On a recent episode of my weekly talk show, the Power Hour ( www.PowerHour.info), I asked Jerry Storch, the former CEO of Toys R Us, the following question: “You had thousands of employees, and in your business, it’s critically important that they understand the culture of having fun at work. How did you instill and keep alive that culture, in that many employees, when our doctors struggle to do the same thing with only five people?”

I wasn’t surprised by his response, which centered on making sure the culture of the business is widely and clearly broadcast. In fact, I’d previously heard such things as ensuring the exact cultural expectations are clearly communicated to everyone from the highest-ranking employees to the lowest.

Like many before him, he also reiterated that you need to hire people whose personalities are in sync with your culture. For example, make sure your front desk person is extroverted, bubbly and loves interacting with people.

While his responses to this point were excellent ideas, they really weren’t anything new—I’ve heard all of these things before. He then discussed training employees and reiterated the expected truism: “And, of course, after you hire them you have to train them.”

The next thing he explained is what really hit home for me. It’s something that aligned perfectly with what I see in so many practices—often we take the time to hire the right people, but we rarely commit the necessary resources to appropriately train them. “It’s a place that many companies cut back on because there’s an expense associated with it and it’s viewed as non-productive time. But it’s important. How can we expect employees to perform if they haven’t had the opportunity to learn what they’re supposed to do?”

Creating a Culture
What does your training program look like? In our experience, it’s often comparable to the kindergarten game of telephone: “Just watch what Jean does and do the same thing.” Of course, nevermind that Jean was trained by Kevin, who was trained by Sarah, who was trained by Paul, who was fired for being a poorly performing employee.

And during this game of telephone, nearly all the important cultural points you want reinforced have been tossed by the wayside to allow for “more important” items, such as how to answer the phone, the system for stocking trial lenses, when and where to order lens cases and how to submit claims.

All those tasks, while critical to the success of your office, superseded the cultural training that the owners expected would simply be passed from one employee to the next.

The remedy for this situation, of course, is to first recognize the importance of having a consistent culture in your practice. Once you recognize this point, it’s a matter of committing the resources of both time and money to properly train your employees to carry out and embody this culture. Any documentation you have for task-related items should have associated language that addresses the relevance of those tasks to your core values and beliefs.

For example, change the following:

Procedure for backordered specialty contact lenses: Check the order sheets every day and notify patients whose lenses are delayed.

To something a bit more relevant and personal, like this:

To provide an exemplary and stellar contact lens wearing experience for our patients, each day the contact lens technician should review the list of special order lenses we have not yet received. If any of those lenses are beyond the promised delivery date, that patient is to be notified immediately via phone.

The conversation you have with the patient should be apologetic, empathetic and compassionate. You should acknowledge the disappointment that the patient is most likely experiencing, as they cannot start wearing the new lenses they’ve been anxiously waiting to receive.

Connecting each task your staff is trained to do to the cultural reason for doing so, while consistently communicating the importance of making this connection works in the toy business, the dry cleaning business and your contact lens practice.

We’re all critically aware of the shrinking margins and commodification of the product side of our business. Establishing and consistently reinforcing a service-driven culture through a comprehensive training program is a great way to combat that.