5 Small Daily Coaching Tips Prevent Big Problems in Your Eyecare Practice

By Gerard Johnson, M.S. July 05, 2022

Throughout my many years of training new leaders, I am often asked how I handle big issues as they arise. My answer is simple, coach the small issues before they become the big issues.

Dr. Suess once said, “sometimes the questions may be complicated and the answers are simple”.

This holds true for coaching performance, attitude, or conflict issues in your practice. Focus on the small simple day-to-day problems and coaching opportunities. This approach will help you get ahead of most issues before they blossom into thorny situations that require complicated coaching interventions. Below are 5 simple coaching tips to help prevent big problems. 

1. Create a Safe Place

Appointment Scheduling | Teen Portal | Three Rivers Public Health DeptSome leaders often make the mistake of allowing their offices to become doom and gloom.  Think about the principal’s office as a kid. These offices bring staff in when it’s time to discuss one-sided accountability issues. Even before stepping into the room, employees' defenses are up. How do you ever expect to have a productive conversation regarding performance improvement in that situation? Your team needs to feel safe in their environment if you want to have a constructive conversation. This doesn’t mean fluffy pillows, incense, and Enya playing in the background. Creating comfort simply requires your being aware of the surroundings, and making sure the area is clean and uncluttered. If you are not using an office, make sure the area isn’t cramped or crowded as tight spaces can crack up the anxiety and tension. Arrange the chairs so you are facing each other but not too close so as not to invade the other person’s personal space. If possible, position the employee's chair closer to the door giving them a metaphorical easy escape. There is nothing worse than having a difficult conversation and feeling trapped in a space. Make this space a place for all conversations— good or bad. If you see someone doing great, call them into your office to offer positive coaching. This area should be a one-stop-shop for all conversations removing the stigma and creating a space for an open coaching feedback loop.

2. Set Clear Expectations

Let’s make sure that our entire team is on the same page from the start about their roles and responsibilities. It will reduce the need for coaching around job performance issues and give you more time to focus on goals and optimization. We are our expectations, so make sure you are clear and concise with your expectations. Golfer Alex J. Morrison once said, “You must first clearly see a thing in your mind before you can do it.” Before you assign a task make sure you fully understand the expectation, the duration, and feel comfortable explaining the task. After you have assigned the task or new role, schedule a follow-up to allow your team to ask questions after they have begun the work. A lot of times employees can’t predict what questions or issues they’ll face in a new role, so they don’t know what to ask until they’ve started the work.

3. Lose the Ego

Ego and servant leadership don't mix. If you want to get to the bottom of a staff member not meeting your expectations, ask them why they think they underperformed? What do they see as the impediments to their success?

Ego Check | As pictured on page 25 in Car Dealer Hell writte… | FlickrReading between the lines, sometimes the answer will be that we as managers are the impediment. Hey, we have all been there. You assigned your team a task without fully explaining it. Then, you weren't available to answer questions as they arose. Maybe you’ve been micromanaging. Is the team having a hard time focusing because you’re asking how their work is going too often? I was guilty of this one myself. I had a veteran team that knew how to do their jobs. I thought I was making myself available to help, but what they needed was for me to leave them alone so they could work. To meet them halfway, I reduced my floor time and let them know my door is always open to help or answer questions. I can still make my observations and fulfill my managerial and coaching obligations. I can offer constructive criticism to my team by keeping the lines of communication open, listening to input from my team, and putting my ego aside. 

Leaders lead not just in our words, but also in our actions. Show your team that you are willing to honor their voice. If there is a good reason the suggestion cannot be implemented, give them a clear reason why.  If you take away anything from this article, I want you to remember that an open coaching feedback loop can prevent small issues from becoming big problems.

4. Role play training is always in play

Do you conduct role-play training with your team? What does your role-playing look like? We think of role-playing as having people stand up during a meeting and we throw scenarios at them like "pretend Shonda is an angry patient and Angela is trying to save the sale”? Unfortunately, this form of role-playing tends to turn your staff into a poor man’s Denzel Washington–overacting and sapping the learning opportunity. Move your role-play onto the floor. This will significantly remove the fear of performing, and combine it with your observations. If you see something, say something. Work the ARCC as a coach. Turn your light touch questions into a role-play training opportunity. After watching a front desk person struggle with scheduling an appointment, pull them aside and have them walk you through the scheduling process. Ask them “what if” questions while being careful not to use the classic term “pretend”. This technique works best if you ease the person into the role-play and not add performance pressure to the coaching process.

5. Don’t forget to coach the positive

Feedback to Manager Examples | PipedriveIt’s difficult to strike the right balance between coaching and anxieties surrounding coaching conversations while allowing my team space to make mistakes on their own path to growth. If you are struggling with this, you are not alone. However,  as leaders, we have an obligation to actively seek feedback from our staff. Note that not all coaching is corrective. When you see someone on your team do a great job - like walking a patient through their insurance, helping a scared teen put in contacts for the first time, or being a ray of light at the front desk - let’s go out of our way to celebrate them. That’s coaching, too! Those moments of positivity create relationships of trust which allow you to have productive performance conversations. When engaging in positive coaching, don’t forget to be specific in your praise.

Ultimately, the purpose of coaching is to help support and develop your team. I can’t think of a better way to develop your team than encouraging positive behaviors.  As managers and leaders, it is our responsibility to create an open coaching feedback loop. That open coaching feedback loop should include the good (praise), the bad (correction), and leadership accountability (team feedback on your performance).

Gerard Johnson, M.S.

Gerard is a writer, trainer, and leader who has worked in healthcare since 2003. He has managed and trained teams in Optometry, Ophthalmology, and Family Medicine. Gerard currently works as a practice manager for a family practice in Atlanta, GA.

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