Staff training programs might prove the best investment you make all year, writes John Burfitt.
It’s a tale often told by Danish leadership coach Peter Baeklund in his motivational talks, and is regularly repeated as an inspiring mantra about the value of effective training in the workplace.
In Bakelund’s story, a CFO says to the CEO, “What happens if we invest in developing people and they leave us?”
And the CEO responds, “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”
Yolanda Gerges of Identity Consulting, who has worked as a trainer within the veterinary industry for over a decade, also adopts the philosophy.
She has a tale of her own about practice owners when they claim they don’t have the time or finances to invest in training.
“My response is, ‘So you don’t have the money for training, but you do have the funds to maintain untrained people on a long-term basis?’” Gerges says.
“It’s a matter of making the managers take another look at training and what it can add to the business and the eventual bottom line.”
Making a start
The first thing any company needs with a training policy is to actually have one in place. Melbourne training consultant Louise Davis admits she is always surprised by the number of medical practice clients who want the best out of their teams, but are unsure how to go about developing a program to deliver results.
“Before any training takes place, the practice manager needs to step back and ask these questions: how am I engaging with my staff members, what motivates them in their work and how well do I know them as a person and an employee?” Davis says.
“Then, based on that, you have to decide what the things are they need in order to do their job better. It has to be a two-way conversation where you get to know your staff and know their capabilities, rather than just sending them off for a training session you hope will be the solution to everything.
“You need to do some work first in setting goals. If you are getting frustrated with staff performance, there needs to be better quality to the conversations you are having.”
With the arrival of each financial year should also come an overall strategy, with plans for what the business will achieve. From those plans, goals for the staff to achieve them should be clearly identified.
“If training is needed to help people achieve those goals, then that is a good starting point,” Cameron Young, business manager of Peninsula Vetcare, says.
“There must be a clear purpose to the training. You have to consider just how effective your business is going to be if you are not training the team in the areas they most need direction.”
Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach with generic training, this is the time to be as specific as possible about goals and outcomes.
“You want any success the team achieves to be linked back to your core business strategy,” Young adds. “This is why you need to know where you are heading, and how you want to get there by the training you decide on.”
For practitioners working inside the consulting room and surgery, ongoing technical training must be a priority to keep up to date with industry standards.
“This is about giving team members adequate time to attend training sessions, then the time to put into practice what they have learned,” Danielle Bliim, Training Manager for SASH vets in Sydney, says.
“The team needs the encouragement to move forward, improve their skills and any knowledge they can learn from training is paramount.”
Adds Young, “There’s been so much development in new medications, new equipment and new procedures, and at a rapidly increasing rate. You have to make time for your staff to take on those new skills.”
Having a good knowledge of the current capabilities of the team, as well as their ability to interpret and adopt new processes, is also an essential in deciding on which training programs should be developed, and how they should be offered.
“Programs may need to be altered depending on how the team members absorb content, as expecting everyone to learn at the same speed is unrealistic,” Bliim says.
It is the after-training guidance which can be just as important as anything learned within a session, and where the greatest improvements can take place. “This is why guidance is essential, as learning new skills comes with a level of uncertainty, so assurance and encouragement is always required,” she adds.
Front of house
While it is the veterinary skills of a practitioner that builds the reputation of a practice, it can often be the way clients are managed that can make or break a business.
“The biggest angst I hear from practice staff is they don’t know how to manage the client-patient issues effectively from a communication perspective, or they don’t feel armed with good problem-solving skills,” Gerges reveals.
“A lot of it comes down to emotional intelligence, which is about how much awareness that person has about themselves and how their behaviour impacts on others.”
Emotional intelligence has become a key part of practice training for Gerges and Louise Davis, and both claim the more confident a staff member feels in their job, the better they are when dealing with a client.
“Technical skills are essential, but it is the soft skills of dealing with clients that can be the glue that holds the practice together,” Davis says. “If a staff member feels more motivated and engaged in what they are doing, it is going to show in the client experience they offer.”
Adds Gerges, “When you have a team that communicates well, you will have a high-performance team who will take responsibility for their performance and help you grow the practice.”
The success of good training procedures is not only about the effectiveness of the trainer or the length of the sessions. It is more about about how the learnings have been understood and then implemented into the workings of the practice.
“You identify that through regular monitoring of progress, so you know what your team are doing and the results they are achieving with their new methods,” SASH’s Danielle Bliim says.
Which is why the most important conversations about training are the ones that take place once a program has concluded. “There is this expectation that once people come back from training, everything will be different, but it will only be if you engage with the team and measure how they are going,” Davis says.
“Have that conversation on a weekly basis. The critical thing is to have them show you what they have learned, what they understood and importantly, how they put it into action.”