Today’s Harvard Business Review  features a wonderful tip for medical office managers: Know when to coach versus when to teach.

Teaching — i.e., demonstrating or instructing an employee on exactly what to do — is key for bringing new employees up to speed (aka, training).  It can also be useful when corrective action is needed — e.g., “Emily, please be mindful of HIPAA when speaking with patients about private information — ask them to step out of the reception area, like so.”

Teaching can backfire, though, with competent and motivated employees who just need a little help with problem-solving. Coaching — supporting and gently helping staff find the right solution — is the right approach in that case. For example, let’s say one of your receptionists is having trouble collecting co-pays — but, she’s a quick learner who’s eager to try new things. Giving her ideas and asking questions about what she’s already tried could help her develop an effective style she’s comfortable with — and that she’ll be able to use routinely.

By coaching employees with ideas and, most important, asking questions, you help your employees feel competent and trusted. What’s more, even though it might take a little longer to solve today’s problem, your coaching might lead to your employee finding a better solution that will pay off over the long run.  For example, if your instinct would have been to pick up the phone to get urgent payer feedback, but your encouragement leads a biller to find an important source of information via the payer’s portal, that could save a lot of time for you and your biller down the road.

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