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Retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch often used the term “Edge” to describe a fundamental trait of successful managers. It was one of his 4-Es of leadership with the others being Energy, Energizes and Executes. Admittedly, “Edge,” like other terms used in business, is a little hard to define, but for Welch it meant the ability to carefully consider the information at hand, tackle problems head-on and make tough decisions. Professional development activity, such as training or coaching providers to execute a best-practice clinical process, is one of the most critical endeavors of a manager.

Think about this: every patient seen in your practice by an audiologist is encountering a professional and a series of executable procedures implemented by that professional. Some professionals may be imbued with a memorable personality or naturally outstanding communication skills that endears them to patients, while others may be perceived as bland or crass. Unless you are clairvoyant during the hiring process, personality traits are left a little bit to change. You never really know how someone’s mood will affect their job performance. On the other hand, having a basic clinical protocol that all providers buy-in on is an under-appreciated key to consistent success.

Regardless of a professional’s natural social tendencies, the ability to conduct a clinical protocol resulting in superior outcomes can be taught if you have some basic tools that are covered in this article.

Identify New Ideas, Markets and Opportunities

Part of having an Edge in business is the ability to identify fresh ideas and opportunities to grow your existing business. Given the continued rise of big-box retail and the looming threat of over-the-counter, internet-based sales it’s not hard to find ways to differentiate a medically-based practice. Sometimes these ideas for growth are in plain sight and rest with the ability of your staff to improve their level of care and expertise.

One example is the execution of the Audiology EDGE consultative selling process. Audiology EDGE is an amalgamation of proven best-practices that Fuel has assembled over the years. If there is one secret ingredient to Audiology EDGE, however, it is the ability of clinical managers to get their staff to buy-in to consistent execution of it.

Combining effective interpersonal communication skills with clinical prowess, Audiology EDGE is a proven way to meet the needs of more patients, generate additional hearing aid revenue – and differentiate your practice from many of the upstarts. But it takes a manager to orchestrate its use. Orchestration begins with the manager’s ability to take professional development of each staff member seriously.

Less is More: Start with Consistent Use of Four EDGE Components

As many know, Audiology EDGE is a comprehensive clinical protocol with several steps, each customized to the philosophy and goals of the practice. Let’s focus on four of the cornerstones of an effective Audiology EDGE process and how you can maximize the use of it to drive more sales and improve patient satisfaction. Each of these four components of EDGE is an opportunity to provide more consistent care to patients and further establish your practice as a center of excellence. Remember each one of these four components is a tool that requires a dedicated, well-spoken audiologist to complete.

  1. Familiar Sounds Audiogram
    The purpose of the Familiar Sounds Audiogram is to educate the patient and their communication partner about how the results of the hearing test impacts daily communication. The Familiar Sounds Audiogram is a tool that visually reinforces this message. Perhaps more importantly, it is a bridge between the audiology, patient and ENT, as there is space at the bottom of this tool for the ENT to endorse the need for hearing aids for those that are candidates.

  2. Patient Guidebook
    Studies indicate — and most of us would agree — patients forget 80 percent or more of what we talk about during an appointment. One way to overcome this communication gap is to provide the patient with a comprehensive booklet that reviews many aspects of communication, hearing loss and treatment options. The Patient Guidebook can be handed to the patient after their initial hearing evaluation and they can review it with family and friends from the comfort of home. Like the Familiar Sounds Audiogram, the Patient Guidebook serves as a bridge between the patient and clinic. Since many patients need some time to mull over their options before deciding on a treatment option, the guidebook keeps your practice top-of-mind.

  3. Treatment Option Placemat
    This handy tool is a way to equate hearing aid technology to lifestyle and need. Like anyone in need of a service or product they don’t know much about, adults with hearing loss are dependent on the professional providing them with well-balanced, unbiased information on their treatment options. Since a one-size-fits-all approach is ineffective, the Treatment Option Placement shows the patient three or four reasonable options. When patients know they have options, it helps build trust, and trust is the elixir of fruitful collaboration between a patient and their health care provider.

  4. Service Guarantee
    Another essential component of the patient-provider relationship is reassurance. Many older patients get bombarded with sales pitches and advertising about hearing aids. One way to get the focus on high quality personalized care is to provide this tool to patients at the end of their appointment when they have agreed to purchase hearing aids. The Service Guarantee allows you to end the appointment on a high note by putting in writing all of the value-added extras the patient will be receiving along with a pair of hearing aids.

Lack of Skill or Lack of Will

None of these four EDGE tools are terribly complicated to use and they are certainly not new. Each one is relatively easy to teach. What can be challenging, however, is getting audiologists to embrace and execute them. Most professional trainers will tell you that a provider fails to execute a procedure or task because of either a “lack of skill” or a “lack of will.” Let’s look at how you might tackle a situation where a lack of skill is holding a provider back from using Audiology EDGE. For example, by providing comprehensive training opportunities with a hands-on component, you are addressing the lack of skill component.

Coaching for “Lack of Skill”

You can place a provider in the “lack of skill” category when it becomes clear that they either truly do not understand the performance expectation, or they understand what is expected but struggle to perform because they just don’t know how. Fortunately, these cases can be some of the easiest for the manager to make a positive change. Here are a couple of ways to address a lack of skill:

Find out just what is unknown. If they are unaware of what is expected of them, then clarify the performance expectations. If it’s a knowledge gap, show the agents where to find the information or how to present that information clearly to resolve the customer’s issue. Does the provider know how to conduct each of the four components of Audiology EDGE, for example.

Provide tools to help the provider retain information and get familiar with the Audiology EDGE process. For example, Fuel personnel can work with providers to create a personalized “talk track” of how they can use each of the four tools listed above. Remember, providers are adult learners and they have different learning preferences: some of us are visual, some audio and others kinesthetic. If you are not familiar with these three learning styles, it’s easy enough to do a quick web search and brush up on your knowledge of these so you can provide a variety of ways to teach your providers new skills during your coaching session, based on how they learn best.

Coaching for “Lack of Will”

In my experience, most providers exhibit a lack of skill. It might seem strange, but many providers simply have not been coached on fundamental skills, like conducting a consultative selling appointment. It’s a skill not readily taught in graduate schools. However, not everyone who struggles to perform does so because they don’t understand what is expected of them, or they don’t have the skills or knowledge. Sadly, a few providers simply don’t care or are stubbornly insistent on doing things their own way. They are not motivated to learn or to even try to work as a team in the execution of a clinical protocol. They do what is minimally expected of them without any thought to how they could do better, or they believe they have some type of “secret sauce” that cannot be duplicated by other providers. These few providers require Edge from the manager: an ability to carefully consider the information at hand, tackle problems head-on and make tough decisions. Here are some ways to handle those occasional providers who refuse to embrace the execution of a few fundamental clinical processes, or be part of a clinical team.

During training or coaching sessions, those that lack will may nod their head in agreement, but often they know deep inside they do not intend to change. They simply hope they won’t get caught in the future, believing that managerial oversight is just a crapshoot anyway and the manager won’t have the nerve to follow up with them. These willful under-performers are a coaching nightmare and leave managers feeling discouraged and left questioning their own abilities because they see such little progress with these types of providers.

The first issue is how to identify those that have a “lack of will.” Obviously, it’s important to give providers the benefit of the doubt when you are initially managing them, and assume any shortcomings in their performance or ability to follow a clinical protocol are rooted in a “lack of skill. Making this assumption demonstrates you believe in them and trust that they are striving to improve. If you are concerned, however, about a “lack of will” being the cause of low performance, start with clarifying the expectations of their work in the clinic by trying to gain an agreement of a core set of procedures you expect them to use. Ask a lot of questions to discern their knowledge of clinical procedures. Isolate the behavior and/or skill that they seem to be struggling with and then show them how it needs to be completed. If you need help in this area, Fuel Medical has a Professional Development staff that can assist.

It’s what happens next that reveals if it’s a case of skill or will. Within the week following your training or coaching session, observe the provider applying their new knowledge and provide immediate reinforcement. If you find they are not showing improvement or simply ignoring you, bring them right back in for a follow-up session and discuss the consequences of their inability to complete an essential process, especially if you believe they know how, but are just choosing not to do it. It is human nature for people to either do (or fail to do) something because of what they believe will happen to them afterwards. When people perceive that nothing really happens to them whether they do or don’t do something, they are less motivated to perform to their potential. At some point, a provider with lack of will issues needs to be weeded out of the organization.

Professional Development Never Ends

Effective coaches know their training or coaching session is not complete until there is follow-up observation and a post-coaching session to provide feedback. The ability of a manager to collaborate with staff on creating their own Audiology EDGE process, coach providers on implementing it and then using either a Lack of Will or Lack of Skill strategy to improve performance are essential characteristics of the effective manager. Use this handy matrix to better understand where providers in your clinic rate and how to coach them. Execution of a core clinical protocol like Audiology EDGE is too risky to be left to chance. Systematic coaching and training as part of a larger professional development strategy are imperative to success. Find out how Fuel can help by contacting your local Fuel rep or Brian Taylor (btaylor@fuelmedical.com) to learn more about coaching a staff on Audiology EDGE.