What You Need To Know”We’re talking complementary activities here, like law and accounting, not law and ceramics.”We all want to be great at something. Usain Bolt didn’t end up making cocky gestures at the finish line because he was pretty good at lots of sports, Stephen Hawking hasn’t inspired legions of astrophysicists by working on his haikus and David Copperfield isn’t famous for being a great all-rounder.So, logically, in the professional world, especially in tough times, it makes sense to get really, really good at what you do. Right?Wrong. Those in the know (business leaders, recruitment professionals, career coaches) are pushing a new buzzword: cross-train.
What Is Professional Cross-Training?
Cross-training has been around in the world of athletics for some time, but the phrase can generally be used to express how the combination of two activities produces an improvement — an interaction effect — substantially greater than either one can produce on its own. We’re talking complementary activities here, like law and accounting, not law and ceramics. Think about how diet and exercise, when combined, are substantially more effective for weight loss than either diet or exercise alone (or diet and Sudoku combined).There are two types of cross-training: the kind that you pursue yourself, like learning a new language or getting tech-savvy, and in-company development kind, which could include things like job rotation or management training. Essentially, this means any training geared toward helping you expand your scope of knowledge and skills beyond the confines of your own professional discipline.If you’re a journalist, learning photography would be an effective complement. If you’re a yoga teacher, then dance or meditation might be useful. A business consultant might consider picking up skills like public speaking, social media proficiency or HR negotiations.
The experts agree that if time is scarce, it’s better to learn a new skill than build on the ones you already have. In most fields, honing complementary skills is just as valuable, if not more so, than delving more deeply into the area in which you’re most competent. Having many areas of expertise instead of just one will make you seem like a more well-rounded employee and more useful to have in the office if extra work needs to be done or someone is needed to cover another employee’s tasks. For example, in many cases, the guy who is comfortable with technology, communications and client relations is more useful than the guy who is just an IT whiz.In addition, the more skills you possess, the more your expertise is apparent and accessible to colleagues and management. Cross-training promotes versatility, giving you the edge in a dynamic economy, where layoffs and belt-tightening mean that fewer employees need to know how to do more. Building new strengths is more important, they say, than improving on known weaknesses — unless you’re training for the Olympics.How do you start a skill-development program? That’s next…And the stats back up the advice: Research has shown that people with two or three complementary skill sets, not surprisingly, tend to be more successful than those with just one. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review written by three leadership development consultants says: “It’s pretty easy and straightforward to improve on a weakness; you can get steady, measurable results through linear development — that is, by learning and practicing basic techniques. But the data from our decades of work with tens of thousands of executives all over the world has shown us that developing strengths is very different. Doing more of what you already do well yields only incremental improvement. To get appreciably better at it, you have to work on complementary skills — what we call nonlinear development.”
Protect Yourself During Hard Times
This is more than just a passing catchphrase. Orienting employees to do other jobs, or elements of other jobs, means that companies always have a backup in place who can take on another’s responsibilities if necessary. “Incorporate cross-training” means that you can step up to the plate in an emergency, you can adapt and redefine your role within the organization, you can collaborate more effectively with colleagues when you know what their roles involve, and you forge stronger workplace relationships when you understand the demands placed on others.And if you go it alone and spend your evenings and weekends learning something new? You’re multiplying your options in the job market, creating greater job security, avoiding boredom, and investing in new areas of interest that may turn into serious strengths.It’s the same idea on the dating scene. Sure, some women will fall for the guy who is scarily good at orgasmic back rubs because he trained at an ashram in India, but the guy who can give a decent massage, cook an impressive meal, speak another language, and plan unexpected weekends away almost always has an advantage.Bottom line: With career cross-training, you’ll have the baseline fitness to compete effectively in any game.
How Do I Start?
Look into training offered by your company, and consider areas you might have overlooked before. Managers are now being told that cross-training people in different aspects of the company is a great way to cross-fertilize between departments and across regions. This gives the company the competitive edge when organizations are forced to cut back on manpower.Does your organization offer leadership training, IT instruction, financial tuition, or money for outside evening classes? Is there any possibility of job rotation or shadowing? Could you volunteer to step in when supervisors or managers are absent?In your own time, there are myriad classes out there, no matter where you live. Sports, languages, the arts, and business courses are always offered outside of work hours. Pick something you’re interested in that in some way corresponds to what you do, sign up and let it be known in the office that you’re working on a new skill. Trust us, it will not go unnoticed.