Gerald A. Eisenstatt, OD, MBA
If you want to offerthe best patient service, training never stops.
In our office training isn’t a luxury, it’s key to our survival. We train every employee–first in our practice culture, second in their particular job. Further, we cross-train and we encourage and support continued training. Training is our way of life.
Make Training Pay Off: Action Points
Root out poor staff. They are a practice killer. They drive away patients forever, and you don’t know why.
Train universally: Each and every staff member needs to be trained in your way of practice–or your patients will walk out the door and never come back. They simply have too many other options touting low prices, high service and great products.
Train continually: No one knows all. Encourage (and support) continued training for veteran staff.
One of the most rewarding and yet frustrating aspects of managing a modern vision care practice is the training and development of staff. The importance of a well trained friendly staff cannot be over emphasized.Many times a current or potential employee with good communication skills and a friendly smile is more valuable than a person with 20+ years of experience in the optical field. With staff costs accounting for the second highest expense category in most practices, having a great staff is one of the easiest ways of increasing the quality of care and raising the awareness of the practice. This will translate into a more enjoyable workplace and more profitable business. Here is how my practice offers individualized training to employees to ensure our staff members have the skills they need to serve our patients.
Deliver a Tailored New Hire Program
Our training starts with a personalized orientation program that is conducted by the general office manager. This process usually lasts from a few days to a week, depending on the ability of the new staff member to grasp the complexity of the office. It may include telephone etiquette, computer software training, optometric terminology and many other aspects of working in the office. At some point, the new staff member must be released into the flow of the office and continue to learn as they go along. Other team members provide assistance with training, but the general office manager is still very much involved in the ongoing training.
Most of our employees have specific job descriptions, such as receptionist, optometric assistant, optician, contact lens technician and insurance coordinator. We also have a group of managers that oversee all operations of the practice.We delegate a significant amount of patient care to the technicians and the doctors will personally train the optometric assistants to meet their individual work habits. But in any small business, the ability to have one employee fill in for another is very important. We, therefore, do cross-train employees to fill in when needed. It ensures a smooth and efficient work environment when the office is in need of additional help in a particular area.
Enact a Probationary Period
Our probationary period for a new employee is three months. During that time, the new staff member is evaluated to ensure they are able to perform the duties of the job description. One of the most important skills evaluated during this time is the ability of the employee to communicate with patients and fellow employees. An efficient staff needs to have individuals who have the ability to work together as a team. A friendly smile, a good telephone voice and demonstrating that they can be trusted in the workplace are skill-sets that must be evaluated during the initial three-month trial period.
Editor’s note: Be careful and check with your state employment laws. In some states, there is no probationary period for a new hire. If you hire them, they are hired. If you terminate them after three months, then unemployment rules kick in for them just like any other employee.
Supplement Formalized Training with On-the-Job Training
After the initial training provided by the general office manager, the current staff does provide on-the-job training. This training provided by current staff must be monitored carefully. It is important that any bad habits the current staff may possess are not passed on to the new impressionable employee. There are times when a new employee is instructed to work with a specific senior staff member who the doctors and managers trust and feel confident in their training abilities.
Printed Job Aids Also Help
We use a printed office manual which contains office policies, as well as job descriptions. Each job section also contains a written list of duties and expectations.
Create Formalized Employee Evaluations
Our general office manager performs yearly performance reviews for our staff members. We have a printed evaluation from that evaluates the employee’s ability to master their job description. Included in the evaluation form are communication skills, collaboration with fellow employees, quality of work, dependability and job knowledge. Goals are set at that meeting for the upcoming year. During the year, documentation is kept on any employee who had to be disciplined and in their ability to rectify the problem. Both positive and negative work related incidences are included in the yearly employee evaluation and influence the calculation of new compensation.
Enact Merit-Based Salary Increases Versus Cost-of-Living Adjustments
Recently, we changed to a merit-based salary increase program based on performance. The management staff and doctors will determine the salary increase range and then apply this merit increase to the employees based on their performance over the last year. We believe this system will inspire employees to strive for improved performance more than the system of automatic cost-of-living adjustments each year.
Encourage Employees to Attend Training Events
We pay for employees to attend outside seminars. The office seeks out and encourages attendance at these special events. Some seminars have included topics such as improving communication skills and working with others in the workplace. Most education provided in the office to the employees is supported by the ophthalmic vendors and includes new technology updates, ophthalmic lens seminars and contact lens training. Senior staff members also attend national and regional optometry meetings and vendor shows. If an employee does express interest in obtaining certification, we will help with financial assistance to that employee.
Create a High-Performing Staff: Action Plan
HIRE CONDITIONALLY. It is difficult to ensure a quality employee after a short hiring process, so implement a good evaluation and training period. Once it is decided that the individual is a “keeper” then you should move quickly to express your desire to retain the employee and offer appropriate compensation.
WHAT IS THE POINT HERE? KEEP COMMUNICATION OPEN? Always be willing to discuss staff issues with the new employee. In addition to comprehensive initial training, there will be a need for continued training to develop employees’ job-related skills including a personalized training plan for their specific job role, as well as on-the-job training and continuing education.
PUBLIC PRAISE, PRIVATE CRITICISM. Employees should be treated with respect and dignity, so praise good quality work in front of fellow employees, but take disciplinary actions in private. Employees want to experience the feeling they are needed, respected, that they improve the quality of care for the patient and that they are compensated fairly. Consider merit-based salary increases rather than cost-of-living adjustments.
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Gerald A. Eisenstatt, OD, MBA, is director, Hayes Center for Practice Excellence, at the Southern College of Optometry. Dr. Hayes also is the owner of his own independent practice, Memphis Family Vision in Memphis, Tenn. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org