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HomemibusinessEducation is Expensive But Ignorance ain‘t Bliss

Education is Expensive But Ignorance ain‘t Bliss

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” said the educator, lawyer, and former president of Harvard University, Derek Bok. For the eye health professional today, this is the stark reality. As the retail world and technology continue to evolve, and research uncovers new insights, ongoing learning and professional development are absolutely critical to building a successful business.

Literature and discussion of professional development abounds across many resources. Just Googling the phrase ‘professional development’ sends back articles, books, best practice advice and self-help tools for every industry ever known. It seems universally understood, and pressed upon us, that to continue growing and nurturing businesses or careers, we need to take part in some form of professional development to make our learning a constant process.

Business advisor to optical retailers and optometrists Mark Overton agrees that education is one of the most important investments you can make in your practice. “What your staff know can be a vital competitive advantage,” he said. “The success of some of the world’s best businesses is driven by their focus on education and organisational learning. A study by Harvard Business School of S&P 500 Index companies who invested more than 10 per cent of revenues in education showed that these companies outperformed the other listed companies significantly. They moved forward even under the worst economic conditions.”

Taking Time

For those who own their own business, or are responsible for managing teams and running operations, hefty workloads can make it difficult to take time out to spend a few days at an event, or hours over months to complete a short course. But there are many approaches to engage in further learning, which won’t eat up large amounts of time.

Knowledgeable and highly trained staff are very hard for competitors to duplicate, yet they lie at the very heart of success

Eric Breda, the Business Director for Transitions Optical Australia and New Zealand, said networking with peers is a big part of the process. “For me, furthering learning is about being tapped in and connected to peers, the discussion within the industry and the information being shared on a daily basis,” he said.

“I didn’t have a background in eye care or optometry when I joined Transitions Optical, but seeking information and connection with the industry, its people and discussion has cemented my leadership position here.”

“Importantly, I also have an appreciation and knowledge of the intricacies of the industry, not just about the technology behind lenses, but also the issues experienced by practices,” he said.

Mr. Breda advises colleagues, peers and practices to tap into all of the resources available in the industry.

“Our industry has some great literature, newsletters, publications, online tools, discussions on forums and social media and wonderful campaigns we can be inspired by – from awareness campaigns for eye protection across industry and social media, to informative articles and online education questionnaires,” said Mr. Breda.

mivision launched its free online distance education modules in July 2011 and the number of optometrists who have accessed the articles and completed assessments to gain CPD points has grown dramatically. In the first month 100 modules were completed, while in both October and November 2012, over 1,000 modules were completed by optometrists each month.

“The response to our education modules has been phenomenal and this demonstrates the demand for professional education that can be completed in an optometrist’s own time – from their practice or home – wherever it suits,” said Mark Cushway, editor of mivision. “The profession needs a comprehensive mix of options so they can get the required 40 CPD points they need each year.”

Articles for mivision are directly commissioned from researchers and high profile members of the eye health profession from Australia or overseas. Occasionally, mivision will re-produce either part or all of a research paper, with permission from the original author and publisher.

Informal Connections

Mr. Breda says it’s not only formal education that can help members of the profession.

“I really enjoy, and find value in getting online for 30 minutes a week to see updates from local optometrists on their news or blog pages or reading great stories about organisations giving sight to remote communities in Australia. The work I see happening in the industry and people’s stories are motivating and provide wonderful perspective,” said Mr. Breda.

Networking socially with colleagues can also provide valuable insights into a raft of business related topics – such as steps that can be taken to create a more successful practice, effective management techniques and advice on products that can best suit particular customer groups.

At Transitions Optical, Mr. Breda says being connected and listening to what the industry has to say has also helped navigate the current economy and identify opportunities to build the business.

“As technology and the retail landscape evolve, being armed with information is the best starting point to navigate the rough terrain. Our team has used insights gained in the field to direct our business activity,” he said.

Mr. Breda said over the past twelve months, the company’s work in the field with eye care professionals facilitated a better understanding of practice concerns and led to the expansion of its product portfolio.

“The feedback from our field research and on the ground Territory Managers was invaluable – we found a number of key insights that highlighted ways in which we could support optical retailers to build their practice through Transition sales.

“For example, we identified a growing demand for adaptive eyewear for driving conditions, coupled with a low awareness of the features and the performance of Transitions XTRActive lenses, which can meet this demand.

“Second, as we launched Transitions Vantage, we gained valuable insights and feedback from the field on the product’s performance, and how it could be recommended.

“We listened to our peers, and used information gained to guide our support of the industry and our communications, which began with the launch of our online education program www.transitions education.com, in September,” said Mr. Breda.

Staff Education Essential

Mr. Overton said education programs such as the online program that Transitions has launched are an effective way to educate all practice staff.

“Much of a practice’s competitive advantage lies in how you and your staff can deliver the products and services to your patients to satisfy their needs and wants, and to reduce the risk they encounter when buying optical products and services. If you can thoroughly educate your staff on all the relevant products and services, and on how to identify and resolve a customer’s needs, then you’re ahead… That requires education,” said Mr. Overton.

“Education is essential and the benefits are significant. Knowledgeable and highly trained staff are very hard for competitors to duplicate, yet they lie at the very heart of success. The people who work in your practice need to be the very best that you can be, in fact better they need to be better than anybody else.”

Mr. Overton said there are other valuable advantages that can be derived from educating staff.

“Education improves staff retention and motivation. Income will be improved. Patient service and satisfaction will be optimised. Responsibility and work load can be shared. You become an attractive employer… The list goes on.

“That means everything you do in your practice should be focused around education. Yes, it is hard work, and it costs money, and it takes time, but to get the best share of the market, and position your practice for the future, it is hard to find a better idea,” said Mr. Overton.

“Working closely with like-minded suppliers and taking advantage of other important sources of industry specific and business education are some of the most important things you can do.”