Coaching in practice

June 29 2015

Gill Brabner, learning and development consultant for the Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU), and optometrist, Jane Gray, explain the coaching style of practice management 

Just over 75% of employers offer coaching or mentoring to their employees and a further 13% plan to offer it this year, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s annual survey report into learning and development, published last month. With this area predicted to continue growing, we have been looking at how it can be used in optical practices.

So what is coaching? According to Sir John Whitmore in his book, Coaching for Performance: “It is a way of managing, a way of treating people, a way of thinking, a way of being.”  

There are numerous definitions for coaching, but essentially coaching in the workplace is a one-to-one conversation which is focused on enabling an individual staff member to achieve specific goals, improve their performance, develop skills and gain insightful feedback.  

When running a practice, it is very easy to get into the habit of telling people what to do. There are often good reasons for being direct, perhaps a member of staff is new and needs direction. Or maybe the conversation is focused on clinical safety, or a compliance issue and the manager wants to be clear that their member of staff understands what is expected. Or, they are direct because it is quicker and they just do not have enough time to have long conversations about how they would like something to be done. 

Does this sound familiar? If it does, then you are not alone, but there are numerous benefits to be gained from developing and using a coaching style with the practice team. Coaching, when well delivered, is stretching and focused on outcomes, and that includes the bottom line.

To be able to coach, a genuine interest in developing a staff member and enabling them to improve performance is a must. The coach also needs to be self-aware, and this includes knowing their values, being aware of their strengths and weaknesses and any bias they may have. 

Any of these may trigger responses in the coach which they may need to manage. For example, the staff member may respond defensively to something they say and their usual response would be to become more assertive. In a coaching conversation, the coach needs to manage their reaction, and stay supportive. 

Top of our list of the skills needed for successful coaching is advanced listening skills, followed by the ability to build rapport and trust, as well as ask effective questions.

As well as being a useful performance management tool, coaching is an excellent approach for supporting staff to identify specific goals they want to achieve. Sir Whitmore’s ‘GROW’ model is an easy to remember and effective model for a coaching conversation. It stands for Goals, Reality, Options, What will you do?

1.    Coaching is enabling and a very effective form of staff development. It builds confidence and self-belief 
2.    Employees who feel valued and supported are more likely to be highly motivated 
3.    Employees become less reliant on managers to solve everyday problems, and take greater responsibility within their job role 
4.    Creating a learning environment within the practice means staff are more likely to provide useful feedback on business issues.


  • What would you like to focus on today?
  • What would you like to get out of this session?
  • What would you like to have achieved by the end of this conversation?


  • Describe your current situation to me
  • What evidence is there?  
  • What assumptions are you making?
  • What other perspectives could you explore to gain a greater understanding?


  • What can you change?
  • What one thing can you do to move you towards your goal?
  • What else could you do?
  • What are the benefits of that approach?
  • What impact will that have?


  • What is the way forward?
  • What action will you take?
  • What can you commit to doing by the end of next day/week etc?

As part of its support for local optical committees (LOCs), LOCSU is funding 30 practitioners on the Institute of Leadership and Management level five certificate in coaching and mentoring. This is ideal for clinical governance and performance leads who are managing community services for LOC companies, and experienced LOC officers who would like to provide mentoring to newly elected officers. The programme is provided online with two contact days, over a 6–8 month period. For more information, contact 

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