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Cross-Training Employees In A New Era

Race shop owners can find themselves with a multitude of tasks to complete on tight deadlines. For this reason it may be advantageous to cross-train employees on multiple skill sets as opposed to having them specialize in one particular area.

By Jim Cozzie

Let’s face it—as a business owner, you are always looking for ways to cut costs while making the enterprise more efficient and more profitable.

Clearly, big swing changes or those “Ah-ha” moments when a business instantly transforms from dripping red ink to becoming impossibly profitable are a thing of the past. Changes in business today are more likely to be small, incremental adjustments that produce positive outcomes as a result of the sum of multiple changes rather than one big move.

In a lot of ways, thinking has changed since the economic downturn began in 2008–2009. When one looks back and takes stock of many of the practices employed prior to 2008, there exists a clear and distinct difference in approach from then to today.

Back a few years, when business was really good and money was free flowing, business owners had less of a problem adding to the head count as a fix to whatever problem was at the top of the list at the time. That might be OK now, so long as whatever business one is in is growing steadily and providing a healthy profit margin.

If we are true to our memory, we worried less back then about rising overhead and more about growing the business. Overhead, unfortunately, is not as flexible as we might like. So, overhead rises, business drops…overhead maintains altitude. Not a good recipe for acceptable (or profitable) results.

Years ago, businesses were used to creating specialist positions for everything from tires or shock absorbers on race teams to market channel specialists in distribution. Fast forward to the present day, and it’s clear the term specialist is used far less in business now—replaced by terms like cross trained, multiple disciplines or varied skill sets.

Business today has rapidly adapted to making sure that people in the company (and in most cases there are fewer of those people now than several years back) are able to perform more than one duty, or at the very least can swap or fill in to perform several chores when needed. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, maybe. Let’s explore several trains of thought on the subject.

Cross training people in one’s business creates a work force that is flexible and adaptable. As the ever-increasing use of ever-growing technologies is employed, the human factor shrinks, requiring a lower head count and the opportunity to retain folks that can perform multiple tasks. Lean, mean and flexible. It seems this is how the new economy works best, providing the highest level of scalability as a still-fluid business environment prevails.

Simple…Or is it?

For the company, cross training is expensive and time consuming. It is also a form of investment in your employees. Problem is, you cannot stop an employee from leaving after acquiring so much training from the company, which could mean having to hire new talent and repeat the cross training process all over again.

The decision to implement a cross training program is an investment, just like investing in technology or equipment. The difference is, an investment in equipment or computer systems can provide a probable useful life estimate and measurable return. That’s not to say there aren’t metrics to measure investment in people, but rather people get restless, move, change focus, and at some point move on to another company altogether. Your investment is gone, and you’ll now have to invest in the next person once again.

On the surface, one might say this is not a good investment. However, the facts show it is more fiscally rewarding to invest in cross training people, even with the risk of losing one now and again, than it is bloat head count to achieve the same results. Good for the company and good for the people in the company.

With a cross-trained workforce in place, your business is far better suited to thrive and prosper in that still-fluid business environment. In a very small business, a cross-trained workforce can be the difference between business as usual and crippled when several people are absent.

No downside, right? Well, in fact there can be some downside to implementing a cross training program in your business.

The human mind is incredible, but it also can run wild at times, especially if the brain believes its human could be in peril. It is not unusual for people to feel a cross training program is really a ploy by management to prepare itself to operate with fewer people after cross training is completed.

While that could be true in theory, it does not make much sense to invest in everyone in the company when the ultimate objective is to lose some of your investment when the exercise is completed.

Then again, that same imagination can run out of control when the voice tells its human, “The result of this is really more work without more pay.” These two examples alone can create havoc in a small business, even when, for the most part, the theory is flawed.

Another potential stumbling block to implementing a cross training program—in addition to short-term increase in expense—is the loss of focus during training.

Like any operation in business, there is a right way and a wrong way to implement cross training your team. For example, a cross training program that is comprised of an outline left to multiple individuals to deliver will most likely not produce consistent outcomes. The delivery will change every time, with key points (or requirements) being added or left out.

The result is not good for the cause, as there will be multiple interpretations of what different items in a program “mean.”

One way to establish a consistent cross training program, one that is flexible for additions or deletions, is to create a training video or narrated slide presentation This does not have to be an expensive ordeal, though you can find local businesses that produce this type of video for a reasonable cost. Or with the low-cost high-resolution cameras available today, you can produce your own; and a slide show version can be created without leaving your desk.

Remember, this is for internal use only, so if you choose to produce the video in-house, it only needs to be accurate and informative. No Academy Awards here.

A video, if produced correctly, will serve your cross training purposes into the future, and should be looked upon as any other tool in your business. A video will be consistent in delivering the message time after time, and will cut down on both the extent and number of audience interpretations of the program. In the long run, cost is less, and time invested is less, too.

The benefits of a well-thought-out and implemented cross training program clearly provides more advantages than obstacles for most businesses. More efficiency in your business without adding head count, and flexibility in operations when needed, provides for continued operations in adverse conditions. It can also increase profitability.

Best of all, your customers always get what they want and need, regardless of the internal road taken to get there.




Jim Cozzie

Former board chairman of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), Jim Cozzie held senior-level positions with a number of leading and iconic aftermarket companies including Hurst Performance Inc., Super Press Inc., B&M Racing and Performance Products, and Zoom Performance Products. He currently is a Managing Partner at Brenton Productions, producer of the popular automotive how-to shows Two Guys Garage, Car Fix, Truck U and All Girls Garage. Cozzie can be reached at

Performance Racing Industry