3 tips to make cross-training work in your practice

By Sally McKenzie, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

May 8, 2019 -- On the surface, cross-training seems like a great idea. Cross-trained team members can seamlessly take over when colleagues are out sick, go on maternity leave, or decide to leave the practice for good. Tasks get done, and the practice doesn't suffer even when key employees aren't there.

Sally McKenzie
Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management.

While that all sounds wonderful in reality, problems arise when a key team member is out, leaving everyone frustrated and stressed. This means conflict, low team morale, and maybe even financial problems for the practice.

Why does this happen? Many of my new clients think having employees spend a few minutes with their coworkers learning about what they do is enough. After 10 to 15 minutes, they have surely gained enough knowledge to be able to take over if needed, is how the thinking goes.

Sorry, but that's not the case. Team members need a lot more than a crash course if you want them to feel comfortable performing someone else's tasks, especially if these tasks take them out of their comfort zone.

3 tips

Cross-training sometimes leads to problems in practices, but that's simply because it's not approached in the right way. Here are a few tips to help you make cross-training actually work in your office:

1. Create results-oriented job descriptions

Before team members can learn other roles, they have to understand what's expected of them. Detailed job descriptions are a huge part of that. Job descriptions make it clear who's responsible for which tasks, so there's never any confusion. With detailed job descriptions, team members know their performance measurements and exactly what they need to do to meet and exceed your expectations.

If you don't have job descriptions, I suggest you sit down with your team members to start creating them. Here's what every job description should include:

  • The job title
  • A summary of the position
  • A list of the position's responsibilities and duties

Discussing performance goals and standards also is a good idea. Individual performance goals should complement a practice's goals. This might include maximizing the hygiene schedule, increasing the collections ratio, growing case acceptance, and improving accounts receivables.

If you expect the front office staff to schedule producers to meet specific production goals, for example, they need to know what those goals are. This is where standards for measuring results come in to play.

Job descriptions help establish a clear delineation of duties, making team members responsible for specific systems so they can truly take ownership of their roles.

2. Invest in job-specific training

Many dentists have told me they just don't have time for team training. Rather than properly training new team members, they decide it's best to let them learn on the job, especially if they're experienced hires. This might seem like a time-saver, but in my experience it turns out to be a recipe for disaster.

“Trained team members are more confident in their skills and more effective.”

If new team members are just thrown into the mix with little or no direction, they may feel lost and unsure of themselves, leading to frustration for everyone in the practice. Production suffers along with the practice's bottom line, which is a lot more costly than the time and money spent on training.

Trained team members are more confident in their skills and more effective. Plenty of affordable training options are available for job-specific instruction. Once they have a foundation and are comfortable in their roles, new team members can start to learn more about what others contribute to the practice and how they can help when coworkers have to be away.

3. Make ongoing internal training part of your practice's culture

This is where true cross-training comes in. Set aside time during monthly meetings for team members to educate each other about their systems and what they do each day. Maybe that means the hygienist talks about patient education, or the treatment coordinator offers tips on how to boost case acceptance.

Employees learn more about the practice and what their colleagues do, making them more comfortable when they need to step in because a team member has to be out.

Cross-training can be helpful for your practice, if approached correctly. Instead of your practice being thrown into chaos when someone leaves or needs to be away from the office, properly cross-trained team members can effectively and confidently step in for as long as necessary.

Sally McKenzie is the CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service dental practice management company. Contact her directly at 877-777-6151 or at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

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


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