The care and feeding of your staff.
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 habits.
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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|Publication:||Medical Laboratory Observer|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1985|
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