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5.23.08 Issue #324 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Make the Most of Effective Cross-Training
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Many dentists like to talk about how their teams are “cross-trained.” One of their favorite lines is, “Everyone just steps in and does what needs to be done.” They are convinced that employees who have been around for a while are cross-trained because with a little longevity in the practice (say a few months) they’ve surely learned by osmosis how to step in and take care of things, like collections, scheduling, patient phone calls, etc. You know—those little things that are at the heart of your management systems.

Unfortunately, although the dentist’s concept of cross-training sounds really great, it’s the stuff fairy tales are made of and it simply doesn’t work effectively in the real world. Why? Because when everyone is expected to do everything no one is truly accountable for anything. And how could they be?

Don’t get me wrong; certainly cross-training, when implemented correctly, can be tremendously effective. There are fundamental benefits to preparing staff to step in when an employee is sick or on vacation, or when a vacancy occurs. It also helps employees gain a clearer understanding of the practice big picture, and enables them to understand how their duties influence the practice as a whole. Not to mention the fact that it’s very easy to criticize co-workers until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

However, you cannot begin to even expect staff to step in and just “help out” when necessary until you’ve established a clear delineation of duties, until you’ve designated a specific person to be responsible for specific systems and until you’ve trained them first!

For example, let’s say your business employee Emily’s newly crafted job description (we talked about those last week) dictates that she is responsible for cash flow management, including processing insurance, collecting from patients, treatment financing, financial presentations, etc. She’s also responsible for developing a telephone protocol, new patient protocol, measuring hygiene production/hygiene days needed, etc.

But just because the responsibilities have been spelled out in a job description doesn’t mean that Emily is prepared to effectively carry them out. In fact, without the proper training and tools, this employee—as bright, energetic and talented as she might be—is no match for inadequate training. As I’ve said multiple times before, the single biggest contributor to practice inefficiency and mismanagement is a poorly trained team. In particular, the lack of instruction provided to business staff costs dentists thousands upon thousands of dollars. And given the current state of the economy, you really don’t want to be throwing money away.

In today’s dental marketplace, there’s simply no excuse for lack of training. A wide variety of affordable educational options are available. At a minimum, invest in job-specific instruction to ensure that staff is prepared to carry out their duties efficiently and effectively. Not only is this essential to the success of your practice, it is an investment in long-term team loyalty.

Once key staff is professionally trained, then you are prepared to make ongoing internal training a part of your practice culture. Set aside time during your monthly two-hour staff meeting to provide instruction and educate each other on specific systems.

For example, once your business employee has been trained to establish telephone protocols, put her on the staff meeting agenda to teach the entire staff proper telephone techniques. Have your business manager provide a lesson in scheduling to meet production goals and your hygienist discuss the finer points of building lasting patient relationships. Finally, the doctor and assistant can train the staff on how to answer common questions about a new procedure being offered.

Cross-training can be used effectively in the dental practice but to ensure it is successful, insist that a foundation of thorough and professional training take place first.

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