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The Trouble with Training

Someone asked me the other day whether I was shocked by the minimal training effort that so often punctuates the end of six, sometimes seven, figure rollouts of new practice management systems. I replied honestly that I wasn’t shocked or surprised, because after 20 years, I’m used to it. I’m used to months and months of diligent design, development, and deployment segueing into a stuttering go-live because staff aren’t given anywhere near the level of induction and education they need to be confident, competent users. The effects can be crippling: more than anything, new systems need to secure positive adoption successfully, but it is hard for anyone to embrace software that they’re struggling to master.

It’s also a self-perpetuating problem. A lack of confidence among accounts staff in their everyday systems and a lack of awareness of their full capabilities combine to keep the relationship between user and system very static and mechanical – sticking to the safe, known paths and adhering to a set process. There is no chance of improvement, of doing things more efficiently, quicker, better, or more accurately, because no one feels equipped to think outside the box. Compare that to a situation where you have users who know their systems inside out, not just the set features and functionality but also what it can be made to do with some thought, reworking, and further development. In these offices, I see staff not doing things heedlessly by rote, but looking at the potential of the tools in front of them to deliver benefits back to both the users and the business. That process that has always been done a certain way is now revisited, remapped, and done 30% quicker because the staff knew they could make it happen.

For me, that is the real value of comprehensive training – equipping users with both the know-how and the confidence to be able to go beyond system interaction to a world of user initiative, system innovation, and operational improvement. Otherwise, a team’s effectiveness just inexorably plateaus as bad habits and a general lack of engagement start to permeate the fabric, not to mention being passed on to new staff. At its worst, and this is something I witness far more than I should, you see firms that have made no effort to upskill staff. Indeed, staff are largely self-taught, and you have poor morale and very average performance.

There have been occasions where I have gone into a new training project to find a system that has never been balanced, because the staff didn’t know how. If you want to reinforce inefficiency, stick with a low-grade status quo, and don’t have any interest in getting a proper return out of your huge PMS investment, then carry on playing fast and loose with training. If you want to have your back office team working to the optimum, to instill the belief that they have the ability to develop clever little ideas that can make a big difference, to give them a mastery of their systems and the broader operating environment, then you need to promise three things: time, money, and, above all, commitment. We need to change the mindset and culture around systems training; it’s not optional. It’s not something that can be blithely cancelled with no comeback, and it’s not something in which you can cut corners.

Today, I am frequently asked if we can deliver more online training, screencasts, webinars, and the like. Yes we can, but you have to use the right tools at the right time. Online training should only ever be an adjunct to formal in-person training, good for dipping into if an archive has been built up or for delivering a very specific show-and-tell on some new functionality. The reason I champion in-person training, for both initial system induction and for annual refreshers, is that it’s only when I’m physically with someone that I know that they’ve ”got it”. Any training that leaves the trainees no wiser than when they started is pretty pointless. You can’t just tick the box and say ”okay, we’ve done that”. What was the outcome? Did everyone ”get it?” Good trainers will observe and immediately identify learning issues, and more importantly, know how best to resolve them, whether that’s taking someone aside over lunch reframing a training exercise, or simply repeating and reiterating until the penny drops.

No professional trainer I know will be happy with just completing the day’s curriculum. Satisfaction comes only with knowing that you have imparted both knowledge and confidence to every participant and that no one was disadvantaged. Staff can then take that forward and start making a difference every day, as opposed to doing the same old, same old, week after week after week.

I realize I may sound harsh and impassioned, but you have to bang the drum for what you believe. Good training will pay for itself many, many times over. Invest financially and culturally in good induction; commit to annual refresher courses; align training methods to user needs; blend tools and styles; and expect a return back in the form of process reengineering, heightened efficiency, continuous improvement, and motivated, loyal, and highly skilled staff.

Case Study

We were brought into an accounts team that was really starting to struggle with the high volume billing being generated by a single client. There was usually a common bill trigger such as a settlement date, and bills were typically issued monthly, quarterly, or even on a one-off basis. The billing was all on a fixed fee basis, with every transaction accorded the same fixed fee. But because the team couldn’t see a fixed fee field, they decided they would instead just raise every single bill individually.

We sat down with them and reviewed the whole billing process together, helping them realize that the lack of a fixed fee field was a major barrier to complete automation of the process and the key to reducing what was taking an entire weekend every month to do to a matter of 30 seconds. We enabled them to understand what was possible with the system, even if it wasn't there in front of their eyes. One quick, inexpensive development project and a couple of dry runs with a trainer to prove the concept, and it was a job done. Yes, training may be primarily about equipping people with the knowledge to do their job, but it’s also about enabling people to see what’s possible.

Opes Consulting

Formed in 2006 by Elite consultants with a combined 40 years of Elite experience, Opes Consulting Ltd. offers solutions that encompass problem analysis, procedural reviews, software developments, system upgrades, system implementations and training. Click here for more information.

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