The care and feeding of your staff Essay

The acorn doesn’t fall far from the oak. It’s nosurprise then that your staff members’ level of competence is oneof the most accurate measurements of your effectiveness as a supervisor.

Whatever their educational and professional background, it’s up toyou to guide their individual growth and continued mastery of medicaltechnology. Ideally, each laboratorian should gain the knowledge, skills,atttudes, and work habits necessary to shine on the job. Depending ontheir assignments, technologists must understand the principles ofbacteriology, immunology, biochemistry, serology, and other highlytechnical disciplines. They must also develop the proficiency toperform a variety of laboratory procedures ranging from electrophoresis to radio-immunoassay on a number of instruments. Finally, they willwant to apply their knowledge and skills productively–because they havelearned the healthy work attitudes that lead to good work habits. To enhance staff members’ learning power, managers must spendmuch of their supervisory time acting as teacher and coach.

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Assupervisor, you must constantly assess employees’ capabilities,diagnose deficiencies, and orchestrate learning experiences designed tobring them up to acceptable standards. The wide variation in laboratorians’ entry-level capabilitiescomplicates your role as a teacher. Some newcomers are totallyinexperienced and require extended orientation; others, though highlyexperienced, may have developed poor work attitudes and habits that mustbe overhauled. It’s impossible to implement an effective training anddevelopment program without conducting a needs analysis.

A simplewritten summary assessing each staffer’s capabilities will suffice.As you prepare the analysis, list your observations and conclusionsconcerning deficiencies in knowledge, skills, attitudes, and work habitsfor each employee. The laboratorian profiled in Figure I, for example,is a relatively new technologist. Thus, in itemizing shortcomings, thesupervisor is most concerned with knowledge and skill deficiencies.

Butshe has also noted certain attitude and work habit problems that, ifunchecked and uncorrected, could worsen with time. After completing a technologist’s needs analysis, you shouldthen prepare a learning plan like that shown in Figure II. The learningplan has four parts: 1. Learning objectives. You want the individual to achieve acertain outcome, level of achievement, and standards of evaluation. Thedesired outcome for a particular technologist might be to learn tocalculate certain test results. The corresponding level of achievementvaries with the different procedures, but can usually be expressed as aminimum acceptable level of performance: At least X per cent of thesetest results must be correct.

The standards of evaluation also varyfrom procedure to procedure. In this case, you might expect thetechnologist to meet the standards cited in the laboratory’sprocedure manual. 2.

Learning strategy. You will help the technologist achieve thespecified learning objectives by carefully reviewing the written testprocedure, demonstrating the method, and observing as he or shepractices the technique. To develop a workable learning strategy, youmust consider the content of the material and organize it intomanageable learning units. You must also determine the most logical andefficient way of giving the material to your technologist student. 3. Learning resources. Among the resources you might consider areyour procedure manual, pertinent journal articles, andmanufacturers’ literature. These resources could be supplementedwith lectures, audiovisual aids, programmed instruction, demonstrations,drills, and coaching, to name a few options.

4. Evaluation. At the end of the learning program, you canevaluate the accuracy of the technologist’s performance byrepeating a certain percentage of the tests he or she has completed andcomparing the results. No matter how diverse the various training tasks seem, certaingeneral rules of learning apply. We’ll look at each in turn. * Readiness. People are ready to learn only after they havesatisfied certain conditions.

First, they must sincerely believe thatthey need to learn–that they will somehow benefit by learning or,conversely, suffer a serious consequence if they don’t learn. Theymust also have confidence in their ability to learn and theirteacher’s ability to teach. A laboratorian who resists mastering computer technology, forexample, may feel that the old ways are just are reliable and that hecould never learn the new methodology. In such cases, the student isnot ready to learn and will be difficult–if not impossible–to teach.

* Use. The old practice-makes-perfect adage still holds for mostlearning situations. The more opportunities anyone has to practice anew skill in an environment that is free of risk or penalty, the greaterhis chances of perfecting the technique. * Effect. Even hours of practice won’t enhance expertise ifthe learner cannot differentiate between good and bad performance.

Youmust provide models that let him compare and assess his performance. Thestudent can thus become self-correcting. He learns to recognize whenhis performance falls short of established standards and to identify andcorrect the problem. * Memory.

“Use it or lose it” applies here. Peoplequickly forget whatever they learn, unless that knowledge is continuallyreinforced. To foster long-term retention, you must constantly repeatkey ideas in different ways during the course of the training program.Most supervisors feel relatively comfortable with training andinstructing staff members in short-term programs.

Developingsomeone’s ability over the long term is another matter. This kindof professional nurturing is far more demanding. Here, thetechnologist’s learning is self-directed–with your assistance. When training someone, you take control of the learning situation.You select the content of the material you want to teach, determine themethods you will use to teach it, and establish the amount of trainingtime that you believe is necessary. The technologist student passivelyparticipates in the learning experience.

In contrast, when you develop someone, you become the passiveparticipant, and the learner takes over the active role. Asteacher/developer, you review the learner’s objectives andstrategies, while the student assumes responsibility for completing thestipulated learning activities that will foster continued development.Your primary role in this learning situation is to provide the necessarylearning resources, offer assistance on request, and validate thestudent’s accomplishment of learning objectives. With newer, less experienced employees, you will devote much ofyour time to traditional training and to correcting knowledge and skilldeficiencies. Veteran laboratorians, on the other hand, will need yourtime and help in developing their potential.

They need to keep growingand improving; you must help them build healthy attitudes and sound workhabits. For the newcomer, there is no substitute for a standardized orientation program. You can help ease new employees into your routineby determining exactly what they need to know. Such a program mustinclude: the organization of the laboratory and its staff; laboratoryprocedures and policies; reports and record keeping; equpment andfacilities; and the required performance standards. This is a vast amount of material for anyone to absorb all at once,and there’s a risk of data overload if you rush new employees. Butyou can devise an orientation schedule for the first 30 days in the labthat systmatically exposes newcomers to the workings of your laboratory.

Some of tese assignments can be designed for self-study; others requireinstruction–by you or another experienced technologist. Finally, we should address the supervisor’s responsibility inpreparing staff members for promotion. Grooming employees to take onmore and higher-level responsibility down the road is particularlyimportant. This mean helping them develop more than technical skills.All potential supervisors should learn the fundamentals of management.They must learn how to recruit, hire, train, appraise, control,discipline, motivate, delegate, and counsel, among other complexadministrative tasks.

You can help promising staff members develop these skills byencouraging them to read management literature and enroll in graduatecourses. You might also make special assignments that provide theopportunity to test their newly cultivated managerial talents. And youcan certainly serve as a managerial role model, discussing how youexecute your supervisory responsibilities and sharing youradministrative triumphs along with your mistakes. Throughout their tenure on your staff, technologists see you asteacher, coach, and cheerleader.

If you do a good job, your staffmembers will eventually master the skills that will make them valuableassets to the laboratory–now and in the future.


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