By Susan Resnick, OD, FAAO, FSLS
May 12, 2021
You have just hired your next team member; one you selected based on personality, verbal and written communication skills, initiative and maybe prior experience. Your approach and protocols for training are now critical to the smooth integration of this new hire into your practice, both clinically and socially. Here are the key concepts that have helped my practice achieve successful training and long-term retention of valued administrative and technical staff.
Set an Encouraging Tone: Lifetime of Learning
It is important to recognize and communicate to your new staff member that training is not a limited and defined event. It is a continuous process that starts with learning basic skills, but also requires a lifetime commitment to ongoing development and education. It is best not to use the word “job,” but, rather, to refer to the individual’s “role” on the team. Emphasize that you are there to guide them in their professional development as they embark on this new career.
Having started my optometry career as a technician in my current practice, I still remember how overwhelmed I was for the first month or two. There seemed to be a never-ending amount of “stuff” I was expected to learn and do. There were days I left teary-eyed and down on myself, thinking, “Holy cow, I am an optometry student, and if I’m finding this stuff hard, how will I ever get through optometry school?” I obviously conquered the elements, but I have never forgotten those feelings and they still guide my approach to the training of new employees.
Indoctrinate Into Your Practice Culture
While you always want to encourage your team members to be free and creative thinkers, and to feel uninhibited about approaching you or their supervisor with concerns, it is important to “indoctrinate” them into your office culture. Culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact. In our practice, this means having a can-do attitude, having a willingness to jump in at any time to help a fellow team member, being as flexible as possible when coordinating work schedules, and to always treat one another with respect. We communicate these expectations immediately upon hiring.
Next, we ask that the new team member learn and be able to recite our mission statement. A mission statement is a formal summary of the aims and values of your organization. It is best to keep it to one sentence. Ours is: “To Be Your Trusted Source for Exceptional and Compassionate Vision and Eye Care.” In other words, the overarching message and guidance for professional behavior to our team is: always be warm and friendly while delivering exceptional service.
Be Organized: Carefully Track the Training Process
We aim to have all basic skills trained within the first three months, but this varies depending on the employee’s individual learning capacity and the time devoted to training. We keep an internal checklist of all the skills we need to teach, the order in which we will proceed and an expected date of accomplishment for each skill. We then give a clean copy to the trainee at the end of the first three months, asking them to indicate which tasks they feel totally proficient in and which they desire additional instruction in. The first week is always dedicated to just having our new staff member observe and take copious notes. We find it best for them to record what they feel is needed for their future reference, rather than give ready-made instructions.
Assign Dedicated Trainers
There are those who can do, but not necessarily teach. We have identified those among our experienced staff who have the best temperament and are most effective at communication, demonstration and exemplifying best practices. We try to have at least two staff members responsible for training. There is never only one best way to do things, and new learners benefit from seeing different and multiple approaches.
Other Articles to Explore
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Repetition is the key to any successful educational strategy. Remember when you were learning to drive? You may have read the manual five times, but it wasn’t until you were actually behind the wheel, stepping on the brake, starting the engine and releasing the emergency brake, over and over again that it became muscle memory. The same is true for all the skills we teach. We have found that dedicating the first 2-3 weeks to role-playing, and having our new team member practice repeatedly on staff, is the best way to get them started and comfortable before interacting with real patients. After that, we let them “take the wheel” and we become “back-seat drivers.”
In summary, adopt a training strategy that incorporates an organized, encouraging and consistent approach, and you will achieve success in developing your dream team!