As a physician recruiting agency, we have the usual challenge of any recruiting firm—serving our two different constituencies — candidates and clients — and the challenge of working in a specialized industry, healthcare, which has detailed credentialing requirements that vary based on the state, private versus government, and client to client. Additionally, our agency recruits for six high-demand specialties, each with its own set of expertise and requirements.
To help serve our two customer segments, we divided our account executives into two roles: marketers, who deal directly with clients at healthcare facilities, and recruiters, who work with physicians. Also, each of our recruiters and marketers staffs for a single medical specialty.
About seven years ago, we developed our Research Consulting group, a training program for account executives, to accommodate our unique organizational structure. I took over the RC group about five years ago. I started at the company as an account executive, and I had a passion for sales training. When the opportunity to manage and develop my own sales team presented itself, I was very enthusiastic about it. I am an example of the various career-path options that are available to all associates within our organization. This process guides associates through different stages of their career in a very organic manner by giving them the support and training they need along the way.
Filling a Need
Our objective for the RC program was to take associates with all sorts of backgrounds — previous recruiters or not, sales or non-sales, healthcare focus or not, experienced or straight out of school — and prepare them to work with healthcare clients and physicians in our specialty focus areas.
Aside from its official role as a lead-generating department, the RC group is essentially an incubator for the specialty divisions. Strictly speaking, our formal training program lasts for only a week, but in fact, the RC training and learning are ongoing until the new associate moves to either a recruiting or marketing position in one of our specialty divisions, based on the employee’s readiness and the teams’ needs.
Initially, we only made a stay in the RC group required for people without prior experience in the field. We’ve since made it mandatory for all associates working in either marketing or recruiting. I’ll explain how we arrived at that decision later.
The Program in a Nutshell
During a new associate’s first week, he or she participates in the formal training program, which includes a combination of classroom teaching, shadowing, and hands-on learning. In other words, we target all three learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. They spend mornings in classroom training covering a wide range of topics including traditional sales training, healthcare, and specialty-specific training and database training.
In the afternoons, we use peer teaching by pairing up new RCs with experienced marketers and recruiters to shadow. That’s when they have an opportunity to observe the practical application of what they learned in theory in the morning. We also allow new RCs to observe existing RCs at work. Their feedback is great because the senior RCs have recently experienced what the new RC is just learning. Problems like overcoming objections that veteran marketers and recruiters just do by second nature are very fresh in RCs’ minds, so they can be very helpful peer teachers as well. We make it a point to expose new RCs to associates with different sales styles so they can see that there’s more than one way to approach a selling scenario.
Another unique aspect of our program is that we don’t hire people into marketing or recruiting roles; instead, we expose them to both. The two roles are each unique and appeal to people for different reasons. We’ve found that once they’ve gone through the program and are ready to be promoted, they’ve really become comfortable with one of the two roles, mainly because they had a large part in deciding how to shape it. This approach is one of the reasons why our RC program is so effective.
Our RC program’s success is evident in a lot of different ways, but one very important benefit is our employee retention rate. We have one of the best retention rates in the industry at 87 percent. That goes a long way with clients and physicians because they value the relationships that they build with our associates over the years.
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An important ingredient in the success of our program is a continual feedback process in both directions. We receive anonymous feedback from new employees at two points. In the first feedback survey, at the end of the first week of employment, we ask them whether the training materials and presentations were effective, whether or not they felt comfortable asking questions, whether the training prepared them to do their job, and so forth. After about a month, they take a second survey where they tell us whether we need to put more emphasis on some topics, less on others, or add new topics altogether to the training. The beauty of our feedback process is that we don’t have to wait until the end of the year to make those changes. We can implement changes immediately. Each time we conduct the training program it’s different. We make tweaks to the training literally every time we give it.
For instance, we started getting feedback that one of our modules was not as helpful as the others, so we opted to turn it into an e-learning lesson that RCs can take on their own time. That way we freed up our time to put more emphasis on the modules that were most valuable.
Our RCs receive regular feedback also. We give them formal and self-paced exercises. We listen in on their calls. We monitor the number of calls they make and their talk time. And we report on the amount of gross profit they helped book.
The ROI of Training
As mentioned earlier, we decided to make the RC program mandatory for newbies as well as veterans. A little over a year after I took over the RC group, we conducted an analysis comparing the performance of associates who had gone through the RC program and those who had not. We found that RC graduates produced more gross profit as a whole, and they ramped up a lot faster than the non-RCs. Our RC program paid for itself in spades.
As a result of this analysis, our training program has grown and flourished. In addition to the RC group, we have ongoing training throughout the year for all our associates through our Lunch and Learn program and other training offered by our parent company. Each associate has a personalized training plan tailored to his or her career path. And we’ve recently begun a mentoring program, which pairs our vice presidents with directors whose interests and career goals complement each other. Later, those directors will mentor senior associates.
There’s a tangible ROI from training. I see examples of it walking around the company every single day.