• Jackie Schletter

Sink or Swim? Prepare Your New Hires

This headline seems so obvious but many veterinary hospitals still do not take training seriously.

I have heard many responses when I ask about a practice's training program. Most often it seems that there isn't a training program but the owner or manager knows one needs to be implemented. We know we need to train, so what is stopping so many of us? Here are a few of my most encountered reasons:

1. Time.

Veterinary hospital employees tend to wear many hats in a day, and for better or worse our industry is OK with this. Doctors want to get rooms completed, surgery done, treatments administered. It often seems that it is easier to ask the veteran staff even though the new hire would benefit from performing the task under supervision.

A common scenario is a practice hiring for a technician position. A new hire is given a start date, and the now short staffed team is counting the minutes until the new person can come to work and begin to lessen the burden! With no training program in place, or not adhering to the program that exists, it may just be a matter of time before the new hire gives notice. There is a reason staff turnover is so prevalent in veterinary medicine. I think lack of training leads the list.

True story. Upon placing an ad for a new staff member a veterinarian said to me, "He/She needs to be able to do everything right away. We don't have time to train." Please remember this:

Even a highly skilled new hire with years of experience needs to be trained. They do not know your practice, protocols, culture, or clients. They may not know your management software, reference laboratory, wellness plans ... the list goes on and on. Show your new hire you care and invest in their practice education.

2. A Structured Program

Training doesn't have to be fancy or pages and pages of material. A great way to start is by creating a checklist of primary functions your team must master. Next, add sub-content to those primary functions. Look at your new sub-content and break it down ... so on and so on. In a short time you will have created a checklist that is specific to your practice and your needs. Be sure the trainers and trainees continue to amend the checklist so it stays current.

An excel spreadsheet will suffice. Give it three columns ... Trained, Performed, Mastered. Trained means a task was reviewed, Performed means the employee completed the task, Mastered means the employee can teach the task. Boom! You have a training program.

3. The Discipline Not to Rush Your Trainee

Have you ever read Glassdoor comments? These are reviews that employees leave for companies they have worked for. Some I know for a fact are downright revenge posts because I was on site to see this employee's poor work ethic and agreed with their termination. However, there are very accurate and honest complaints too. We must consider that sometimes we do not set our new hires up for success.

Your new hire should be attached to a trainer for at least 30 days and never work unsupervised. I say at least 30 days! Base this timeframe on the complexity and the newness of the tasks to the employee. I know this is difficult to do, you need that person in the exam room taking a patient history and snapping tests!! I promise you, something will get missed if you do not give your trainee the benefit of multiple weeks of encountering different scenarios in your practice with a trainer at their side. Complete training takes months - I'm talking 30 days never working alone.

Quick example:

Recently a trainee on-boarded at a practice. She is quick, smart, efficient and has past experience but it's been a few years. A teammate noticed the color of the disinfectant in the spray bottles was darker than normal. The new hire had been left alone to make mop water and refill the spray bottles, but had no instruction as to how it was done. New hires that are quick learners still need instruction.

Though the training called for a month with a buddy, she was left alone after a week, and was even sent into exam rooms to take history and discuss practice recommendations. How could she speak to the practice's culture, talk about puppy and kitten recommendations, a canine annual vs. a senior annual - the list goes on and on, after one week?? She made mistakes simply because she was doing the best she could, going off of what she had learned in the past. She was trying to enter invoice charges and was asking anyone walking by to help. Of course they helped, but not only was she keeping others from their work flow, she wasn't absorbing. She was just 'getting it done'.

Is this what you want for your clients and your employees?

4. Choosing the Wrong Trainer

Delegating a trainer is a serious choice. Often times the designated trainer is the longest employed, not the best teacher. Choose a team member that has mastered all of the skills that need to be trained, is patient and enjoys teaching.

Perhaps most importantly, set expectations with your team and the doctors that the new hire will not be working alone for at least a month. This may slow you down. You may ask your team to work overtime while the new hire learns. Tell your clients if you're behind that you appreciate their patience while your team trains a new teammate. Be willing to make small sacrifices to start your newbie out on the right path.

5. Deferring to Veterans for Speed

Please do not turn to your most seasoned technician or receptionist because you need something done quickly unless the situation is a true emergency. Not only can this overwhelm your already busy long term staff, you are subtly telling your new hire that you don't have time for their learning curve. I can't say this enough:

Tell your client you are training a new hire! Introduce the new hire. Let your client know you're moving as efficiently as you can but it is important for new staff to learn. It will be a very rare bird of a client that will get nasty or impatient with you.

By taking the above approach the stress relief for all will be instant and impactful. Don't rush, don't worry. Most importantly you are showing your new hire you care about their training, and you are setting a stage that will allow that person to work without pressure. Your trainee may not get it right, but you allowed them the opportunity and started building their foundation of knowledge from the get-go. Happy Training!

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