Staff Management

Coaching Employees: The 6 Easy-to-Implement Steps to Doing It In Your Practice

By Justin Manning, OD, MPH, FAAO,
and Dani Manning, GCDF, CCSP, Executive Coach

Feb. 24, 2021

One of the most impactful goals you can set for your practice this year is to amplify staff development and improve the overall performance of your team. This is among the most aspirational and challenging goals to accomplish. It takes significant time and energy, especially when both seem in short supply. It is, however, an essential investment in the long-term success of any practice.

A secret tool we’ve discovered in the most successful practices is coaching. Doctors and practice leaders that utilize this approach consistently enjoy the positive outcomes of teams who are engaged in their work, have increased productivity and feel empowered to serve the practice and patients at their best.

While a benefit to work with a professional coach or go through a certification program, practically speaking, doctors and practice leaders need only to learn and invest into a coaching approach to yield the benefits above in their practice.

Here is how coaching is defined, along with six simple steps you can use to implement it in your practice to ensure a staff that is better prepared to serve patients.

What Is Coaching?
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. In the case of your practice, the “clients” would be your employees.

Coaching requires lines of powerful, open-ended questions. Each team member who engages with these questions will process the world in their own unique and creative way. Therefore, doctors and leaders must be invested in the journey it takes to arrive at effective solutions.

Applying The Principles
Consider the following scenario: One of Dr. Jones’s goals for 2021 is to incorporate a new technology to provide cognitive screening testing to her patients. As part of implementing this device, new office systems, patient flow and patient education are required. This morning, she presented the new device and held training on office flow and goals for patient adoption.

As she leaves for lunch that day, she overhears the following comment from her practice administrator: “I can’t believe we’re adding yet another device. This is going to be so difficult to implement with the team, especially with all these COVID protocols we still have to follow. There’s no way we’ll be able to get everyone onboard and implement this new technology well.”

After lunch, Dr. Jones sits down with her practice administrator to address what she heard. She knows COVID-19 has been tough and doesn’t want to make life even more difficult on her team. However, this new technology has the potential to drive significant practice growth– desperately needed after last year’s challenges.

The Coaching Approach in 6 Steps
Step 1: Take Off Your Advice Hat & Replace With Coaching Spectacles
It is easy as a practice owner to feel a need to have all the answers. You may quickly want to offer advice for how to address the challenge, convince the practice administrator of the value, and say the right thing to keep morale high. This approach is often exhausting over time. A coaching approach provides a powerful alternative.

Unlike giving advice, the coaching approach assumes the practice administrator already has the tools and knowledge to solve this challenge. Dr. Jones puts her coaching spectacles on and utilizes thought-provoking questions to guide her administrator to one or more solutions.

Step 2: Understand and Clarify
Be curious and ask a few “how” or “what” questions to learn more. Dr. Jones can try these questions with the administrator:
1. “Thank you for meeting with me. How did the news of the new technology land with you?”
2. “How do you define difficult?”
3. “What ideas do you have to help get our team on board?”

Step 3: Redirect For The Best Future Outcomes
Next, help your team member envision the best future outcome for the challenge or problem they’re facing. Use disarming phrases such as “I’m curious” and “Imagine if” to encourage exploration of new ideas or methods.

Dr. Jones can ask:
1. “I’m curious, what does a successful implementation look like? What does it sound like? What does the office feel like?”
2. “What do you imagine the benefits will be for our team?”
3. “Imagine we are celebrating a successful implementation, how have our patients benefited from this?”

Step 4: Move To Action
Time to make a plan! As the coaching conversation unfolds, your team member now has a clearer image of success.

Questions Dr. Jones can use:
1. “What steps could you begin taking to accomplish this imagined scenario?”
2. “What advice would you give to another practice administrator who had this same idea?”
3. “What resources, if any, are needed to accomplish this?”

Step 5: Ensure Accountability
“Accountability breeds response-ability”–Stephen Covey

The more a doctor or practice leadership encourages, supports, and most importantly, lives out accountability, the more team members will naturally rise to the occasion.

Dr. Jones’s practice administrator has now identified steps and resources necessary for the successful technology implementation. The doctor asks:
1. “On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being not committed and 10 being fully committed to <First Action Step A>, where are you now?
a. If a 9 or below:
i. “What does a <#> mean?”
ii. “How can I help get you to a <next higher #>?”
b. If a 10, “How can I help you remain at a 10 in your commitment?”
2. “How can I best support you and the team?”

Step 6: Thank You
Your team member has done the thought-lifting for the day. Thank them for their time and input.

The scenario above highlights how practical and powerful the coaching approach can be to resolving practice challenges. Any team member, especially the practice administrator or doctor, can take a coaching approach, knowing it is beneficial to the success of the practice.

As you begin implementing a coaching approach, at first it may feel uncomfortable to ask so many questions. Advice is easier and takes less time; however, with a coaching approach, upfront conversational investment will lead to far greater rewards in team development, problem-solving and long-term success.

Let us know how coaching is transforming your practice!

Justin Manning, OD, MPH, FAAO, is the executive vice-president of professional strategies at Healthy Eyes Advantage (HEA). He can be reached at




Dani Manning, GCDF, CCSP, is a certified executive and career coach and the Manager of Performance Development and Engagement at the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee. She can be reached at

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