Staff Management

5 Ways to Find Skills Gaps in Your Staff & Create a Plan to Fill Them

By Steve Vargo, OD, MBA

June 23, 2021

My staff keeps making the same mistakes!

I frequently hear this complaint from frustrated employers. While the blame is typically placed on the employee, it’s also possible that management failed the employee by not providing adequate training and feedback.

I frequently observe that offices aren’t certain what their employees know and don’t know. There’s an assumption because a topic was covered during training that the employee possesses the knowledge to competently perform the job. However, research has found that many employees feel frustrated as a result of a poor training system that allows for knowledge gaps.

Employees won’t always admit to their skills or knowledge deficiencies for fear of being perceived as a sub-par employee. But it’s important to uncover those deficiencies and provide employees with the necessary ongoing support.

Below are key ways to pinpoint gaps in staff knowledge and training and create plans to address those gaps.

Can I Ask You a Question?
The focus of this article is on knowledge gaps with staff, but in reality, a lot of ODs and practice owners also have knowledge gaps when it comes to their practice. Making a habit of frequently asking your staff questions can accomplish two objectives. First, you’ll become more knowledgeable about areas of your practice you should have a better understanding of. Second, the answers you get (or don’t get) from your staff allows you to assess their knowledge.

If an employee isn’t able to provide you the answers you need, it’s an opportunity to create a plan to elevate that employee’s knowledge or skills in that particular area.

Show Me How You Do This
Make a habit of asking employees to show you how things are done. For example, before assuming your biller is competent at billing a certain vision plan, ask this employee to demonstrate for you how to submit a claim. To avoid being perceived as the “untrusting” boss, try to communicate to the staff that as a practice owner you want to understand how everything works and you depend on your wonderful team to keep you informed and apprised. This way, the staff feels like an important part of the team that you depend on, as opposed to creating a low-trust work environment.

Teach the Teacher
I’m a big fan of the “teach the teacher” concept. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. This should be a part of the initial training, but occasionally training should be revisited in any practice. Most training programs offer new hires explanations of their roles, and typically new hires are asked to observe other employees, but new hires are not always asked to demonstrate competency to a trainer. Whether it’s new hire training or part of an ongoing employee development program, require the trainee to teach the trainer, then provide feedback and additional training to close the gap on deficiencies.

Create a Training Manual
Do you have a written training manual? If not, you could have your staff create one. Each employee could contribute based on their area of expertise. As you review their submissions, you’ll have a better sense of where their knowledge is strong and where they may need more training. Also, this exercise will force the staff to increase their knowledge for the mere purpose of completing this task.

Build a High-Trust Work Environment
Office culture is important to creating a knowledgeable staff, and part of that culture involves creating a high-trust work environment. In a high-trust work environment, it’s OK to admit when you don’t know something. Give your staff permission to say, “I don’t understand this, can I get some help?”

In low-trust work environments, employees are afraid to admit when they don’t know something for fear of negative consequences. As a result, jobs aren’t done right and mistakes persist. I’ve personally seen offices accumulate accounts receivables in the six figures because the biller didn’t want to admit they didn’t understand several aspects of third-party billing.

Don’t make the mistake of putting a time frame on staff training and development. Continually assess your staff’s knowledge and skills, and create an environment where employees are always learning and growing. These efforts will be appreciated by both the staff and your patients!

Steve Vargo, OD, MBA, is a practice consultant, speaker and author. His latest book is “Prescribing Change: How to Make Connections, Influence Decisions and Get Patients to Buy into Change.” To contact him: 


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