By Danny Clarke, OD,
and Joely Anderson
Oct. 12, 2016
Patients stay with a well-run practice where doctor and staff deliver an outstanding experience. Develop a system of continuous training to keep a great team great.
SET UP LEARNING CHECKLIST. Create a spreadsheet of items/areas to be trained, listed in chronological order. When each new topic is introduced, both the trainer and the trainee should initial that section of the checklist when proficiency is achieved.
CHECK PROGRESS. Conduct monthly meetings between the new hire and the practice, or office, manager, and use learning tools, like quizzes, to reinforce the level of the trainee’s comprehension and proficiency.
COMMIT TO CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT. Continually thrive for self-improvement and commit time each week for a meeting which focuses on how each staff member can improve their own performance, as well as that of the practice.
Recruiting the right employees only takes you halfway to delivering high-quality care to patients. The other half of the challenge is training those employees. My practice takes a systematic, consistent approach to ensuring staff is prepared to deliver service to patients, and to help grow the practice.
In addition to spending about $6,000 per year on hard staff training costs (materials, testing fees, travel, seminars/meetings, meals associated with training, etc.), in our practice of 22 team members, we spend an immeasurable amount of time to training. Although we have not calculated the soft costs (down time for the trainers and ramp-up time for new employees) associated with training new team members, as well as ongoing training for all team members, I’m sure the amount would be very high.
But, I would argue that our return on investment is also very high. We can measure its effectiveness in the quality of our team that performs to the best of its ability every day. Our patients constantly remark on the outstanding customer service our team delivers. They trust our team, the entire team – not just our doctors – to provide them with excellent care and education. Those patients reward that trust by referring their friends and family to us!
Give Employees & Trainer a Learning Checklist
We assign each new employee a trainer from within their department who excels at teaching and training. The team lead for the department is sometimes the trainer, but in our practice the owners/doctors and practice manager are never directly involved in the day-to-day training of new employees. The first piece of training material the new employee is given is a shared reference between the new hire and the trainer. It is a spreadsheet of items/areas to be trained, listed in chronological order, to organize the learning track.
When each new topic is introduced, both the trainer and the trainee initial the particular section of training that has begun. They each have to re-initial when they both feel it has been sufficiently trained/learned and they are ready to move on to the next subject. This helps to reduce instances of “I was never told that,” and it gives the trainee a chance to express that they may need the pace to be adjusted, or that they are having a difficult time with a particular training module.
We have all of our office processes, including staff training, typed up in a shared document on our server that everyone in the practice can access. It is searchable so that anyone can type in keywords to pull up a process within seconds if they’re unsure what to do. Training processes are reviewed and revised by our department managers regularly.
A few of the 22 team members at Clarke EyeCare Center in Wichita Falls, Texas. Dr. Clarke says committing to staff training pays off in a staff that can deliver care patients appreciate enough to refer others to the practice to experience.
Start With HIPAA Training
The first step of the training process is HIPAA training with our compliance officer. After that’s complete, the applicant shadows an appointed person in the department for which they were hired to experience first hand the culture/patient experience they are expected to provide. How and when we say things are equally as important as what we say. The tasks of the job can and will be learned in time, but the exemplary attitude is our first priority of training.
Whole Team Works Together to Ready New Employee
Although we have a designated person to perform the initial training, the entire team works together to integrate the trainee into the culture of our practice by making sure that person knows our goal is for their experience to be a positive one. Not only do we believe they can succeed, but that we will all do everything we can to help them transition through the learning process successfully. They need to feel it’s a safe place to ask questions and learn from everyone.
We have used vendors to assist in training, in-person training (at regional meetings), and online training resources, such as training modules on the AOA’s web site, but we mainly rely on our people, our best resource, to train our other team members.
Use a Trial Period Before Making Hire Permanent
We hire most of our employees through a temp-to-hire agency. In using their services, the trainee is the employee of the staffing agency for a period of 90 days. This gives us time to objectively decide if the trainee is learning and retaining the knowledge at a good pace, is reflecting our core values and team culture effectively, and if we’re going to end the probationary term by hiring them permanently. This 90-day term is a time for constant communication of our very clear expectations and frequent reviews of how they are or are not progressing.
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Set Progress Check-In Points
We have check-in meetings between the trainer and the practice manager each month (more if needed) to keep apprised of the trainee’s progress.
There are also meetings, as needed, with the manager, trainer and trainee to get the potential new employee used to our constant communication and to talk about not only corrective measures, but also to discuss the areas where they are excelling. We want them to begin to feel comfortable with our leadership team at all levels, not just within their department.
We have developed several written processes and learning tools, such as quizzes, to reinforce the level of the trainee’s comprehension of a certain topic.
Commit to Continual Improvement
Many practices teach the basic duties initially and then turn the employee loose to perform those duties, never to be re-evaluated again. We do not want this to be a pitfall for us. One of our core values is to be continually thriving for self-improvement so we commit time each week for our team members to develop. Every Monday morning our entire office meets from 8:15-9 a.m. for our Great Game of Business huddle where we communicate, strategize and problem-solve the big picture together. We then break into our department meetings from 9-10 a.m. This time is also spent communicating, strategizing and problem solving, but focused on each employee’s particular department. The goal is to do what we do tomorrow better than how we did it today. We use this time for training and also for quarterly and/or semi-annual reviews of our most basic duties such as optical dispensing, adjustments, pre-testing, scheduling, and more.
We encourage our employees to seek certification in their respective departments, to increase their knowledge and engagement in an effort to enhance patient care. Not only do they earn a raise by doing so, but the practice pays 100 percent for learning materials, testing fees and annual dues for accredited affiliations such as ABO certifications for our opticians, coding specialists for our insurance billers/coders and CPO/CPOA/CPOT certification for our techs.
Danny Clarke, OD, owns Clarke EyeCare Center in Wichita Falls, Texas, which received an All-Star award by The Great Game of Business. The practicerecently was named the Family-Owned Business of the Year for the SBA Dallas/Ft. Worth district ofTexas. Dr. Clarke is also the President of MODUS Practice in Motion, which offers open-book management training to optometric practices. To contact him: email@example.com