“Is she coachable?” It’s the question every manager asks as they consider the future of an under-performing employee. If I give direct feedback, flex to her learning style, and offer new techniques, do I envision a pathway where this individual becomes an impactful part of the team?
The question of coachability is too broad, though. Several key factors that contribute to coachability must be considered first. These include overall competency, self-awareness, openness to feedback, learning agility, motivation, time, resources, etc. Given unlimited attention, budget, and patience, perhaps most people are coachable. However, reality often places constraints that may limit the likelihood of seeing results.
A colleague of mine once asked “is the person a ball of clay or a ball of plastic?” She explained that a ball of clay is relatively easy to mold. The more attention you give to it, the easier it is to create the desired shape. Plastic is just as capable of being transformed, but often requires different techniques. You may have to heat it up, apply strong pressure, and use different tools to create the desired outcome. And then once the desired shape has been achieved, it may need some maintenance over time so it doesn’t resort back to its original shape.
Every organization is full of both plastic and clay. Both have the ability to be successful and impactful. It is important to be honest about your commitment to coach the individual. Do you have the time, patience, and resources to coach a ball of plastic. Given the business needs and demands, it’s possible that while someone is coachable, you simply don’t have the ability to devote enough time for their development. Both parties need to be equally invested in the development journey for coaching to work. It’s a partnership that requires commitment to the goal and an open conversation about expected timelines for improvement.
If both sides aren’t committed to the hard work and dedication it takes to change behaviors, then save everyone the heartache and start looking for balls of clay.