Cross training: How to make it work for your dental practice

Dentist-bosses might believe that cross training the staff will happen naturally. That is not necessarily the case. With a plan regarding how to cross train dental staff, the practice will run much more smoothly.

Jul 1st, 2016
Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2016 06 Crosstraining 1
Most dentists love the idea of cross training. They have visions of team members happily stepping in when coworkers are sick or on vacation, doing their part to keep the practice running smoothly and on track to meet production goals.

Sounds nice, but unfortunately it isn’t reality. Why? Oftentimes, dentists expect team members to help when needed, but they don’t give them the tools they need to do so successfully. They think long-term employees will just instinctively know what to do, and that spending 10 to 15 minutes with the office manager is enough to prepare them to run the front desk on their own.

Sorry to be the one to break this to you, but if that’s how you look at cross training, it’s hurting your practice.

The problem is, no one is held accountable with this system. For example, if everyone on staff is expected to collect from patients, who’s responsible when revenues are down? If your schedule is a mess and you’re constantly falling short of daily production goals, who do you talk to about fixing the problem? Simply put, if employees aren’t held accountable for specific systems, it not only leads to frustration and confusion, it also keeps your practice from meeting its full potential.

Don’t worry—I can help you make cross training actually work for your practice. How? You can start by creating detailed job descriptions. Results-oriented job descriptions with clearly defined performance measurements serve as road maps to success for team members. It tells them exactly which systems they’re accountable for, and gives them the opportunity to take ownership of those systems rather than just fill in from time to time. They’ll know what they need to do to meet and exceed your expectations, which will make them more likely to flourish in their role and will lead to happy employees, increased productivity, and a healthy bottom line.

I know most dentists don’t want to take the time to create job descriptions, but trust me, it’s well worth the effort. For the best results, I suggest you get team members involved. Develop job descriptions together, and work with them to set individual goals that complement practice goals. This shows your team you value their opinions and contributions to the practice. Remember, every job description should include the job title, a summary of the position, and a list of the position’s responsibilities. I also suggest listing standards for measuring results.

While creating detailed job descriptions is an important first step, but don’t stop there. Sure, now your employees know exactly which systems they’re accountable for and what’s expected of them, but that doesn’t mean they know how to get there. This comes from proper training and guidance.

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I recommend investing in job-specific education to ensure team members can effectively perform their jobs. Not only will this boost staff morale, it will make your team members more confident in their skills. They’ll also know you’re willing to invest in their professional development, which will make them more likely to remain dedicated to your practice.

What’s the next step? Work to make ongoing internal training part of your practice culture. Add training to monthly staff meetings and encourage team members to educate each other about specific systems. For example, ask one of your business employees to go over proper telephone techniques, or have your business manager discuss how to schedule to meet production goals. This type of cross training will not only help team members understand their coworkers’ contributions, it will also prepare them to take over tasks outside their normal duties when necessary.

Developing a foundation of thorough professional training in your practice will make cross training more successful, and it will lead to a more confident and productive team. They’ll know exactly what’s expected of them and what they can do to help move the practice forward. They’ll feel more comfortable taking over for coworkers when they’re absent or when you suddenly find yourself with an open position. Your confident, cross-trained team will keep the practice running smoothly no matter who’s out of the office, and that will do wonders for practice productivity and your bottom line.


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

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