The care and feeding of your staff Essay

The acorn doesn’t fall far from the oak. It’s no
surprise then that your staff members’ level of competence is one
of the most accurate measurements of your effectiveness as a supervisor.
Whatever their educational and professional background, it’s up to
you to guide their individual growth and continued mastery of medical

Ideally, each laboratorian should gain the knowledge, skills,
atttudes, and work habits necessary to shine on the job. Depending on
their assignments, technologists must understand the principles of
bacteriology, immunology, biochemistry, serology, and other highly
technical disciplines. They must also develop the proficiency to
perform a variety of laboratory procedures ranging from electrophoresis to radio-immunoassay on a number of instruments. Finally, they will
want to apply their knowledge and skills productively–because they have
learned the healthy work attitudes that lead to good work habits.

To enhance staff members’ learning power, managers must spend
much of their supervisory time acting as teacher and coach. As
supervisor, you must constantly assess employees’ capabilities,
diagnose deficiencies, and orchestrate learning experiences designed to
bring them up to acceptable standards.

The wide variation in laboratorians’ entry-level capabilities
complicates your role as a teacher. Some newcomers are totally
inexperienced and require extended orientation; others, though highly
experienced, may have developed poor work attitudes and habits that must
be overhauled.

It’s impossible to implement an effective training and
development program without conducting a needs analysis. A simple
written summary assessing each staffer’s capabilities will suffice.
As you prepare the analysis, list your observations and conclusions
concerning deficiencies in knowledge, skills, attitudes, and work habits
for each employee. The laboratorian profiled in Figure I, for example,
is a relatively new technologist. Thus, in itemizing shortcomings, the
supervisor is most concerned with knowledge and skill deficiencies. But
she has also noted certain attitude and work habit problems that, if
unchecked and uncorrected, could worsen with time.

After completing a technologist’s needs analysis, you should
then prepare a learning plan like that shown in Figure II. The learning
plan has four parts:

1. Learning objectives. You want the individual to achieve a
certain outcome, level of achievement, and standards of evaluation. The
desired outcome for a particular technologist might be to learn to
calculate certain test results. The corresponding level of achievement
varies with the different procedures, but can usually be expressed as a
minimum acceptable level of performance: At least X per cent of these
test results must be correct. The standards of evaluation also vary
from procedure to procedure. In this case, you might expect the
technologist to meet the standards cited in the laboratory’s
procedure manual.

2. Learning strategy. You will help the technologist achieve the
specified learning objectives by carefully reviewing the written test
procedure, demonstrating the method, and observing as he or she
practices the technique. To develop a workable learning strategy, you
must consider the content of the material and organize it into
manageable learning units. You must also determine the most logical and
efficient way of giving the material to your technologist student.

3. Learning resources. Among the resources you might consider are
your procedure manual, pertinent journal articles, and
manufacturers’ literature. These resources could be supplemented
with lectures, audiovisual aids, programmed instruction, demonstrations,
drills, and coaching, to name a few options.

4. Evaluation. At the end of the learning program, you can
evaluate the accuracy of the technologist’s performance by
repeating a certain percentage of the tests he or she has completed and
comparing the results.

No matter how diverse the various training tasks seem, certain
general rules of learning apply. We’ll look at each in turn.

* Readiness. People are ready to learn only after they have
satisfied certain conditions. First, they must sincerely believe that
they need to learn–that they will somehow benefit by learning or,
conversely, suffer a serious consequence if they don’t learn. They
must also have confidence in their ability to learn and their
teacher’s ability to teach.

A laboratorian who resists mastering computer technology, for
example, may feel that the old ways are just are reliable and that he
could never learn the new methodology. In such cases, the student is
not ready to learn and will be difficult–if not impossible–to teach.

* Use. The old practice-makes-perfect adage still holds for most
learning situations. The more opportunities anyone has to practice a
new skill in an environment that is free of risk or penalty, the greater
his chances of perfecting the technique.

* Effect. Even hours of practice won’t enhance expertise if
the learner cannot differentiate between good and bad performance. You
must provide models that let him compare and assess his performance. The
student can thus become self-correcting. He learns to recognize when
his performance falls short of established standards and to identify and
correct the problem.

* Memory. “Use it or lose it” applies here. People
quickly forget whatever they learn, unless that knowledge is continually
reinforced. To foster long-term retention, you must constantly repeat
key ideas in different ways during the course of the training program.
Most supervisors feel relatively comfortable with training and
instructing staff members in short-term programs. Developing
someone’s ability over the long term is another matter. This kind
of professional nurturing is far more demanding. Here, the
technologist’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 the
methods you will use to teach it, and establish the amount of training
time that you believe is necessary. The technologist student passively
participates in the learning experience.

In contrast, when you develop someone, you become the passive
participant, and the learner takes over the active role. As
teacher/developer, you review the learner’s objectives and
strategies, while the student assumes responsibility for completing the
stipulated learning activities that will foster continued development.
Your primary role in this learning situation is to provide the necessary
learning resources, offer assistance on request, and validate the
student’s accomplishment of learning objectives.

With newer, less experienced employees, you will devote much of
your time to traditional training and to correcting knowledge and skill
deficiencies. Veteran laboratorians, on the other hand, will need your
time and help in developing their potential. They need to keep growing
and improving; you must help them build healthy attitudes and sound work

For the newcomer, there is no substitute for a standardized orientation program. You can help ease new employees into your routine
by determining exactly what they need to know. Such a program must
include: the organization of the laboratory and its staff; laboratory
procedures and policies; reports and record keeping; equpment and
facilities; 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. But
you can devise an orientation schedule for the first 30 days in the lab
that systmatically exposes newcomers to the workings of your laboratory.
Some of tese assignments can be designed for self-study; others require
instruction–by you or another experienced technologist.

Finally, we should address the supervisor’s responsibility in
preparing staff members for promotion. Grooming employees to take on
more and higher-level responsibility down the road is particularly
important. 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 complex
administrative tasks.

You can help promising staff members develop these skills by
encouraging them to read management literature and enroll in graduate
courses. You might also make special assignments that provide the
opportunity to test their newly cultivated managerial talents. And you
can certainly serve as a managerial role model, discussing how you
execute your supervisory responsibilities and sharing your
administrative triumphs along with your mistakes.

Throughout their tenure on your staff, technologists see you as
teacher, coach, and cheerleader. If you do a good job, your staff
members will eventually master the skills that will make them valuable
assets to the laboratory–now and in the future.


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