Article Date: 8/1/2006

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A Jack of All Trades?

Cross training your staff can lead to a better understanding of your practice.


Our consulting company is often asked about the idea of cross training staff members. One commonly cited position against this idea is implied in the title of this article, "Jack of all trades, master of none." For example, attempting to have your optician double as an insurance expert will surely result in more rejected claims and eyeglass complaints. Just as doctors usually make poor receptionists, we are better off letting our technicians be technicians and our managers manage. That is of course all good in theory until the other side of the argument chimes in, "What happens when someone gets sick? Do we refrain from making glasses that day? If my staff were cross trained we could continue uninterrupted." So which way is best?

Meet in the middle

While we rarely take the middle ground on management issues, this is one topic where we land squarely in the center of the discussion. It's our belief that it's best to have staff members well trained in one particular area and be a "Jack of all trades" in the rest. For example, your optician doesn't have to know how to fill out a CMS form, but he should certainly know where the form is located, what it is and who is responsible for completing it. Your receptionist
doesn't have to know how to help patients with their contact lenses, but should certainly be up-to-speed and know that you fit them and that silicone hydrogel lenses are different than older lenses.

Job swapping

To achieve this type of hybrid cross training, it's helpful to have staff members routinely and consistently swap jobs for a few days. If you plan for this during a typically slow time of the year, it will have little impact on your normal office flow. There are several benefits to shaking up your staff.

First, and perhaps most importantly, this "total immersion" swap helps staff members appreciate their colleagues' tasks and challenges. Beyond this team-building benefit, intra-office knowledge and vocabulary grows, often exponentially. We have also had clients who discovered that the people who swapped jobs were actually happier — and eventually more productive — than the original people in those positions! Testing out the waters like this has even resulted in some clients improving overall efficiencies. This happens when one "department" looks at another through a different set of eyes. For example, a well-trained and expertly performing technician is usually "wired" differently than a frame stylist. When the technician spends time delving into the fashion side of eyeglasses, he brings an outsider's point of view to the frame stylist. Similarly, the stylist who usually doesn't work with checklists like the technician may find these lists helpful for other tasks.

Big picture

Yet another benefit of this semi-cross training: It shows staff how their jobs fit into the grand scheme of things. For example, you've had trouble getting your receptionist to use a particular office form that ultimately winds up on the insurance biller's desk. If she understands its importance to someone else and what happens when the form isn't used, there is a greater likelihood she will use the form.

Another benefit of a temporary change in the status quo is finding out you may be able to condense the total amount of hours necessary (and paid for) by discovering new efficiencies that were hidden until you tried this method.


Optometric Management, Issue: August 2006