Do you train team members? 4 ways to do it well

Training new hires is essential to your practice—and it's not always easy. Here are some tips for teaching old pros some new-hire training tricks.
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Apr 01, 2011

Learning a job can be hard; teaching that job to someone else can be even harder. Many veterinary team members who are skilled and experienced in their practice have no idea where to begin when they take on the role of mentor and teacher. So how can you excel at the task of training a new hire? These guidelines can help.

1. Remember the time ...

Think back to when you were new at your job. What questions did you have? What were your fears? Make a mental note to ask a new hire what her biggest concerns are so you can be sure to address them. (Note: What frightened or intimidated you might not worry someone else.) Then alleviate the new hire's fears by reassuring her that everything will be fine and no one expects her to know the job already. Let her know that the first few days, or even weeks, might seem overwhelming and that it's OK for her to feel that way. It'll pass with time.

2. Get down to business

There are probably a hundred things you do every day that you don't think about. But you're going to need to teach those things, so start paying close attention to how you actually perform each part of your job. When it's time to train, perform each task slowly and let the new hire observe you the first time. From the second time on, unless it's a complicated technical skill or communicating with a client, ask the trainee to try it and assist only when needed.

Don't forget that everyone needs to know the lingo that goes with a job—and new hires might feel like you're speaking Greek. So spend several training sessions talking specifically about lingo, and write down terms for the new hire to study. Incorporate the language into your day-to-day training, and add more terms—shoot for about 20 new ones—each week.

For more advanced skills and client communication, let your trainee watch or listen several times to get a better feel for the way you do it. After each exposure, talk about what she saw, heard, or did. If you need to make a correction, start with a positive, such as, "I liked how you picked up on (fill in the blank). One thing we need to tweak is (fill in the blank)." Notice the use of "we" instead of "you." Trainers and trainees are a team, and failure or success rests on your shoulders as well as hers. Pad corrective action with a compliment so you keep your trainee from feeling like she's failing straight out of the gate. If she misses the mark again, simply say, "It's OK. This takes practice. Let's try again."

3. Craft communication skills

Some people are naturally better at communicating. So rather than start a trainee right off with a real client, ask her to practice. Role-play common client scenarios—let her take a crack at a phone call if she'll be answering incoming calls. Instruct her to listen to how you communicate with other team members and doctors.

If the new employee will be working in the exam room, first ask her to join you in the room and listen to how you communicate. When she's ready to take the lead, don't send her in alone the first time. Go in the room with her in case she freezes up or the client overwhelms her with questions. By way of introduction, simply say, "Hi, my name is (fill in the blank) and this is (fill in the blank). We occasionally audit each other in the room so I'm just going to stand back and let (trainee's name) do her job." That way the client doesn't think, "Great, this person has no idea what she's doing." You can always step up and help out if she doesn't know an answer.

When the new employee is ready to work the exam room on her own, still give her a lifeline: Let her know ahead of time what to say if she gets stuck. A great general answer is, "I don't know but if you hold on for just a second, I'll get that answer for you." This won't put off a client, and it gives the trainee a chance to step out of the room for a second to find the answer. It also means that next time, the employee will know the answer herself. After her first few "on-her-own" experiences, touch base about how she felt and how the clients reacted. Then give her feedback.

This same process works well for training receptionists. Let them listen in on your first calls. Then stick close by them if they need help during the first client phone calls they handle on their own. And give them the same lifeline: "I don't know the answer but may I put you on hold for a minute while I find out?"

4. Check and recheck

Regardless of the skills you're working on, you must make sure your trainee is retaining knowledge. To do this, schedule weekly check-ins with your trainee for the first three to four months of training. After that, try for every two weeks. I usually check in with my new team members every Friday for about five minutes. I ask how it's going, give positive and corrective feedback, and end on a positive note. I also test constantly. By asking trainees to recall information I've taught, I get a good feel for whether we're making progress.

Even after you've cut a trainee free to do more tasks on her own, you still need to check in occasionally to be sure everything is going OK. Increase the length of time you give her freedom as both of you become more comfortable—but check in every now and then. Nothing's worse than you assuming your trainee is feeling great about something and finding out she still isn't confident.

Teaching is a whole different ballgame than being able to do your job. But with practice (remember, this is a skill you're learning too!), it can be very rewarding to see your frightened newbie blossom into a seasoned veteran staff member.

More on this topic

• Are you training someone who just doesn't seem to be catching on? Read this article with 4 ideas for turning around the situation.

• Wishing some of your fellow team members would step up to train new hires? Click the next button below to find 4 tips for fostering new trainers.

Author bio

Caitlin Rivers is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board Member who’s worked in the veterinary field for more than 15 years.