Coachability: What is it, can we measure it, and why it matters

Coachability: What is it, can we measure it, and why it matters

I’ve done a lot of coaching in the workplace (i.e. managers and leaders) and in my personal life (e.g., baseball teams) and worked with people who range from being very coachable to not very coachable at all. And, of course, whether we be person’s peer, boss, coach or HR adviser we all want to work with people who are coachable. And this makes sense as it creates an easier and more successful process.

But often it is the apparent uncoachable person is advised to take a course or get an executive coach with the often attached expectation of “change your behaviour.” The person who is too blunt, too nice, too slow, too easy, too tough, or too opinionated. But what is important to pay attention to is the person’s coachability for it is their coachability that will influence their ability to change. For the uncoachable, behaviour change is unlikely. But not everybody who has a problem is uncoachable. There may be a number reasons for why they struggle with one aspect of their work.

So as a Manager or HR Adviser, when you think of helping somebody change or improve their behaviour it is essential to determine the person’s coachability or you may waste time and money or trying to get somebody to change when they aren’t interested.

What are the characteristics of coachability?

In reading about coachability on the internet, there appears to be a lot of fluff out there. Vague personality characteristics like “faith” or “shapeable” seem to predominate. But let’s get real. Coachability is about behaviour…about actions….that demonstrate three aspects of an approach to work and to life:

  1. the interest and willingness to learn
  2. the ability to seek out, accept and integrate feedback without being defensive
  3. the demonstration of attempts to try new actions to get improved results

How do we measure coachability?

If you are going to assess coachability, then you need to know how to best measure it quickly and effectively. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of fluffy ways to measure it. One form of fluff is the questionnaire or such that asks people to rate themselves on how open they are to learning, getting feedback, etc. This is not an effective measurement as the uncoachable person is like to say yes to all of that and yet behave quite differently! Another bit if fluff is the list of vague personality characteristics (e.g., openness) that bosses and HR Advisers are meant to determine maybe by “sensing” things. I must admit I had to laugh when a person wrote that a factor to determine coachability was if they could afford the coach!

The best way to measure it is to look for behavioural evidence; what has the person demonstrated in the past that would indicate coachability? Let’s look for six behaviours that anybody can use to determine coachability.

The interest and willingness to learn

  1. Can you observe a pattern of desire to improve themselves such as reading books, taking courses, inviting feedback, and having discussions about the core aspects of their role (e.g., if they are a leader do they want to learn about leadership? If they are into project management is that a focus of their interest and learning?)

The  ability to seek out, accept and integrate feedback without being too defensive

  1. Are they non-defensive or mildly defensive? Most people get a bit defensive when given unexpected and negative feedback. It’s normal. In this case look for the degree of defensiveness through evidence of blaming, assigning responsibility elsewhere, or making excuses. Less is better.
  2. Can the person have a rational discussion about the feedback and how it fits with their role, expectations, etc.? Look for high degrees of emotionality as negative signs of coachability.
  3. Do they show a willingness to think about the feedback and have a conversation, at a later date, about how they have incorporated the feedback into their day-to-day behaviour?

The demonstration of attempts to try new actions to get improved results

  1. Can they demonstrate realistic actions they have taken to integrate feedback and improve their performance?
  2. Do they actively seek feedback from others about how they are performing the new action?

If you want to determine a person’s coachability, then look for behavioural evidence of the above six questions. You should have your answer pretty quickly.

But remember, just because a person has too much of one thing (too blunt, too nice, too slow, too easy, too opinionated) it does NOT mean they can’t be coached. In fact, often too much of something can be a great point for coaching. But being too uncoachable is something that does get in the way of success.

If you want to talk about coachability give Bob a shout.