Telling Is Not Teaching: Essential Considerations In Training Office Staff

Lynn Homisak PRT

If you intend to have a quality, well-trained, competent staff, do not depend on luck. If you haven’t yet discovered this, telling staff how to do something is no substitute for teaching them.

Proper training involves a number of specific steps, none of which include shortcuts. This powerful simple proverb can lay the groundwork: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I will understand.” However, because everyone learns differently (some through auditory learning, some through visual learning and still others through kinesthesia or touch), we can achieve the greatest impact by tapping into all three learning styles.

Start by demonstrating what you are trying to teach (visual) and explain to staff why doing it this way is important (auditory). When clarifying your preferred technique, do not assume your staff knows what you mean. They are not mind-readers. Spell things out and insist they take notes for their own future reference, and to help them remember. Then encourage questions. If staff members don’t have any questions, ask some questions and listen for the accuracy of their response. Provide staff with hands-on trial time (kinesthetic) under your direct guidance while also having staff describe procedural steps aloud to ensure that they understand.

If you’re not satisfied with your staff’s performance, they need to repeat the activity. Only when the staff achieves a successful outcome should you permit staff to participate in patient care. This reliable training approach gives your staff the opportunity to succeed and gives you the confidence that they are truly qualified to care for your patients.

Regardless of what position you hired them for, insist that new staff shadow you for a week or two to learn your specific protocols, what kinds of questions your patients ask, how you respond to those questions, what instruments you reach for, what products you recommend, how to review patient instructions, etc. These “live” observations give new front and back office employees a better understanding of how you want the practice to function. If you have a “key” assistant, utilize his or her skills and experience along with (not instead of) the time you spend with your new staff.

Established staffers may be very proficient at what they do but they may not be the best teachers. After your initial training sessions for new employees, develop (and participate in) a monthly, ongoing in-house training program for all staff. Typically, doctors do not follow their staff around to see how well they perform their duties. For this reason, offering the occasional refresher course allows you to see them in action and ensure that their technique still meets or exceeds the quality your practice offers. There are many supportive learning tools to introduce into your training program. For example, these tools could include manuals, videos, PowerPoint presentations, educational seminars, etc. However, none are replacements for your valuable, one-on-one time with staff.

It is essential that you understand cutting back on training time will not increase productivity (although it will likely increase your frustration). Not training your staff properly right from the start is just setting them up for failure. They want and need to be clear about your expectations. Employees without personal guidance and direction will end up doing a task the way they think they should do it, not the way you expect them to do it. As a result, you wind up with disappointing outcomes and less than adequate service from the handling of equipment to the handling of your patients.

Remember that compliments and approval go a long way, and genuine praise for good behavior encourages repeat good behavior. It is so easy for an employer to point out what employees do wrong. How about catching them doing something right for a change … and telling them?


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