By Justin L. Manning, OD, MPH, FAAO
Dec. 11, 2019
An employee can go from good to great with the right coaching. You can take an employee who just met the requirements in patient service, and prod that individual to the next level of accomplishment, creating an employee who exceeds expectations.
Now the executive vice-president for professional strategies at Healthy Eyes Advantage, I last managed employees as the Optometric Medical Director at Bettner Vision, in charge of The Keratoconus and Scleral Lens Institute. I directly oversaw the clinic, which included an additional doctor, two full-time technicians and additional cross-trained staff, working as technicians when required.
Here is a case study of how my team and I coached a new technician, who had potential, but was falling short. Coaching this employee to build her confidence and efficiency turned her into a success in our practice.
Be Conscious of Employee’s Experiences from Past Jobs
A new technician joined the practice having come from an ophthalmology practice in the area. The technician was an outgoing, caring individual, yet she came with scars from the previous working environment where technicians were yelled at for taking too much time with patients, trying to build relationships with patients, or even jumping in to help other departments in moments of need.
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Bettner Vision is known throughout the community as providing the highest standard of customer service in eyecare. All team members take pride in providing a five-star experience and wowing each patient. Due to the negative baggage from the previous experience, the new technician was so worried about proving her clinical skills, that neither her clinical skills nor customer service was near acceptable for the position. In addition, the effects the environment had on self-esteem and self-worth led to significant interpersonal challenges between the new hire and the other team members.
Decide That It’s Worth Taking the Time for Coaching
The technician joined the practice at a time when we only had one full-time technician. She was needed due to how busy we were. As she was working directly as my technician, we interacted before and after every patient.
I could see within her a desire to build relationships with patients built on empathy and compassion, despite the mental blocks left by her previous job experience. As a leader, I believed it was worth the investment in time to give the technician the tools needed to accomplish what she wanted to accomplish (in this case, building trusting, caring relationships with all of her patients).
Coach Frequently to Address Personal & Professional Development
Biweekly coaching sessions were held with the business operations manager in addition to regular meetings with me. All coaching was documented in writing after the fact. Formal reviews with goals were signed off by the technician.
These coaching sessions involved demonstrating empathy, seeking to understand the challenges she was encountering that prevented her from accomplishing her desire to provide the services.
We had honest conversations around the expectations of the role, and she said that delivering a high level of customer service, having an outgoing personality and demonstrating empathy and compassion were in alignment with her true personality. In addition, it was made clear to her that our culture was everything.
I explained that if she wasn’t able to break through her personal challenges, she wouldn’t be able to continue to work in our office. I used a challenge-and-support model: Challenge the employee to improve and grow, empathetically explain the consequences of not reaching the goals and provide the daily support needed to accomplish those goals.
Coaching Can Be a Team Effort
Even though the technician was my direct report, other team members were involved in her development. The business operations manager, the medical administrative manager, and practice ownership, were involved as well.
Culture involves everyone on the team supporting each other, and everyone holding each other to the same standard. When attitude and communication among other team members were detrimental during our coaching process, hard conversations were mediated between them to reinforce and maintain the culture that everyone needed to thrive.
Formal 90- and 180-day reviews were delivered to evaluate, and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) goals were set for how the technician was expected to continue growing and improving.
Some of the goals we set:
1. Superior attendance record within 60 days.
2. Changing her language use of “you guys” to “us” within 30 days as a way to improve personal ownership (we gave direct feedback regularly for both achieving and failing to achieve this).
3. Weekly meetings set with the owner-doctor and office manager to build stronger, more trusting relationships with leadership. Feelings of trust and vulnerability were evaluated at these sessions.
4. Becoming an active member in culture creation, challenging other team members when negative comments or gossip occurred.
5. Improving written communication to be more team-focused and inclusive with biweekly follow-up on progress with examples for improvement.
Setting the Stage for a Positive Outcome
Once the technician was able to establish trust in the team, see she truly was a valued member of the team, and believe the culture of the office was built on empowering and developing each individual, she flourished. She was consistently cited by name in five-star Google Reviews, and we had patients who would only work with her.
The technician is a scleral lens wearer, and she poured her heart into advancing the Keratoconus and Scleral Lens Institute, developing an in-office tracking system for each patient. She came up with the idea of treating these patients like refractive surgery or premium IOL consults, and worked with me to develop welcome/information folders.
Within a year and a half of joining the practice, she was promoted to management, and worked one-on-one with the new doctors to advance their niche specialties.
Coaching helped to transform this employee into one of the practice’s greatest assets.