What To Do When Training Isn’t Producing Results in Your Vet Team

This is the third in a series of blog posts written by Louise S. Dunn, who’s partnered with VetMatrix to provide educational content for veterinarians in different areas of their practice. Louise has 45+ years of experience in the veterinary field. She’s the owner of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting, author of multiple books including “The 5 Minute Consult,” “Pathways to Ownership,” and “Veterinary Clinics of North America,” she is also a Fear Free certified professional.

The SWOT acronym, although commonplace in most business discussions, is sadly underused in the training arena. Why do a SWOT analysis on a training program? Well, here is where one person’s “why do it” may be different from another’s.  A potential “why bother to assess” maybe because the practice is experiencing high employee turnover, maybe the practice is in a hiring phase due to expansion, or perhaps better control over training costs is needed.

For many, merely alleviating the headaches caused by a subpar training program is the driving force. The key is to examine all factors leading up to the training session to mitigate anything that has the potential to create a headache.

Two vets bandaging up  a dog paw.

It is vital to have a clear understanding of when the business needs to conduct training. Sure, new hire or a poor performer comes to mind, but is there a strategic business plan for other critical situations?

  • Change in technology (i.e., telehealth, new equipment)
  • Change in business practice (i.e., Fear Free protocols, chronic condition care, treatment protocol)
  • Change in company policy (i.e., job duties, laws/regulations, remote work)
  • Slow-down or growth in the business (i.e., economic changes, personnel changes, client demographics)

The business side of running a veterinary practice must communicate with the management of the personnel. If the business is considering a change, the team needs to be prepared (AKA trained) to perform any new responsibilities. 

SWOT the critical parts of the current training program:

  • Applicable job duties (per all of your job descriptions)
  • Documentation during the training process
  • Feedback & communications
  • Training resources
  • Training methods
  • Scheduling 
  • Preparing those who will do the training

When it comes to the failure of a training program, it is like a three-legged stool – weakness in one leg will result in a collapse. The point of failure may be the person receiving the training – lack of interest, information overload, or an inability to connect his/her personal learning preference with the training method being used. The person conducting the training may be the culprit – competing priorities, lack of interest, or poor planning. Or business/management may be the weak leg – limited budgeting, lack of resources, poor planning, or neglecting to follow up.

Performing a SWOT analysis requires taking a hard look at any failed training attempts to pinpoint areas of weakness and missed opportunities. However, it should be balanced with a look at successful training. Look at what worked well and determine if or how it can be repeated. 

Common Causes of Headaches While Training Vet Staff

A stressed vet sitting with a dog patient.

When a patient is presented with vomiting and diarrhea, what are we trained to do? Assess the condition and treat the symptoms while determining the root cause – the same applies to training headaches. The actual root cause of the headache or failed training program often turns out to be something that could have been prevented if steps had been taken early in the process. Consider these common causative factors of training headaches (i.e., weaknesses):

  • Hectic schedules/competing priorities. You know the signs – an emergency comes in, not everyone will come in on their day off, people won’t stay after their shift is over, a backlog of phone calls or chart documentation needs to be completed….  There is always some reason that prevents people from attending a training session.
  • Different learning habits. There are four or five different generations in the workforce and even more diverse learning styles within the team. While some people learn well by reading, others do better by seeing. Collaborating with colleagues is one of the best ways to learn because it allows team members to work towards a common goal, brainstorm, and share knowledge.
  • Lack of engagement. There are several reasons why an employee is not interested in participating in the training program – maybe the topic is not relevant to the employee’s job, or perhaps the employee does not see the “why.” Of course, competing priorities and different learning habits may also be playing a role and should be considered.
  • Information overload. It is challenging to squeeze in an hour-long team lunch and learn session, coupled with all the material that is packed into that hour-long meeting, and you have a lot of information with no time to “digest” and ask questions (let alone inhale lunch at the same time). 
  • Untrained trainer. The person who is conducting the training session must receive information on how to deliver consistent training sessions, provide and receive feedback, and track post-training performance. We are not all born teachers.
  • Lack of planning. More information in the following section about this.
  • Costs. Limited budget and training resources will make it difficult to deliver material and conduct a post-training assessment of the success of the session.

Some steps can be taken to treat the common causes – and those steps are outlined in the next section. There will never be a one-and-done fix. Since each training session involves different personnel and different needs, there will always be a need to identify critical issues before starting the training session.

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Create a Win-Win Training Program

A vet talking to a happy pet owner in the waiting room.

Once the areas of strengths and weaknesses have been identified, it is time to create a training program that provides a sturdy three-legged stool upon which to sit. To accomplish this, organize the training program, taking into account the known strengths, what weaknesses need to be shored up, and where opportunities can be utilized. 

For example:

  • Identify the needs
    • Needs of the individual, the business, and the person/supervisor doing the training
  • Identify how to evaluate the success
    • Communicate in advance how success will be measured – i.e., completed checklists, passing scores on tests, performance evaluations, business KPI
  • Identify what will change
    • Communicate expectations – performance improvement, acquire a new skill or knowledge, address a weakness or opportunity in the services offered by the business
  • Identify the impact on the business
    • Improved patient care, client service, business metrics, or team performance

Included in organizing the training process:

  • Agreed upon KPIs
    • Metrics, evaluation scores, test scores
  • Assigned personnel
    • Trainers (aka Subject Matter Experts)
  • Training processes
    • Virtual, Web-based, Group or Classroom, On-the-Job, Gamification, Feedback, etc.
  • Resources and tools
    • Manuals, materials, SOPs, internet access, rewards & recognition, etc.
  • Expenses (aka Budget)
    • Wages for the student and the trainer, materials

For the new hire, assessing his/her current knowledge and acclimating him/her to the culture of the practice will have different activities when compared to working with an existing team member in need of improving job performance; or when compared to training the team on a new procedure.

Training is not the same across the board. Specific activities will vary with the individual and the focus of the training, although the template to organize each training program will be similar. It is in using an organized template that alleviates some of the headaches associated with training because crucial steps are not missed.

Monitor the Results

A vet student training and doing well with pet patient.

Look back on creating the win-win-win. Identify how success will be evaluated and communicate it to the trainer and the trainee. Knowing the rules and how the training “game” will be scored prevents penalties and fouls. Once again, measuring results will depend on the focus of the training – new hire, performance improvement, use of new technology, etc. 

  • New Hire – quizzes, regular huddles/debriefings to discuss progress, incorporating a “see one – do one –teach one” scenario with the trainer
  • Performance Improvement – similar to the new hire but there is a performance history so follow up evaluations should show improvement (with visual confirmation by the trainer/supervisor)
  • New technology, business practice, or company policies – behavior changes, chart audit trends, charging for the new service, team surveys, see one- do one – teach one whereby mastery of a subject is demonstrated by teaching others 
  • Business KPIs – client bonding and satisfaction, employee retention and satisfaction, new service metrics

The veterinary industry will always have new medications, new treatments, new equipment, new procedures. It is a profession that provides opportunities for learning and personal growth. Since we know we will need to continue to conduct training of our team members, why not formalize the process, address any headache-causing issues before getting started, and enjoy the fruits of a successful training program.

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