Stretch opportunities to grow your staff

source-image
Aug 01, 2004

The daily rigors of working in a veterinary hospital can be challenging. How are you ever going to find the time to train and develop your staff while meeting the endless needs of your clients and patients? The truth is, you can't afford to take a passive approach to staff training, you must be proactive and vigilant if you want your practice team to succeed in today's market.

Most practices forget that training is for everyone, not just new hires during their introductory period. Studies have estimated that 50 percent of an employee's knowledge base is obsolete in three to five years. That means that a staff member must "refresh" at least 10-15 percent of his or her knowledge each year just to stay current. This creates a huge need for structured training if a practice wants to continue to practice progressive medicine and provide its clients with exceptional service and value.

In conflict with this mission, is the process that many practice owners and managers use to "award" educational opportunities to staff members. Many practices reward their best performing long-term staff members with opportunities to attend continuing education programs. They theorize that this key staff person has "earned" this opportunity and that it is a safe investment given his or her long-term service to the practice. In reality, this is a poor approach to training, which often leads to poor results.

As long as the weakest link Remember, "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link." That means that practices must work to educate the entire staff. Raising the skill level of the poorest performer is the key to improving the practice. If all of your team members were as skilled as your best performer, your practice would be more successful. Instead, by rewarding educational opportunities to the best performer, you are widening the gap between the best and least skilled team member. By rewarding the best performer with more education, you actually discourage him or her from sharing knowledge and skills with teammates. Being the best gives the staff member recognition, opportunities and job security. Thus, the gap between the best and worst performer only widens. In order for a practice to succeed, all staff members must have equal access to education and training opportunities. The best performing staff members must be actively engaged in the development of all of the practice team members.

Here are some simple tips to help develop the potential in all of your practice team members:

  • Change the practice value system to reward teaching skills and sharing of knowledge. This should become a significant component in employee performance reviews and/or performance planning. Teammates that share with others should be recognized and rewarded.
  • The Internet is a greatly underutilized resource. There are always training programs available for all team members. Do not limit yourself to veterinary specific offerings. There are lots of general business courses available on subjects ranging from customer service to inventory management.
  • Staff and/or department meetings should take place on a regularly scheduled basis. Training time should always be a significant part of each of these meetings. Topics and speakers should rotate through the entire practice team and not be the sole responsibility of the veterinarians or the manager. Solicit a six-month list of topics and speakers at your next meeting.
  • Having written standards is the backbone of any training plan. Team members should develop a table of contents for a procedure manual and each member should be assigned several procedures that they will need to write out for the manual. Do not assign easy topics that the recipient already performs flawlessly. Instead, challenge participants to actively learn new procedures well enough to write the standard for others.
  • Few practice leaders actively work to develop management skills with their staffs. Involve your staff in team hiring, team performance planning and rotate jobs such as scheduling, running meetings and problem solving.

If you are too busy stamping out fires to get a training program off the ground, delegate it to someone else. Training improves customer service, patient care, staff retention, staff morale and practice profitability.