Staff Management

Employee Performance Turnaround Guide

By Danny Clarke, OD,

and Joely Anderson, Office Manager

Dec. 14, 2016

Our practice has a systematic hiring process in which we hire for personality and attitude and train for skill. We usually choose the right people, but sometimes even those right people struggle. Rather than quickly write off new employees who are having a hard time, we work with them and help them improve.

My practice, located in Wichita Falls, Texas, has four ODs and a staff of 21. Having a staff this size allows us to designate a trainer and offer continued coaching. In a smaller practice, the OD, and/or the office manager, may be doing the training of new employees. In our practice, we have always depended on other team members to help in the training process, but when we were smaller, the manager and OD/owner were more involved in the day-to-day training.

Our new hires tend to not have experience, so we communicate to them that almost everyone in the practice started where they are – at square one with no prior experience or knowledge of how to do the job. We reassure them that while there is a lot to learn, we believe they are the right person for the job and we will do everything we can to help them be successful within our company–as long as they continue to put in the effort of learning and reflect our core values as they interact with our patients and their teammates.

A few of the 21 team members at Clarke EyeCare Center in Wichita Falls, Texas. Dr. Clarke says a monthly check-in process, which emphasizes continual improvement, creates effective new hire training.

A Fix is More Economical than a Redo

Hiring employees is expensive, including paying employment agency fees, employee medical coverage ($15,000-$20,000), employee insurance and the search and interview process itself.

Fixing the performance of an under-performer you’ve already chosen and trained is more economical and time-efficient than going through the selection/hiring/training process again.

Maintain Improved Performance with Monthly Check-Ins

Our manager touches base at least monthly with the new employee, more if needed. There are numerous check-ins between the manager and the department manager throughout the training process to track the trainee’s progress. In addition, the manager coaches the department manager through their process in overseeing the training.

There are also meetings, as needed, with the manager, trainer and trainee to get the potential new employee used to our constant communication, and to talk about the things they’re doing great on, not just corrective measures. We want the new employee to begin to feel comfortable with our leadership team at all levels, not just within their department.

Recognize & Address Struggling Employee

A key sign that an employee is struggling is other team members show their frustration with the struggling person. The practice owner and office manager may interpret this as employees who aren’t getting along, but it actually may be that the more experienced team members are frustrated that the struggling person is not pulling their weight. Another sign that a person is struggling is that the struggling person doesn’t seem, or act, like themselves. They may not seem happy, and this may be a manifestation of them feeling overwhelmed.

Talk Openly About Errors

Our process starts with the trainer saying to the trainee, I’ve noticed some areas that need improvement, and I’d like to speak to you about this. Is now a good time to discuss these issues?” This leading question should signal to the trainee that they need to be ready to receive correction. They would then, ideally, answer back to the trainer, “Yes, I am ready to discuss these issues.” Delineating that both parties are ready to communicate openly, and receive what the other is trying to say, sets the tone for the discussion to advance.

Provide Coaching to Correct Errors

Coaching includes helping the trainee understand that the appropriate response is to confirm that they have heard the trainer, own their mistake(s), and can mirror back what they need to do to fix and/or avoid the mistake(s) in the future. This helps the trainer know that their message was received. The trainer then should thank the trainee for being open to hearing and receiving correction. They are encouraged to reassure the trainee that this learn/make mistakes/correct mistakes process is normal and expected. Making a mistake is not a problem, making the same mistake repeatedly is a problem. What really shows you if someone is a good addition to your team is how they recover after a mistake is made.

Ensure Employee is Open to Making Corrections

When someone isn’t progressing in their role as we hoped, it almost always goes back to how they are receiving correction. We reiterate the process mentioned above to help them understand that in order to keep moving forward in the training process, they have to learn as they go and correct their mistakes to keep moving forward.

Danny Clarke, OD, owns Clarke EyeCare Center in Wichita Falls, Texas, which received an All-Star award by The Great Game of Business. The practice recently was named the Family-Owned Business of the Year for the SBA Dallas/Ft. Worth district of Texas. Dr. Clarke is also the President of MODUS Practice in Motion, which offers open-book management training to optometric practices. To contact him:

Joely Anderson is the office manager for Clarke EyeCare Center and is also the Vice-President of MODUS Practice in Motion. To contact her:




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