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Shiny new trainers

30 March 2012

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Why is it that staff do not always see opportunities to participate in training in quite the same way as managers do? Despite several years’ experience training practice staff, phrases such as, “Our job will never get better, you can’t change things”, “I’m just a receptionist” and “The patients are getting worse” never fail to astonish and disappoint me. The “I don’t need training, I’ve been doing this job for years” comment usually indicates just how much training the individual concerned actually needs. Perish the thought that the learning might be useful and let’s not even contemplate the possibility it might be interesting!

Some patients may well be awful but we still need to challenge and ultimately stamp out such negative staff views because no matter where your practice is in the UK, patients are big news and public involvement is very definitely in vogue. Things are changing and patients (both good and bad) are being asked for their opinion. And so they should be! How else do we know if we are getting it right (or not) unless we ask the patients? Asda does it, so why wouldn’t we? Inevitably, this paradigm shift will include staff training.

So let’s explore this a bit more closely. Imagine you have decided to embrace a patient-focused service – you are desperate to have a patient participation group (PPG), and wish to encourage greater public involvement in your practice. However, to do this properly you will need to get the staff on board. After all, this type of service starts at the front desk – customer care, excellent communication, equality and diversity practices (encompassing the requirement in the Equality Act) and proactively seeking patient feedback and suggestions – both negative and positive.

External training versus home-grown sessions
The first decision you will have to make is whether training should be contracted out externally – either using one of the many commercial companies or making use of skills and resources that already exist in your local hospital’s training department – or if you should do this inhouse. The emphasis here being on you. And why not? There are lots of excellent reasons why you are best placed to deliver this training:

  • External training is often pricey and in the current climate any significant levels of expenditure must be reduced.
  • Outside training is likely to be very general and non-practice specific. A bespoke course that reflects your practice alone will be even more expensive. You have the inside knowledge to tailor training to your team for a fraction of the cost – and it will be more accurate and relevant.
  • If you haven’t trained staff formally before, taking on a training role will be a huge personal development opportunity and is yet another skill to be added to the practice manager’s job description (and, please note, CV!).

Trainer tips
Once you have been “persuaded” to carry out this training, there is no getting away from it: when you first stand up to train it is scary (unless you are into amateur dramatics or are a fully paid-up extrovert), even though these are the same people you speak to everyday or sit with at meetings. The trick is preparation, preparation, preparation – and a well thought-through training plan. If you prepare and plan, rehearse what you are going to say thoroughly, the risks of it being a disaster are significantly reduced – and you can concentrate on presenting in a style that is confident with authority and presence.

Most people either love or loathe Powerpoint, but very few presenters can go through an entire session without using some slides. It also helps to give you cues and reminders of what it is you are going to say next.

Ice breakers can feel a little awkward when the people in the room already know each other but these can be a way to get those first few moments of talking to the group over with in a lighthearted way. Masses of examples are on the internet – just google ‘ice breakers’ and pick the one you think will go down best.

New trainers often worry about keeping control – and again there are oodles of tips available on the web, such as entering people’s personal space by standing right behind them and continuing to talk.  It is a bit like supervising a room full of other people’s children – you need to be in charge but you cannot be too awful! But practice manager experience and/or parental know-how will automatically come to the fore and you will be able deal with this. Remember that this is your staff – the people you are in charge of every day. If you can control (chair) a staff meeting, why should it be any different just because you are in a training environment?

How long should the training be? Often the timing of the session is dictated by the practice’s timetable – is it being delivered in a lunch hour or a full afternoon of protected learning? I always have a note of how long each slide should take to explain, the time I intend to allow for group discussions, exercises and any feedback. This means you can easily work out what you can cut back on if there has been a really interesting or significant discussion you felt it was important to allow. By merely skipping the next exercise, you will be back on track – no panic.

I always break the session up with pieces of group work – it keeps people engaged in the topic, allows them the space to voice their thoughts and ideas. It will also make it much less likely to be all about you. There are several advantages to this: you don’t have to do all of the work and it breaks the session up and minimises the chances of sending people to sleep as you drone on (not that this would ever happen!).

A good tip here is to move people around regularly, changing who they are partnering up with. This is also a good way of controlling agitators, as it removes the carefully selected audience he/she will have arranged around them. Groups could be asked to discuss their own experiences of something you have just described or how they might change something in the practice for the better.

“What if I am boring?” The harsh truth is that not everyone will find you interesting or riveting – but if you have worked hard this will shine through and no one can take that away from you regardless of whether or not they enjoy your training style.

Should you give out evaluation forms? How I hate those few minutes as I sit there watching people write comments about me – but just like any other form of customer feedback (see my earlier reference to Asda) how can I improve if I don’t know where I am going wrong? That would be my advice to you too. Of course the “customers” here will be your own staff and it will make you feel just that bit more exposed and possibly vulnerable – but it is your home turf. Almost all of the people will be constructive (you are the boss, after all!) and anyone who uses this as an opportunity to be hypercritical has a different agenda you are probably already well aware of.

A new you
Once you start, get into your stride and build rapport with the group, I am positive you will enjoy the trainer experience and will want to take on more training. It is challenging – and never stops being so as the session is different every time. The only thing that will be the same about the topic each time will be its title – the emphasis for each group will not be the same and people will have new perspectives, all of which will keep the session alive and interesting for everyone – you included.

Training others will develop you – you’ll think on your feet more, you’ll research your topic more – whether it is on equality and diversity legislation or setting up a PPG. Your Powerpoint skills will reach new heights.

I love training, finding it fun and rewarding. My only health warning is that I am always looking for ways to change and improve my sessions and can get lost in training websites and articles – losing hours along the way. I would be very reluctant to give this aspect of my work up and have absolutely no intention of doing so. I am willing to bet money that you will be the same. Good luck!

Anne Crandles is a freelance practice management consultant in Edinburgh. Her diverse work includes being a practice development manager in a salaried practice, providing support to Lothian’s practice managers as a local co-ordinator for the Scottish Practice Management Development Network, and working as a trainer.