Coaching and mentoring are critical components at the heart of great performance and stellar practice management success. Stories abound of artistic and athletic prodigies, such as Tracey Austin and Yo-Yo Ma, who were identified and groomed for world-class performance. A similar identification and grooming process takes place every day in well-run medical practices, as savvy managers and physicians identify talent early and groom their star players for “best in class” performance.

Practice employees who thrive on the pulse and energy of the workplace, who feel challenged but not overwhelmed, and who are confident that they are a critical part of a practice composed of winners personify staff management “perfection.” While initial staff selection is a key component for success, choosing the right person is only the first step in what potentially can be a long and fulfilling career for that employee. Careful planning and prudent employee development must become an integral part of your practice culture. Indeed, without nurturing and cultivation, even the most promising employees will never reach their full potential.

Mentoring Checklist
Employees with exceptional potential will exhibit several signs for which managers should be on the lookout. Those who are poised for greatness tend to:

  • Enjoy working with others. The more patientcentric a practice is, the more people-oriented staff jobs become. When employees would rather belong to a one-person team, often it is because they lack the people skills needed for providing patient-centric performance. The employee who works well with others is an asset to any practice team.
  • Embrace challenges. In some lower level jobs, it's possible to avoid conflict and unpleasant people. However, most employees within a medical practice are not afforded that option and will need the skills to tackle challenging situations head-on. The proficiencies gained by meeting these challenges not only will provide value to your practice but will translate into life skills that can be applied to any endeavor.
  • Be willing to change their minds and admit they're wrong. Physicians, managers, and staff must be able to take constructive criticism and adapt to new situations. The humility that comes with a willingness to learn from mistakes is a critical characteristic many do not fully appreciate and is considered by the greatest leaders to be a significant strength.
  • Take risks. Just as great performers readily admit when they're wrong, they're also not afraid to be in situations where they might have problems. A “find a way” mentality is a precious trait; taking risks and trying something new is an essential skill that can be taught and must be valued. A “can-do” attitude is a requirement for finding new and innovative solutions.
  • Seek ongoing training. Some workers just aren't interested in learning new skills—or worse, they think they already know everything. These employees typically are not amenable to coaching and mentoring, and, typically, you as a manager will just have to be okay with what they do and how they do it, potentially settling for mediocrity. Should you choose not to settle for their limitations, you may find yourself facing some tough decisions, such as whether to secure a more ambitious individual for the job.
  • Be excited about their work. Competence is not enough. The signs of excitement are easy to read: these people are passionate about their roles or positions, about the industry they are in, about the difference the practice can make in patients' lives, and about new and emerging science and technology. These are committed individuals who are forward- thinking and who will bring state-of-the-art ideas to your practice.
  • Be comfortable as part of a team. Some people naturally gravitate toward leadership roles. Others are unsung heroes within a team. Teams often are made up of varying behavioral styles and personalities, but mutual trust and respect are constants. Placing equal value on the unique skill sets and qualities of each individual will encourage and empower the entire team and earn you the respect you want and deserve as an effective practice manager.

So, if employees show some but not all of those traits, does that mean they'll never be stars in the practice? Certainly not! However, managers need to be clear-sighted and provide employees with the mentoring necessary for them to be the best they can be.

Creating Practice Leaders
Are you and all of the “practice leaders” modeling the way in terms of ongoing self-development? Just as important as developing employees is your ongoing and critically important development and the subtle message this “modeling” sends throughout your organization. Employees can't know what they have not been taught. One of the greatest gifts you may teach is the concept of self-development and the value of becoming a lifelong learner. Is this philosophy communicated and valued in your practice? If not, consider creative ways you might begin to motivate employees to embrace learning and development. The dividends for your practice, your patients, and your employees will be substantial.

Share the mentoring checklist with employees. Mentors come in many forms, and you may be surprised by who begins to mentor whom. No matter how large or small a medical practice, coaching and mentoring matters. Whether it is an experienced physician mentoring a young physician or a manager coaching a new receptionist in her first job, the basic philosophy regarding mentoring and coaching remains the same.