Imagine this scenario: A company’s controller is hospitalized for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and she’s the only person inside the company who knows how its accounting and payroll software works. She also is the only person with check signing authority, besides the owner, who is in lockdown at his second home out of state. Meanwhile, payroll needs to be processed soon and unpaid bills are piling up.
Of course the health of the controller is what’s most important, but this situation also highlights the importance of cross-training your staff to handle critical tasks. Doing so offers numerous benefits that generally outweigh the investment in the time it takes to get employees up to speed.
Whether due to illness, resignation, vacation or family leave, accounting personnel may sometimes be unavailable to perform their job duties. The most obvious benefit to cross-training is having a knowledgeable, flexible staff who can rise to the occasion when a staff member is out.
Another benefit is that cross-training nurtures a team-oriented environment. If a staff member has a vested interest in the jobs of others, he or she likely will better understand the department’s overall business processes — and this, ultimately, both improves productivity and encourages collaboration.
Cross-training also facilitates internal promotions because employees will already know the challenges of, and skills needed for, an open position. In addition, cross-trained employees are generally better-rounded and feel more useful.
Additionally, the accounting department is at high risk for fraud, especially payment tampering and billing scams, according to the 2020 Report to the Nations by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). If employees are familiar with each other’s duties and take over when a co-worker calls in sick or takes vacation, it creates a system of checks and balances that may help deter dishonest behaviors. Cross-training, plus mandatory vacation policies and regular job rotation, equals strong internal controls in the accounting department.
How to cross-train?
The best way to cross-train is usually to have employees take turns at each other’s jobs. The learning itself need not be overly in-depth. Just knowing the basic, everyday duties of a co-worker’s position can help tremendously in the event of a lengthy or unexpected absence.
Whether personnel switch duties for one day or one week, they’ll be better prepared to take over important responsibilities when the time arises. Also, encourage your CFO and controller to informally “reverse-train” within the department. This will prepare them to fill in or train others in the event of an unexpected employee loss or absence.
When to start?
Regardless of when your accounting team returns to the office, get started with cross-training now — much training can be done virtually if necessary. Then make it an ongoing process.