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Don’t Use the ‘Sink or Swim’ Approach to Train Eyecare Hires

It rarely works well and there is a better alternative.




AS SMALL BUSINESSES we lack the convenience of a training department to ensure the success of a new hire. Instead, we have a learn-on-the-job scenario taught by working team members. If we are hiring, we are short staffed. We are either short staffed because we’re replacing someone, or we have grown and are filling a new position. Either way, the team is overwhelmed, covering multiple positions, while trying to train. This results in throwing new hires off the boat with the Sink or Swim mentality. Sadly, most opticals do this. It’s hard not to!

The Sink or Swim training method rarely works well. Those who end up swimming are self-taught, which leaves them hungry to learn, yet offered few opportunities to do so. It is hard to fully grasp the vast dynamics of eyecare in the Sink or Swim mentality. The fallout, a massive loss in revenue. The amount of revenue that is lost in an optical while someone is struggling to swim is something that goes unnoticed by owners because it is extremely hard to quantify something that was never captured in the first place.

This can be avoided by committing to three important steps while onboarding to get your newbie confidently selling:

1. Clear Plan Shadowing is not cutting it. Our industry has too many facets that need to be understood before a newbie is confident to perform. The most effective path is to get the new hire comfortable with specific tasks that contribute to the daily activities of the office before diving into the unique optical topics. A plan that is laid out, like the free checklist we have available for download here, will allow your new hire to know exactly what stage they are on during the training process.


2. Foundational Understanding. Every new hire needs a foundational understanding of optics, no matter their position. The person answering the phones can better help patients with a basic optical understanding, yet many offices offer optical training only to opticians.

We found a vast number of experienced teams did not get the foundational knowledge even though they were swimmers in the Sink or Swim method. They had been taught certain concepts but lacked understanding of the basics behind them. This became clear after releasing Spexy 101 for new hires. The amount of feedback from experienced managers and opticians stating, “I was following along with my trainee, and I learned new things too!” was refreshing.

3. Expectations & Follow-Through Optical leaders wear many hats. Despite their best intentions to follow through and be a resource for new hires, once the newbie has earned some independence, leadership will shift focus to other items needing their attention. It is best to set the expectation by scheduling check-ins on the newbie’s first day. Reserving weekly scheduled times to review their progress with the manager allows for uninterrupted focus with the new hire. It creates accountability with leadership to stay present on their training. It also creates accountability for the newbie, as this sets clear expectations for what will be covered in the week to come.

Hiring and training can be a pain and expensive. Don’t let an unorganized or overwhelming training process hurt your optical’s profitability. It is vital that each new hire has a strong foundational understanding to start selling in your office as soon as possible.


Kayla Ashlee is the co-founder of Spexy, an international optometric speaker, a certified optician, and an optometric renegade. Her direct and relatable approach to training has set her apart in the industry. To learn more visit


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