Posted July 06, 2018

Skills Labs: 5 Tips for Success

By Erin Shipley, RN, MSN

In healthcare, training a large number of employees in a brief timeframe is a challenge. So, if you are like many leaders, you schedule your entire staff, create a nice presentation and hold training with the full expectation that your employees will immediately begin to implement this new tactic. However, months later, you find that your employees are not using their new skills, or their behaviors have not changed. Why? Employees may be uncomfortable with the new skill, may not know how to perform it in their roles or may simply be unwilling to adjust their routines. Rather than hoping employees “get it,” conduct a skills lab so your staff can learn the skill, see what the skill looks like, practice in a safe learning environment and get real-time coaching and feedback. In my experience, skills labs are the best way to train, educate and evaluate a large group of employees in a one-on-one environment, and when done right, lead to positive change and sustained results.

Over my years as a nurse leader, and most recently as a faculty member for Studer Group’s Nurse Leader Academy and Nurse Leader Bootcamp, I have led many skills labs and have learned some lessons along the way. Here are my tips for holding skills labs that are effective and engaging.

  1. Plan and prepare. Don’t throw the skills lab on the schedule and expect it to work. Make sure you have everything you need for successful training. Do you have the tools and equipment necessary for a successful event? Is the room big enough for each group of employees? To ensure each department has coverage throughout the training, create a list of attendees and plan to cover all shifts. Also, select and prepare enough subject matter experts to help you observe and give feedback to all staff. Use this Skills Lab Checklist or create your own checklist to help you plan the skills lab and reduce variance between sessions.
  2. Communicate to stakeholders.  In my experience, rounding with staff before the skills lab is the most effective way to proactively address pushback and share information about upcoming sessions with your team. When rounding, explain to your staff why you expect them to perform the behavior and how it will help patients. Also, ask your staff what they may like about the tactic and if they see any barriers to implementation. Let them know you want their feedback so you can to adjust the training based on their comments.

    Asking for your team’s input will get their buy-in, build engagement and create excitement. Rounding may also uncover resistance or negative feelings staff members may have about the new skills you are teaching. Leaders should use rounding to set expectations with reluctant employees that attendance is mandatory. In addition to rounding, use email, bulletin boards and newsletters to reach all stakeholders.

  3. Prepare your subject matter experts. Before the session, validate your experts’ skill with the tactic. Give them a copy of the competency checklist so they understand how the tactic looks when performed successfully and help them prepare answers to frequently asked questions. Next, discuss the barriers and pushback that you discovered while rounding so your experts will be prepared.
  4. Create a non-threatening environment. Create a safe atmosphere for attendees where mistakes are expected and even welcomed. Use the information from leader rounding to craft realistic scenarios that relate to the work your staff does every day. Give the participants a copy of the competency checklist ahead of time, so they know what you are looking for during the observation. Remember, it’s not a trick or a pop quiz! You want your staff to know what to expect.
  5. Give constructive feedback. At Studer Group, we use the support-coach-support framework to give feedback. First, start with the positive by telling each employee what they did well. Next, identify one thing to improve. We want to grow their skill sets, not overwhelm them. Finally, offer your help, reaffirm their good qualities, and thank them for engaging in learning something new. Using this feedback method helps leaders highlight their staff’s successes while also tracking the specific behavior each employee needs to strengthen.

The final key to a successful skills lab happens after the training. To create lasting improvement, you must regularly observe and validate your employees using the learned skill. Validation lets your staff know that the skill is not just the flavor of the month; it is an expected behavior. Additionally, observing your staff ensures they are performing the skill correctly and showcases and rewards your star performers. Yes, skills labs are hard work, but they are worth it because the payoff is an engaged staff that is better-equipped to provide exceptional care to our patients.

Erin Shipley, RN, MSN has more than 15 years of leadership experience as a clinical nurse manager and service line administrator. As a Studer Group coach, Erin’s passion, entrepreneurial spirit and professional drive set the stage for a continued push towards operational excellence.


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