Cross Training Your Staff

Let’s say one of your key team members wakes up deadly ill and she can’t come in to work today – and you wouldn’t want her to either or you could end up with a team that all gets sick.  How the heck are you going to deal with this?

You could shut the whole practice down for a day or two, but that is a very costly solution, and cancelling patients is not reflective of the high quality care you want to deliver to your patients.  Some practitioners have past staff who no longer work (retirement … babies) but who could come in and cover key positions in a pinch.  Lucky them!

The third (and preferred) option is to have staff that know each other’s functions and protocols, and who can cover them in these emergencies.  But how do you make that happen?

First Step

To facilitate the cross-training, you should first have very complete job descriptions and exact protocols in writing for each position in the practice.  If you have these to hand for all functions in the office, they can be referred to and basic functions will take place even with a temp staff member who has never been in your practice before.  They are like a firm foundation to build on in emergencies.

Second Step

Get each team member to learn each of the other positions in the practice one at a time.  First read the job description and protocol of a position.  Then make a “date” with the position holder for 15-20 minutes to ask questions that arose from reading.

Third Step

Next, where at all possible, have the person be with the post holder and watch her doing the functions.  This may have to be in short bursts of time and repeated over time as well.

Technical Skills

This does not make the person learning another’s position an expert on the technical side of the position.  For instance, a receptionist cannot be trained to be the hygienist in a dental office.  Or, be able to take blood samples if replacing an animal health technician in a vet practice.  But there are administrative matters for each position that could possibly be carried out to make it a little easier on the doctor and the patients or clients.  Ordering supplies, documenting, assisting in a pinch, etc. are examples.

Never, Never, Never

A big caution on having cross-trained staff constantly moving around covering positions as an on-going operating basis:  They can become a “jack of all trades but expert in none.”  Instead, each position in a practice should have someone who “owns” that job and ensures that it is done well and accurately.  And if someone else fills in for a day or more and makes mistakes, the post owner must help that person learn the position better because no matter what, the post holder is responsible for the accuracy and completeness of the work done on that position.  In other words, they are the Ruler of that position and must defend it.

Taking the Reins Back

When a team member has been off and comes back to work, whoever helped in her position should do a full debrief of actions done and pending so the reins can be taken back up and the returning employee is back in control of her area.

Bottom line, the practice exists in order to give awesome service to every patient or client and that must always be foremost in every team member’s mind.


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