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Is Cross Training Hurting Your Practice?
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

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On the surface, cross training seems like a great idea. Everyone on the team can step in and help out whenever needed, and they’re more than happy to do so. Yes, this seems like a great system – but unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

For cross training to be effective, you need to establish certain protocols. When I ask dentists about these protocols and the training that took place to prepare team members to step in when needed, the answers I get are typically long on generalities and short on specifics. They think team members just instinctively know what needs to be done and will do it. While that would be nice, it just isn’t realistic.

Even if team members have been with your practice for a long time, chances are they don’t automatically know how to perform other team members’ tasks. Let’s say your assistant, Susan, has worked at your practice for three years. Yes, she’s good at her job and is always willing to help when she can, but that doesn’t mean she understands the specifics of scheduling, is prepared to properly handle patient phone calls, or knows how to collect from patients. She needs to be trained to effectively handle these duties.

Sure, your business manager probably spent 10 or 15 minutes quickly going over a few tasks with Susan just in case she ever needed to help out. This is not what I would consider training and is not nearly enough to make Susan confident and effective if she ever does need to step in for the office manager. The truth is, while this is a common approach to “cross training,” it typically causes more problems than it solves.

With this system, no one is held accountable. If everyone on the staff is expected to collect from patients, who is responsible when revenues are down? If the schedule is a mess, leaving the doctor running from patient to patient at a break neck speed and still not meeting daily production goals, whose job is it to fix the problem? Bottom line: When everyone has their hands in everything, no one is accountable for anything. This leads to confusion and can damage your practice.

That’s why it’s so important to create results oriented job descriptions with clearly defined performance measurements before you even think about cross training. But if you’re like most dentists, the thought of creating job descriptions makes you cringe. You think they’re a waste of time, but trust me, they’re not. They give your team members a roadmap to success while also holding them accountable for specific systems and tasks.

Job descriptions leave no question about who’s responsible for what. Team members know which systems they’re accountable for, so instead of just being expected to fill in when needed, they have the opportunity to take ownership and really excel in their role. They’ll no longer just focus on getting the job done. Instead, they’ll strive to meet and exceed performance measurements. They’ll be happier and more productive, and that means a more robust bottom line for your practice.

So what should a job description include? The job title, a summary of the position and a list of the position’s responsibilities and duties. I suggest including individual performance goals that complement practice goals, such as maximizing the hygiene schedule, increasing collection ratio, growing case acceptance and improving accounts receivables.

It’s also important to list standards for measuring results. If you expect the front desk staff to schedule to meet specific production goals, for example, they not only need to know what those goals are, they also need a strategy and the necessary training to achieve those goals. Give them the tools and guidance they need and they’ll be much more likely to experience success.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying team members shouldn’t be able to help when necessary. They absolutely should step in when someone is out sick or on vacation. Just remember your team members won’t automatically know what to do, and if you throw new tasks at them without proper training, it will only create stress and cause problems in your practice.

To be effective, team members should be properly trained to take on tasks they don’t typically perform – and 10 to 15 minutes on the fly just isn’t enough. Developing protocols and providing this training will help ensure tasks are completed properly and that your practice continues to run smoothly even when someone is out of the office.

Next week: How to effectively cross train your team

For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side

Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
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