by Debbie Best

Off-site continuing education for your team can be productive, fun, and headache-free

A nother flyer arrives in the mail promoting an upcoming meeting: the AAO in Seattle; Ortho Camp in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; the computer software user’s meeting in Atlanta …. The list of opportunities for continuing education (CE) in the orthodontic field is endless. With each new announcement of a meeting or course, your team members’ eyes get that glazed, excited look of anticipation they have on Christmas Day. Can they go? It sounds like so much fun, and of course they will learn a lot. You see the dollar signs involved with sending your team to a meeting. However, you sometimes do not see the added value to the practice.

Sending team members to meetings and workshops is an excellent way to expose them to new ideas and techniques, as well as to keep them excited and enthused about the field of orthodontics. The trap many orthodontists fall into is that they sign up for meetings either on a whim or under pressure from their team members without careful planning. Sometimes, after the meeting, the orthodontist believes that the team did not receive enough value for the money spent, so he or she is hesitant about sending the team to future meetings. When this happens, everyone loses out—including the patients, who do not benefit from a team that is highly motivated and educated from the experience of CE opportunities.

Choosing CE
Determine what training or CE would best benefit your team. Would your team profit from hands-on computer training? If so, consider sending your employees who work on the computer to your software user’s meeting. Would your new-patient coordinator learn a great deal from a workshop that focuses on the new-patient process? Would your entire team benefit from the experience of a meeting where they could hear numerous speakers and visit the various vendors? Would a team-building experience like Ortho Camp, where all team members hear the same message and have the opportunity to network with other orthodontic offices, be a benefit?

If you choose a specialized meeting, such as a workshop for the clinical coordinator, only one or two of your team members would attend. A regional or national meeting, or a team-building seminar, typically would involve your entire team. Weigh the cost of the meeting against the value of the return.

Calculating Costs
Before the meeting, establish what expenses the office will cover. It is important that you clearly outline the financial obligation the office and employee will have while attending a meeting. Expenses to take into consideration are the following: tuition or registration; supplies required for the meeting; airfare or mileage; hotel (are employees sharing a room with other employees, or are they allowed to bring their spouses?); meals or a per diem allowance; salary for travel hours, meeting hours, and nonmeeting hours; and salary if the meeting falls on a weekend.

Establish a cancellation policy. If the registration fee and airfare was paid for in advance and the employee decides not to go or quits, who is responsible for the nonrefundable expenses?

Postmeeting Action Plan
What change would you like to make as a result of the program you attended?

What is the desired outcome?

How can you tell if you have reached your goal?

What constraints do you have (limits on money, time, or other resources)?

What steps will you take to reach your goal?

Who will carry out the change?

What resources are necessary to carry out this change?

When will the change take place?

Clearly Define Your Expectations
Hold a team meeting prior to the seminar to review the schedule for the meeting. What do you expect your team to gain from the seminar? Do you expect them to attend the meetings, or is this a trip just for fun? When do you want them available for team meetings during the seminar to discuss new information learned? Is there a dress code? Although it might seem like common sense, review your expectations regarding their behavior at the meeting. You want them to enjoy themselves. However, keep in mind that they are representing your practice.

If you are sending your team to a regional or national meeting, make a list of the lectures and workshops available. Assign team members to attend presentations that will benefit your practice. Ticketing is required for AAO 2007 presentations, so advance planning is required.

Evaluate, Reflect, and Present
Have a team meeting within 2 weeks after the seminar, and have your team members present the key points of the lectures they attended. If you send one or two people to a specific workshop, allow them to present the information to the team at a staff meeting. Make a list of changes you want to implement as a result of the meeting, including due dates and definite steps toward completion. Continually re-evaluate your goals or action plan to ensure that you are making the desired changes.

Offer Incentives
Set goals for the team to earn the opportunity to go to a meeting or seminar. As the saying goes, people are less likely to appreciate something if it is just given to them, not earned. There are several ways you can let your team work toward a goal of attending a meeting and take pride that they worked hard together to make it happen.

? Set aside a certain dollar amount for every full start for CE. Increase the amount per start after you reach your target each month.
? Set a production goal each month, and for every $1,000 you earn over the goal, set aside a dollar amount for CE.
? If employees allocate a percentage of their bonuses for CE, have the office match the dollar amount.
? Set a goal for collections each month, and allocate a percentage of collections above the goal for CE.
? Assign a dollar value to each positive patient questionnaire returned.
? Assign a dollar value to each staff referral of a new patient.

Encourage your team to continue to learn and grow, because the field of orthodontics is constantly changing. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, workplace experts and authors, write that among their top 12 most important ways to keep employees motivated is to give them opportunities at work to learn and to grow. Evaluate your options, plan in advance, and finish with a definite action plan. It will be a win-win opportunity for everyone: you, your team, and your patients.

Debbie Best, a senior practice-management consultant for Consulting Network, lectures and consults with offices throughout the United States and abroad. She has a financial interest in a seminar mentioned in this article. She can be reached at [email protected].