Knowing When to Cross Train

Setpoint is a small business that is agile and can adjust as quickly as the management team can move. There are not committees, boards, and endless studies that have to be approved before decisions can be made. Layers of management don’t exist in our company and overlapping job functions don’t happen very often. Everyone wears multiple hats, but in most job functions, we are only one layer deep. If that person is out of the office that job doesn’t get done.

In most cases this is ok, because it is only for a day or two. But what happens when it is a longer period that the person is unable to be at work. If it is a critical function, it can be disastrous; business can grind to a halt very quickly.

At Setpoint we decided to implement a very simple form of cross training to account for those events. We asked ourselves this question – If the person that is responsible that job were gone for two weeks, what impact would this have on the company? We then grouped those job functions or key processes into one of three buckets:

  • We would be OK
  • We would be OK as long as nothing broke
  • We have to have that job done virtually every day

We would be OK

In this category go jobs or functions that are important to the company, don’t necessarily have critical things that need to be done on a daily basis. One job that we put in this category is the management of our website. If we had to leave it alone for a couple of weeks, we would be ok.

We would be OK – as long as nothing breaks

Identify ones that if nothing breaks, life in the company can go on, but if something goes wrong – it has to be fixed. All IT functions are group in this category. If nothing breaks, the company is fine. If something does go wrong it needs to be fixed quickly.

We have to have the job done virtually every day

Jobs that we grouped under this category are:

  • Payroll
  • Invoicing
  • Procurement
  • Accounts Payable

For the first category we have done nothing to prepare, for the second one, we are working on it and haven’t quite figured out what to do, the last category we have implemented a cross training program. We started by identifying an alternate that would learn the job and be able to do it if the primary person was not here. How much training needs to happen? Setpoints view is, who ever the alternate is, has to practice enough that they can take over the job function if needed. That doesn’t mean that they know all the esoteric details of what can happen, but generally they can handle what needs to be done.

One example, we are an open books company which means that every Monday at 1:00 PM we gather together in what we call the “huddle” and review the key numbers on a big white board. Kara is our alternate for this and once a quarter she figures out the numbers and then puts them up on the white board. If there are intricate details that need to be adjusted for that week, she doesn’t do that, but she is confident enough through practice that she can deal with 95% of what it takes do the white board for our huddle. This has come in handy more than once when the primary person is out for the day.

Planning for these events in this way makes it easier for management to sleep at night.