The Importance of Cross-Training Employees

We all like to think we are unique individuals with special talents and characteristics that make us irreplaceable. While that may indeed be the case and is wonderful on a personal level, when it crosses over into the professional world it can be detrimental or even lethal to a business. Particularly if the aim of an organization is longevity, this premise holds true regardless of size, scope or objective. As an owner or manager, you must not allow an overreliance of the company’s fortunes to rest with you or anyone else associated with the enterprise. 

How many times have you seen or been part of a business where someone’s departure or termination caused a subsequent hardship or disruption due to that person’s company knowledge (“He knew where all the bodies were buried.”) or practices? It is all too common and ultimately costs a firm dearly in terms of resources, productivity and employee morale, as well as potentially customer service and revenues. And recession-driven downsizing and the “doing more with less” imperative to eliminate redundancies and maximize efficiencies has made the likelihood of this scenario greater than ever.

This all speaks to how critical it is to manage with exceptional skill so as to ensure effectiveness as well as efficiency in all aspects of your business. It is essential to commit the time and effort to establishing and enforcing protocols for the sharing of information and procedural know-how throughout your organization. I believe if you closely examined the inner-workings of the vast majority of today’s most successful installing security systems companies you would find this to be among their highest priorities.

“I deal with this on a regular basis, not only at PSA but with our integrators who experience this issue even more frequently,” said PSA Security Network President/CEO Bill Bozeman when I asked about this topic. To gain further insight, I picked the brains of some of our industry’s sharpest managers who also happen to be members of SSI’s Editorial Advisory Board and regular contributors.

“Every business faces this challenge,” Shandon Harbour, president of SDA Security, told me. “It becomes even more daunting if the separation needs to occur for performance, and there is a certain amount of institutional knowledge and some ‘empire building’ in the department. Exiting that individual becomes almost like you feel held hostage.”

Harbour recommends cross-training, transparency and open communications as surefire methods to maintain an appropriate flow and distribution of information. Bob Harris, president of The Attrition Busters, is also a devout advocate of cross-training.

“Disconnected owners who employ little or no cross-training and time management training create a team of firefighters who spend more time putting out fires than getting the job done,” he told me. “As a result, morale goes down, people come to rely on only a few individuals, teamwork goes away and ultimately so does the quality of the product. And if talent is cut too lean, one rarely finds the application of both efficiency and effectiveness.”

Harris urges investing in companywide time management skills, and hiring quality talent capable of pitching in achieve both efficiency and effectiveness as opposed to only one or the other. Mike Jagger, president of Provident Security, has developed an innovative way to disseminate operational knowledge and assure continuity. The firm uses wikis (computer-based repositories) to outline duties, procedures and responsibilities, and secured blogs to detail daily activities.

“Culturally, we’ve worked hard to instill the concept that the measure of how well you do your job is how well things run in your absence,” he told me. “People need to always be working themselves out of their job. We want them to grow, and we want the company to grow. They need to view being ‘essential’ in any particular role as a failure. We want people to be essential for their talent and attitude, not because they are the only person who knows how to do X, Y and Z.”

The bottom line is it’s one thing to be “lean and mean,” but don’t let that come to signify the starvation, atrophy and eventual disappearance of your company on the scene.

Editor-in-Chief Scott Goldfine has spent more than 13 years with SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION. He can be reached at (704) 663-7125.

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int'l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.

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