So what do I mean by Training Needs? Well, this is basically areas, or topics, for which the practice has a training or learning need; and these needs are dependent on what the specific practice goals or objectives are. In other words, what does the training hope to accomplish. This is because training requirements must be closely aligned with specific practice goals. Most commonly these will be specific KPIs, Key Performance Indicators, that will quickly promote the growth of a practice, or improve performance and efficiency. So efforts are focused only on that training which, for example, produces increased REVENUE, PROFITS and client SATISFACTION. Not everything is equally important, and you need to discriminate between what’s worth doing, in other words what’s worth learning and training, and what’s not!
Focusing on only the RIGHT TRAINING results in training that has the Maximum Impact, in the Shortest Time, and with Minimal Effort (remember the 80:20 Principle, where 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes? Well it applies here too). And the right training centres around the RIGHT KNOWLEDGE, the RIGHT SKILLS (both medical and operational) and the RIGHT BEHAVIOURS (including standards of service and communication).
I want to add and emphasise that the practice team only needs that level of knowledge, skills and behaviour training to be able to confidently explain relevant concepts to clients and proficiently perform essential everyday practice tasks. Everything else is mainly superfluous; good to have but often not useful.
What I’m saying is that you need to focus training on only THAT essential knowledge, THOSE essential skills and THOSE essential behaviours that make the MOST difference to the success of the business (the previously identified goals) and in the practical aspects of the day-to-day realities of veterinary practice. For example, one does not need to know all the words in the dictionary to be fluent in a language – only those words that are needed to communicate effectively, those words that allow us to be understood (and this normally amounts to around 10- 20 thousand words out of a possible 170 thousand or so in the average English dictionary). For specific words that we don’t know or understand we just need to know WHERE to find out, a reliable resource -such as a dictionary or Google. We don’t learn all the words in the dictionary “just in case” we may need them. We only learn the essentials of what we need to communicate in the situations we find ourselves in. “Just in case learning” is often a waste of time, effort and money.
Let’s look at the first requirement, the Right Knowledge. This is knowledge that demonstrates expertise and trustworthiness. When done well this knowledge translates into higher compliance of recommendations leading to better healthcare for pets and increased revenues for the practice. Again, not ALL veterinary knowledge has an impact on the desired goals. Most of what people learn at university and college is, in my opinion, “just in case” it’s needed, and to pass the necessary exams. In fact, like me, most graduates never refer back to their college notes after graduation, and that knowledge and information is quickly lost, often sitting in an attic somewhere. In todays integrated and information-rich world, it is more important to know where and how to access information when you actually need it, than it is to learn it just in case! The brain needs to be used less as a garage for storing information and more as the centre for critical thinking, for reasoning, and for evaluating information.
An example of the type of specific Medical Knowledge needed is what I call the Pillars of Practice which includes things like vaccinations, parasite control, dentistry, nutrition, common medical problems, etc. This involves learning targeted essential content, evaluating understanding, then translating it into something of value that clients can both appreciate and be willing to part their hard-earned money for.
Now let’s consider the second requirement, the Right Skills training. You need to identify those specific skills that let team members accomplish essential TASKS to a very HIGH STANDARD. It makes sense that the fewer skills you focus on, the better that you can be at them and these mainly involves Technical Skills (or Hard Skills). These allow for efficient and effective performance of essential everyday duties. For veterinary surgeons this may include consulting techniques, basic diagnostic techniques and basic surgical skills; for nurses – pet restraint, anaesthetic monitoring and general hygiene and maintenance routines; and for receptionists – things like telephone answering, appointment booking, dispensary management and client coordination.
Finally, let’s look at the third requirement, the Right Behaviours. This training involves Soft Skills (or more accurately Dealing with People Skills) such as speaking, listening, being empathetic, being friendly, communicating care and interest, and explaining things so that clients understand. These are the skills that build rapport and likeability both with clients and within the practice.
Any veterinary training programme would be woefully deficient if it failed to pay meticulous attention to Dealing with People, or Client Care, Skills. Delivering consistent, outstanding client care cannot be over-emphasized! In the very competitive world that we now live in, and with increasingly demanding clients, it is often the quality of the service (surprisingly, not the quality of the medicine) that determines the success of a veterinary practice. The right Behaviours also includes things such as tone of voice, body language, personal appearance, greetings, farewells and telephone etiquette. Unfortunately, the most important Behaviours and Communications are still usually not taught in formal education and in degree and diploma programmes.
In summary it is important to be knowledgeable (so you know what to say to easily demonstrate expertise and build credibility), to be skilled in how to do things (so you can competently and efficiently perform tasks and duties to a high standard); and to know how to behave and communicate in all the different scenarios that we encounter in veterinary practice.
All this is in an effort to have a practice with the best pet-healthcare-educated clients, who will then make the best healthcare decisions for their pets, so allowing us to perform those veterinary tasks that make pets’ lives better. When this is done well, the veterinary team becomes more engaged and inevitably practice performance reaches new heights.