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Training New Staff (or old ones for that matter)

Posted Apr 14 2009 12:39am

    One of the things I enjoy is training a new staff member and seeing her "get it."  One of the things I struggle with is training any staff member and not being able to get through.  It's frustrating for them and me.  That's why when I read Steve Roesler's post Don't Let Your Knowledge Confuse People on his All Things Workplace blog something rang true for me. 
    Many times anything I'm trying to teach someone else at work is something I could practically do in my sleep.  "It's so easy, why don't they get it?" is a question that's often floating around in my head.  "Well, genius, you know it so well because you've been doing it for years" is often the answer.  And, according to Steve, that may be exactly where we're getting stuck.  I may be having as hard a time teaching it as they are, learning it.  And it may just be because I know it so well.
    My solution has been to stop talking and start listening for the questions to my answers.  You see, I may have been so sure I had all the answers that I really didn't listen to the questions well enough to tell me what was missing.  Every question actually holds some hidden information about how the learning process is going.  For instance, if I'm telling the staff member about how to take a payment and she asks me how she'll know if the patient is supposed to pay the full amount, that tells me we also need to talk about the guarantor notes and payment agreement icons and what they are used for (Dentrix). 
    Watch your language, too.  No, not the kind that got your mouth washed out with soap, I'm talking about dental terminology.  If you have an employee that hasn't had dental experience, don't expect them to know what caries, gingiva or  lateral incisors are right off the bat.  They may smile and nod, but in their head there thinking, "What the heck is she talking about?"  By all means use the correct terminology, but don't forget to translate.  I encourage new staff to write down words they didn't understand and ask, especially during meetings.  It gives everyone an opportunity to participate in teaching and that builds stronger relationships.
    Give the new staff member permission and encouragement to say "Stop."  I know I'm a fast talker.  I know I'm talking too fast when I see a certain look come over someone's face that practically screams, "What in the world did she just say?!"  I'll stop and tell them that if I'm going too fast, they have a responsibility to themselves to tell me that.  Otherwise, everything I've just said is wasted. 
    When I don't think a new person is getting it, I ask them if there is a way that they learn best.  Some people do best with written guidelines.  Some have to watch me do something a few times so they can take notes.  Others need to do it themselves while I watch.  I like to combine all 3 so I don't miss any opportunity to get it in there. 
    Finally, give timely feedback.  Don't wait, if you see the staff member doing something the wrong way, tell them as soon as possible, before it becomes a habit they have to break.  Ask them how they think it's going.  That will give you insight into how much they understand.  If you think they're struggling in an area that they feel they've mastered, it may be time to review that area. 
    Stick in there with the staff member and keep working on it.  Sometimes the hardest things to learn, are the things that really stick once they've got it.  Remember, you started somewhere too, and you depended on the patience and good will of someone else.  One of the most rewarding things about training a staff member is eventually overhearing her tell the next new staff member, "This is how insert your name taught me to do it."

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