Gauging training benefits isn't simple task; gut feelings rather than numbers sometimes best tack for measuring outcomes
Albuquerque, N.M. Dr. Michael Riegger spends roughly $6,000a year employing a clinical psychologist to meet monthly with staff in hisNew Mexico practice. It's a program he's maintained for 15 years. He evensprings for lunch.
In metropolitan Indianapolis, Dr. Mike Thomas shuts down his seven clinicsfor the day and hires professionals to train his staff at a local hotel.Renting the site and catering to his 100 employees isn't cheap.
Still, the veterinarians say training is an area where they can't skimp.
"It's the undercurrent of our business," says Riegger, whodedicates 2 to 3 percent of gross revenues to staff training each year."We could shut down and do nothing but train, there's so much to learn.It's just like turning on the light or the heat. It's always ongoing."
The biggest threat to effective training is repetition, Riegger says.It's monotonous. It's time consuming. And as soon as a staff member is trainedin a task, he or she needs to be retrained, he says.
"Studies show that consumers need to be hit with six messages beforethey remember something," Riegger says. "So you train and youtrain and you go through it again. We keep a list of things we do and wereview them. We have outside people come in.
"The very critical issue in veterinary practice is communication,and we have a fairly substantial budget to train on just that."
That's because the rewards of training far exceed its challenges, hesays, especially when growth and low employee turnover are the results.
"There's no substitute for doctors and staff teaching each othereverything they know," says Riegger, who boasts annual growth in hispractice for the past 27 years. "So the more they know, the more theycan pass along. This is an on-the-job essential."
That's the most important form of training, adds Dr. Peter Weinstein,a consultant and one-time practice owner. But calculating and identifyingreturns on its effectiveness can be tough.
"It's easy to measure what you spend," he says. "That'sa tangible thing. You can also add up housing, room, board, tuition, andstaff to cover the person's absence.
"But most of the time, the knowledge gained by staff can't easilybe identified as a tangible asset. It's something that enriches a practiceover time."
For example, if training improves staff morale, there's no tangible wayto measure that, Riegger says. "You get that gut feeling that, 'Hey,this was a good investment.' It's when you can train the entire team byinvesting in one person."
Seeing is believing
But gut feelings can't replace hardcore numbers. So for real scientificcomparisons on the cost of training versus its value in practice, Thomasmakes a few suggestions:
· Tally the percentage of client returns before and after particulartraining sessions for a comparison.
· Calculate increased productivity per employee hour. The formulais to divide the practice's gross revenue by number of support staff hours.
· Compare the average client transaction before and after majortraining episodes. Thomas' decision to close his clinics and train at ahotel is one such example.
"Afterward, our revenue increased immediately," he says. "Ofcourse, there could have been other factors, but intuitively, I have tobelieve that this was money very well spent."
The final product
Even so, Thomas says he doesn't need to concoct formulas to know histraining methods work. Most of the time, he just uses common sense.
"As an example, we instituted a Canine Wellness Panel at the beginningof this year," he says. "Every animal due for a heartworm testis offered this extended blood panel at a very reasonable price. My clinicsthat took time to train their staff on the benefits of it identified moremedical concerns, initiated more procedures and generally had a higher levelof revenue than the clinics that did a poor job of informing their clientsof the new option."
And providing the training to be able to offer those options is whatmakes an excellent practice, Weinstein adds. That's immeasurable, he says.
"The objective is to give clients and patients the care they wantand deserve," he says. "That's what we're here for, and you can'tattach a number to that."