, we usually want more of it. Most of the organizations I see have a significant deficiency of trust that shows up in all kinds of performance issues including apathy, shaky teamwork, poor attitudes, negative morale, low productivity, high turnover, absenteeism, and even revolt or sabotage.

Leaders of the organization point to the symptoms and declare that the employees are at fault for the low trust. The leaders are expending high energy to communicate the vision and values, they are making expectations crystal clear, they are attempting to hold people accountable for performance lapses, they are making sure everyone gets paid on time, so the problem of low trust must be with the employees or first line supervisors, right? Not necessarily!

One critical nature of trust is that it is reciprocal. When you extend more trust, it reflects back to you in nearly all cases. It is the same phenomenon we often hear about with people participating in any activity: “You get out of it in proportion to what you put in.”

I have coined what I call the “First Law of Trust.” If you are a leader, and are unhappy with the level of trust in your organization, the first thing to do is find ways to show more trust in your employees. There are numerous other things that are important to do, which I have written about in other articles, but the first thing is to extend more trust to others. It seems impossible to some leaders who complain, “But how can I trust them when they prove daily that they cannot be trusted.” That attitude is at the core of why there is low trust to begin with. It is a vicious cycle.

To break the cycle, leaders need to find ways, even small ways at first, to demonstrate higher trust in employees. This will seem unnatural to both the leader and the employees at first because of the history of behaviors and reactions in the past. Leaders feel like extending any kind of trust is stupid until the workers start behaving in trustworthy ways, and workers believe the leader must be up to some kind of trick to force them into more work.

I discovered the reciprocal nature of trust many years ago when my daughter was very young. She often wanted me to “twirl” her, which involved grabbing her wrists and carefully spinning around backward (gently at first to not pull her arms out of the sockets). She would fly out horizontal, hair flying in the wind, just loving it. When I would put her down, there was always the familiar refrain “AGAIN.” So I would twirl her again, this time longer and farther.

Upon remembering the numerous times I twirled her, I realized that I had never dropped her. The reason is that her unconditional trust in me required me to reciprocate in a way that kept her safe during the process. So it is with everyone, if we extend trust to them, they will be inclined to show more trust in us.
The way to break down a dysfunctional culture of low trust is not to put the screws to people with additional demands and rules. Try the other approach of extending kindness and trust and see if the positive reaction you get is well worth the risk of extending more trust. If that works, then you will be encouraged to add more trust to others, and you will reap more back toward you.

A common question I get is, “How do I go about showing more trust in them, especially when they do not deserve it?” The answer is to be creative and find little ways to begin to show more trust. These small gestures may seem dangerous, or trivial, but they usually work to grab people’s attention. Here are a few examples of typical actions a leader might employ to demonstrate higher trust.

• Change the coffee money fund from a locked box to an open container.
• Stop walking around the shop floor five minutes before quitting time.
• Let the employees select the menu for the picnic.
• Stop micromanaging and let people use their initiative.
• Remove a needless restriction on a dress code.
• Publicly eliminate a procedure that is no longer useful.
• Cancel a report that nobody reads.
• Quit requiring proof of purchase for small petty cash items.
• Unlock the supply cabinet.

These are just a few examples of actions that could be taken to extend more trust in people. I am sure that if you think creatively, you can identify dozens of other ways to show more trust, and many of them will not involve a high risk of loss. If you try this technique, you will generally get very positive results. In some instances, the prior practices may have the population so jaded that they will be out for revenge at any opportunity, so it may take more creativity and time to develop new patterns.

Remember the first law of trust. It is up to leaders to break the cycle of tyranny and develop a culture where trust goes both ways and grows more robust with time. It takes some courage to change old ways, but the payoff is immense.