Training staff members is often a challenge in a veterinary practice, for many reasons.
Firstly, hiring and training is expensive and like any expensive investment, it needs to have value. Secondly, we have a huge problem in our industry with “sink or swim” style training.
Let’s face it, you are training a new staff member because you are short-staffed for whatever reason. Someone quit, retired, moved, or perhaps you’re fortunate to have grown your practice and you simply need more hands.
Whatever the case, when you are busy and short-handed, taking the time to properly train someone while dealing with the demands of daily practice can be a real juggling act. While it is certainly understandable as we have all felt that strain, it isn’t really excusable. Poor training, or the absence of any training, is a costly mistake and only sets people up to fail. Click To Tweet
How do we train successfully when short-staffed?
So how do we solve this problem? Well, not much will solve the “short-staffed while training” problem. I usually try to readjust my schedule and offer a little overtime to those who are willing to work it while we train someone new. Generally speaking, the industry attitude toward allowing staff to work overtime tends to be negative, because “if you have staff working overtime to cover your needs, you need more staff”.
True, but I am more than willing to pay my staff a little extra if any of them want a few additional hours to help us get through the short-staffed time and get the new person trained properly. (That’s my personal opinion and I know not everyone shares it.) It’s also important to never mandate overtime in a scenario like this—or ever in my opinion.It’s crucial that we find a way to train new employees thoroughly so that they have the best chance to succeed and the practice has the best possible opportunity to add a confident, productive and happy team member. Click To Tweet
What is the solution?
Phase training to the rescue
Several years ago, I was at a local conference and had an in-depth discussion about training techniques with another practice manager. She had switched to phase training the year before and had nothing but positive feedback.
To ensure that we were covering all bases at my practice —and not overwhelming new team members with the extraordinary amount of information that one needs to know to work in ANY position in a veterinary clinic—I decided to take on phase training.
My peer was kind enough to send me her training forms and I tweaked them to work for my clinic. I wish I could take credit for the outstanding format, but I was fortunate enough to have obtained it from a very talented manager.
I made the switch to phase training as the standard training protocol and have never looked back. Honestly, I wish I had done it sooner.
How does phase training work?
So, what is phase training and why does it work so well? Phase training requires that trainees attain and successfully demonstrate skills before moving on to training in new skills. It’s a simple concept of step-by-step training in a very organized fashion.
In an industry where we have so much to learn, we need to build the basics before we can jump to more complex tasks and skills. It is unfair to overload a new person with a million tasks that have no apparent order (even though they may seem to have order to us) and expect them to successfully retain what they’ve learned.
Phase training is definitely not a new concept as many industries use it. In fact, I am pretty sure that even the army uses a version of phase training. Why? Because it yields good results.
New employees are broken in slowly and warmed up to the many tasks that await them. They master small skills like clinic housekeeping, scheduling appointments and restocking before they are discussing complicated treatments and recommendations with clients. They have the chance to become consistent and proficient instead of half-learning skills and never really mastering them.
This style of documented, check-the-box training also helps ensure that information and skills aren’t missed—after all, there is a lot to cover! Yes, it takes more time, but the result is a solidly trained, confident team member.
Phase training is also a good tool to help managers observe what kind of learners and communicators their new employees are.
How to implement phase training in your practice
How do you get started with phase training? Start simple and decide how many phases you want. I wouldn’t recommend more than 5; we don’t want to get too complicated!
The first phase should be simple, and it should be completed on orientation day. It should include tasks like “review handbook, review parking, review uniforms, clinic tour, introduction to staff, mandatory HR paperwork, etc.”
Be sure to provide the job description and definitely review and provide copies of your phase training protocol so your new employee knows what to expect.
The next phase might contain simple tasks like observing each department for a few hours, restocking and cleaning. Simple phases like this should last only a few days.
Once the new team member starts to get a little more comfortable and familiar with the other employees and the clinic, you can move them into a longer, more complicated phase that includes actual participatory tasks like drawing up vaccines, reviewing flea/tick products and basic restraint.
It’s really up to you how you want to set up phases. As long as you go from simple to more complex, you’ve got the concept.
Some phase training guidelines
A few things to remember:
- Keep it simple and don’t create too many phases.
- Set a time limit for completion of each phase.
- Make sure you provide an area on your training checklists for your trainer to sign off and date each task when completed.
- A manager or team leader should sit with and review each phase with the new employee at the completion of the phase. This opens up the opportunity for dialogue and a chance to address any questions or concerns, which of course should be documented.
- If you and the employee both feel that the phase has been successfully completed, you both sign off and move on to the next phase. On completion of the final phase, the employee is officially released to work individually.
Is it time to update your training protocol?
So, if it’s been awhile since you have updated your on-boarding protocol, consider trying phase training. This isn’t a project you have to do alone either, you can enlist the help of your teams. Ask them to list the tasks they do every day as part of their jobs and then go from there.
It seems like a daunting undertaking to start, but you’ll be grateful you made the change when you see the results!
Meg Oliver is the practice manager at a three-doctor, small animal and exotics practice in Syracuse, New York. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.