10 tips to improve productivity and morale


National Report - Training: It's time consuming, some times costly, and it remains a constant frustration for most practice owners.

NATIONAL REPORT —Training: It's time consuming, some times costly, and it remains a constant frustration for most practice owners.

But, according to Dr. Nan Boss, owner of Best Friends Veterinary Center in Grafton, Wisc., the payoff in productivity and efficiency is well worth the investment in time and education.

"You will have better employees because you take the time to invest in them," says Boss, who has more than 20 staff members in the practice she bought in 1993. "They then feel empowered, and I feel like I get a good investment."

While there are many topics to consider, Boss sees the following as the top 10 tips for veterinarians to keep in mind when offering training.

1. Veterinarians need to remember that they can't teach everyone the same, she says. "People learn best in different ways," Boss says, noting she will send different employees to different seminars that are best for them.

2. You need to train on technical skills and communication skills, which are very different. "With communication skills, you have to make them practice," she says. "You can't just see it or read it. You have to do it."

3. People skills are a must. Only 15 percent of a business' success is due to technical skills, Boss says, noting the other 85 percent comes from good communication. All members of a staff —from the receptionists and office manager, veterinarians and assistants to the lab and kennel staff—must have good communication skills. "You may have a good person who is great with the lab work, but if they can't get along with people, they aren't going to succeed," she says.

4. All members need to know the underlying science in a practice. "They need to know it is more than just a sales pitch," she says, referring to assistants talking to a client about the newest heartworm pills or a receptionist answering a question about the best product to use to clean a pet's teeth.

"About half the population likes numbers and statistics, and the other half likes the story, so we teach them to share a story but also the statistics," Boss says, citing an example of an assistant veterinarian talking about a pet with cancer and the positive outcome he had while also sharing the statistics of a dog in that situation. "You have to appeal to both learning styles—the rational and the emotional because you never know which you will encounter."

5. Value statements are vital, Boss says. "You have to teach them to say something good about every new person they encounter or product they sell," she says. "Everything your staff talks to clients about, you have to teach them about." Boss will have staff members tell each other about items including treatments and products so they learn from each other. She developed and implemented a training program she calls Quizzes for new employees, now modeled by other veterinarian practices nationally.

"I have very smart employees because they teach each other and everyone contributes," she says.

6. Spending time with employees and making them feel like important members of the team is also key. "Good employees want to learn from each other—it's bonding. There is less front-to-back conflict when you have employees who talk to each other," she says. Boss is referring to an office setting where areas of responsibility are divided, e.g. front-office staff, medical staff and kennel staff.

At her practice, the staff has meetings every Friday as well as a monthly mandatory staff-training session. In addition, there may be other meetings for the different departments. Sometimes Boss conducts the meetings and other times she will bring in someone to offer a different perspective.

7. Cross-training of all aspects of the office is a must. Boss says she will have staff members work one-on-one to role play so they learn each other's impact on the team.

8. Each new employee should have a mentor in their department who will help them over the first several months, Boss says. With assistants who work with the animals and their owners, a mentor would be in the session to observe as well as to teach. "The visit may take longer, but clients don't seem to mind as long as they know you are doing training," she says.

9. Use visual materials when training. If you are talking about a type of surgery or an illness, find books and pictures so they all get a better understanding, she says.

10. Continue to offer training throughout the entire career, not just when staff is new, she emphasizes. "It takes a lot to have a meaningful meeting with new staff and also 25-year employees, but the medical field is changing so much, so you need to continue to educate all of them."

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