Cross-training not working? Here's why

2014 10 28 15 00 54 287 Mc Kenzie Sally 200

When someone is out sick or on vacation, you expect your other team members to step in and help out. They're all cross-trained, after all, and should know exactly what to do. The problem? They usually don't.

Over the years, I've found many dentists have a certain perception of cross-training. They think employees instinctively know what to do and can comfortably take over tasks for their co-workers. They believe that spending 10 to 15 minutes with the office manager makes any team member qualified to handle front-office duties.

Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management.Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management.

As nice as that would be, it just isn't reality. And while this is how most dentists handle "cross-training," it usually ends up doing the practice more harm than good.

Why? No one is held accountable with this system. If every team member is expected to collect from patients, who is responsible when revenues are down? If the schedule is a mess and your practice isn't meeting production goals, whose job is it to get you back on track?

The truth is, when everyone has their hands in everything, no one is accountable for anything. All that does is lead to confusion, while also hurting your practice.

Make cross-training work

If you want cross-training to be effective in your practice, it's time to establish specific protocols. So how exactly do you do this? By creating results-oriented job descriptions that clearly define performance measurements and your expectations.

This will leave no doubt about who's responsible for which tasks and who's accountable for which systems. That means instead of just being expected to fill in when needed, your team members will take ownership of their roles. They'll know exactly what your expectations are, and will be more motivated to excel.

Provide training

While a great start, developing detailed job descriptions isn't enough. You also have to provide employees with proper training.

For example, if you expect the front desk staff to schedule to meet daily production goals, they not only need to know what those goals are, they also need a strategy and the necessary training to achieve those goals. This will give them the confidence they need to effectively perform their job, making them much more likely to excel.

“When implemented properly, cross-training can provide your practice with many benefits.”

I know what you're thinking. Training can be expensive and time-consuming. Trust me, if your team is properly trained, it will save you a lot of time, money, and frustration down the road. The single biggest contributor to practice inefficiency and mismanagement is a poorly trained team, so any time or money you put into training is well worth it.

To get started, I recommend investing in job-specific instruction to ensure your team members can perform their duties effectively. You'll notice a big difference in staff morale and performance once you do.

After your team members are properly trained to perform their jobs, then you can start thinking about cross-training. How can you get started? I suggest making ongoing internal training part of your culture.

Add training sessions to your monthly staff meetings to give team members the opportunity to educate each other about their specific systems. For example, ask a business employee to go over proper telephone techniques, or ask your scheduling coordinator to teach the rest of the team how to schedule to meet daily production goals, not just to keep the doctor busy. This type of training will help ensure team members know exactly what to do when they need to take over duties they don't typically perform.

Reap the benefits

When implemented properly, cross-training can provide your practice with many benefits. It helps team members understand the roles others take in the office and enables them to see how their contributions move the practice toward success and profitability. It prepares them to take over tasks for co-workers when needed and to do so confidently and effectively. This means your practice won't suffer when someone calls in sick or takes vacation time, or if you find yourself with an unexpected job opening that takes time to fill.

Just remember that for cross-training to be effective, you have to start with a foundation of professional training. This sets everyone up for success, which can only mean good things for your practice and your bottom line.

Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, which offers educational and management products available at Contact her directly at 877-777-6151 or at [email protected].

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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