For one hospital cafeteria, the main ingredients for effective training included being real, being respectful, and building relationships.
At one food services department within a large hospital system, two learning and change facilitators strove to design a training program to help increase patient satisfaction.
While it is common for large organizations to deliver training within a classroom setting, the facilitators decided that such formal training would not be effective for their purposes. Instead, they sought a method to better encourage relationship building, incorporate necessary pretraining analysis, and allow for adequate post-training follow-up.
Through research, application, and evaluation, the facilitators designed the EMBED training model as a method for accurate and meaningful situational analysis to guide subsequent performance improvement workshops, training events, and leadership coaching. The EMBED approach adheres to specific guidelines for facilitators:
- Embed in a department to shadow staff in their daily activities. Observe their responsibilities, learn about their work, and get to know individuals.
- Meet with management to identify goals. Explain the EMBED process, emphasizing the importance of a strong partnership between leadership and training staff to achieve the desired outcomes. Agree on how success will be measured.
- Build an initial relationship and develop a bond of trust with the staff and leadership by meeting prior to training delivery.
- Engage with staff and educate them on the concepts and skills specific to their situations. During the shadowing process, assess and identify gaps between desired and observed behaviors.
- Design, develop, and evaluate training specific to each situation. Include tools and support for the leadership team that are needed to coach, encourage, and reinforce desired behaviors.
Donning hairnets and aprons, the facilitators shadowed the food service associates to establish relationships with individuals while learning about their work. During the shadowing process, the facilitators learned that a hospital cafeteria concerns itself with a wide variety of tasks such as meal preparation, cafeteria line movement, food quality, food variety and appeal, staff appearance and communications, cleanliness, and meal delivery. Each department task and role contributes to a measure of customer satisfaction for patients, visitors, and employees.
At first associates were distrustful of the facilitators and protective of their space, and they expressed their concerns. Over time the facilitators developed individual relationships with employees, learning their names and exploring their roles. Slowly the relationship-building efforts began to pay off, and associates warmed to the facilitators' presence.
At the same time, the facilitators met with key leaders in the food service department. These conversations helped the facilitators to gain a better understanding of the overall goals around improving customer satisfaction scores.
After gathering these initial data, the facilitators designed a two-hour workshop about the customer experience. They launched classes with customized training content on positivity, the four basic needs of customers, feeling welcomed, being comforted, body language, listening versus hearing, managing up, and dealing with difficult customers.
To effectively meet each individual's learning style, the facilitators incorporated opportunities for seeing, reading, and hearing examples of desired tasks and behaviors. Their goal was to communicate that each associate needed to "be real, be respectful, and be committed to building relationships" to provide patients and their families with a first-class customer service experience.
During their conversations with department leaders and their observations of associates, the facilitators realized that most employees had little personal experience with excellent customer service. To address this, the facilitators partnered with a first-class customer service provider—a local five-star restaurant—to show associates a real-life exemplary service experience. The restaurant provided the perfect setting to celebrate the training program's completion while simultaneously giving associates a firsthand reference of exceptional customer service.
As the luncheon approached, associates expressed concerns about what to wear and how to act, and even questioned why they needed to attend. Many were apprehensive and uncertain about what would happen—much like the experience of patients arriving in the hospital setting.
The restaurant staff welcomed the associates warmly. They were eager to make each person feel welcome, and they focused on connecting and building relationships. Tensions began to dissipate, and soon associates began asking questions about the food, taking pictures with their phones, and laughing as if they had been dining at the restaurant for years.
The restaurant's servers shared their pride in working for the restaurant, talked about the organization's creed, and showed associates the small pocket books printed with the restaurant's standards that they carried at all times. They successfully built relationships with the associates, who left the luncheon excited about their own work. Through this closing experience, associates gained not merely a celebratory event, but an experience of first-class customer service that significantly enhanced their overall understanding of how to be real, be respectful, and build relationships.
In keeping with the EMBED model, the facilitators encouraged and coached department management to provide full support. A manager attended each lunch session, and even the vice president participated in one session. After the experience, managers attended a two-hour workshop through which they learned to reinforce the skills, attitudes, and behaviors of their associates so that their investment in training would result in long-term success.
Lessons learned and results
A note from the vice president of operations at the hospital best describes the results of the training:
"One of the most successful parts of the program was an experiential learning event that consisted of groups of eight eating together at an upscale five-star restaurant in downtown Indianapolis. ... The staff members were able to experience firsthand the services associated with fine dining so that they could emulate that service with hospital customers. This lunch encounter served as a thank you to the individuals for providing the food whenever there is a hospital-wide celebration and they have to work instead of participating in the festivities."
Additionally, internal scores demonstrate training success. Between quarters two and three of 2010, staff scores improved in the categories of "courtesy and helpfulness of food staff" and "overall quality of food." Prior category ratings scored between the 90th and 75th percentiles or below. After the training, all but one of the category ratings increased to the 90th percentile or above, with several scoring at 100 percent.
The facilitators learned some valuable lessons as they developed, launched, and evaluated the EMBED training method: Foster a strong partnership between the leadership team and the facilitators; decide what success of training will look like and how such results will be qualitatively and quantitatively measured; assess whether the learning experience is making a difference in assisting clients to reach their goals; facilitate rather than lecture; help employees to master tasks through coaching and practice; and remember that sometimes the most effective strategy involves accountability and coaching rather than training. Finally, be real, be respectful, and build relationships.