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Musings on Multiskilling Staff

Updated on October 28, 2012

Today I spent my afternoon in the garden reading through a stack of articles and work papers while sipping on a glass of beautiful New Zealand Central Otago Pinot Noir from the Ana Hera label (more about the wine later). While I waded through most of the articles and papers, one found my interest.

It was an article by Stefan Thomke on “Mumbai’s Models of Service Excellence” based upon the dabbawala’s of Mumbai.


I watched a documentary on dabbawala’s a few years ago on Nat Geo and was interested in this business model. Basically a person picks up a dabbas (metal lunchbox) from a person’s house each day and delivers it to their place of work. In India most people prefer home cooking and their wife’s make it fresh in the morning for the dabbawala to collect at a certain time for delivery at lunchtime. For the average Indian this is much better quality and cheaper that buying their lunch.

The incredible fact is that this business is over 100 years old and has been organised in such a way that it has withstood the onslaught of time and change.


But what got me thinking was the concept of multiskilling. Dabbawala’s need to multiskill in order to be successful in their role. Likewise staff that are multiskilled are usually more effective, have longer tenure and give a business competitive advantage.

Thonke says:

“...cross training is one of the elements that allow successful retailers such as QuikTrip convenience stores, Mercadona and Traders Joes’s supermarkets, and Costco wholesale clubs to ‘not only invest heavily in store employees but also to have the lowest prices in their industries, solid financial performance, and better customer service than competitors.’”

This got me thinking. I have a new partner in our business that is keen on a single skilled, specialist workforce, whereas the power for his business and mine is to leverage the multiskilled staff for even deeper alignment to the core values of the brand, better customer service and overall lower costs.

My Experience in Multiskilling

I have already written an article on multiskilling, but my research and experience says that if you multiskill your staff across your portfolio of goods and services you will:

  • Increase staff tenure
  • Increase staff morale and motivation as a result
  • Be able to improve on your customer service. If a customer enjoys your brand experience and is buying one product, why wouldn’t you introduce other goods and services that are complementary and will save the customer time, money and effort?
  • It reduces your costs as you can leverage your talent pool to cope with call avalanches, increase foot traffic. It also reduces customer wait time
  • Reduce your prices as over heads are dramatically reduced

What Did I Learn?

In essence that multiskilling your staff is not only good for your people, but is even better for your customers and it will reduce your costs.

Initially I multiskilled purely for increasing staff tenure, a key KPI for me. However, the benefit is even deeper as it have helped me to engage better with my customers (voted #1 insurance company of the year) and it continues to help me reduce costs in my business leading to better pricing – all giving me competitive advantage.

The Wine

I can highly recommend the Ana Here Pinot Noir. New Zealand is renowned for their Sauvignon Blancs white wine, but in the Central Otago (last third of the South Island) region Pinot Noir is king. This wine is very smooth but with a mouthful of fruit. The flavours are cinnamon, mocha, cherry and plum with notes of the forest floor. According to the label this wine complements almost any dish or (as I did) is great on its own.

There are a host of NZ Pinot Noirs in the wine shops now, but expect this bottle to be under $20. Enjoy!


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