Organizations worldwide have embraced workplace coaching in recent years, and for good reason: Coaching can improve employee interpersonal skills by 50 percent and reduce employee stress by 35 percent, among other benefits.
Every business wants to improve employee performance, but for any coaching program to be effective, businesses need to hire employees who can work within that program — employees who are, in other words, “coachable.”
How can recruiters and hiring managers know whether they’re hiring someone truly coachable?
I’ve spent my career coaching both professional athletes and working professionals. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about what coachability looks like both on and off the field. Coachable individuals are defined by a growth mindset, which manifests in six key characteristics:
It is difficult to coach anyone who doesn’t want to become better. A fundamental first step to self-improvement is the desire to improve. An employee who maintains a desire to improve has nearly limitless potential, but one who doesn’t care will never truly assimilate into your organization.
Employees who believe in themselves and their abilities have what I call “faith.” Psychologists have found that people with certain beliefs about themselves will subconsciously seek evidence that supports those beliefs. Therefore, people who believe in their abilities to learn and grow are more responsive to coaching than those who don’t.
To quote renowned management expert Peter Drucker, “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans.”
It’s true: Employees can’t make a meaningful contribution unless they are committed to themselves, to others, and to your business. Hiring for this trait may sound like a no-brainer, but it is easily overlooked when we are too focused on hard skills and past experience.
Research shows people are a lot less self-aware than they think they are. How’s that for self-awareness?
True self-awareness is not simply having a thorough understanding of your own strengths and limitations. According to organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich, true self-awareness requires also getting feedback from others to understand how the rest of the world sees you. Self-aware candidates will seek that feedback, and thus be amenable to coaching.
5. Willingness to Learn
Being willing to learn dovetails with desire, but it takes things a step further. Roger Federer, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, did not just have a desire to overcome his top rival Rafael Nadal — he was willing to learn difficult skills to make it happen. Federer developed a topspin backhand that could be taken early in order to volley Nadal’s killer topspin forehand. Federer’s willingness to learn and then master this skill was an incredible feat. Employees who are willing to learn new skills — even when the old ones have proven effective for quite some time — are essential to maintaining a coachable culture.
Someone who is open doesn’t react poorly to criticism or correction, but takes it in stride. This quality can be tested in an interview by asking a candidate to prepare a role-relevant presentation. After the presentation is over, provide feedback and request changes, then watch to see how that input is received. If a candidate bristles or refuses to incorporate feedback the next time they give the presentation, they might not be as coachable as you would hope.
Knowing what to look for in coachable employees is an important component in creating a truly coaching-focused organization. Once more coachable employees are hired, managers might think about coaching the same way professional athletic coaches do: The coach is held responsible for poor performance, not the player or employee.
When managers adopt the paradigm of the professional athletic coach — that they get paid according to how much their people improve — that is when performance breakthroughs start to happen.
A pioneer of the modern-day coaching movement, Alan Fine is president of InsideOut Development and co-creator of the widely recognized GROW Model.