In 2015 Christina Turner (Queensland University of Technology) and Grace McCarthy (University of Wollongong) published a study examining “coachable moments.” They defined a coachable moment as “an informal, usually unplanned or unexpected opportunity for a manager to have a conversation with an employee aimed at facilitating the employee to problem solve or learn from a work experience” (p. 5). They wanted to determine what factors determined whether or not managers took advantage of coaching moments in the daily business of the workplace. To that end, they interviewed ten managers in depth. This is a small sample but it is twice as large as Mintzberg’s study of CEOs that gave us interpersonal, informational, and decisional managerial roles.
Their review of previous research found:
- most managers do not coach much
- managers often don’t have the skills to be effective coaching employees
- some managers see coaching as micro-managing
- some managers prefer traditional controlling and directing
- benefits of coaching: “learning, self-awareness, cost savings, and enhanced commitment” (p.2)
- characteristics of coachable moments: impromptu, short, timely, spontaneous, quick, focused
From their interviews Turner and McCarthy identified six themes (In italics are comments from managers):
- Coach’s awareness: Managers have to size up a situation as a coaching opportunity and then assess the risk. Decisions to coach are “conscious and deliberate”. “It’s triage – critical decision-making about whether to coach.”
- Type of employee: Managers don’t see all employees as being coachable. “Some employees just don’t want to be coached – they just want direction.”
- Relationship: To be effective, there has to be a relationship of “mutual trust and respect.” “If there’s no rapport, it won’t work.”
- The situation presenting: Just not enough time. Too busy. Benefits not offset by time lost.
- Physical environment or location: Most coachable moments were informal, not in the workplace per se, e.g., having coffee, sharing ride. “The office reminds you of status.”
- Coach’s skills: Managers varied in how competent they felt coaching. “There are some issues and people I just don’t feel competent enough to tackle by coaching.”
Coachable moments involve managers assessing risk:
- risk that the employee will react negatively
- risk that the employee will not like feedback
- risk that coaching will lead to conflict
- risk that the relationship will be damaged
1. In my managerial positions, I found coachable moments contributed greatly to building my work force. The conversations were usually in the workplace, private and off-the-cuff. They complemented formal workplace training programs. I saw large individual differences, from the employee who just wanted all the coaching I could provide to the employee who wanted none.
2. I think some managers are capable of little more than an occasional coaching moment, at best. It’s just not their personalities. This does not mean that cannot be effective managers and leaders. This is just not a skill in their tool kit and they probably wouldn't use it if it were. On the other hand, some of us could benefit by training, especially training that includes practice in effective coaching.
3. Turner and McCarthy’s study identified risk assessment as a major factor affecting the use of coachable moments. In many situations the manager’s assessment of risks is probably a key factor – along with just not enough time. Identifying the importance of managerial risk assessment in coachable moments is a major contribution of this study.
4. We need more qualitative studies like Turner and McCarthy’s. There is a richness of ideas in good depth interviews. These ideas can enrich qualitative and quantitative studies that further our understanding of coachable moments -- and how to use coachable moments in the workplace.
Previous blogs on coaching:
A Leader and Managerial Skill: The Importance of Coaching
The Manager as Coach
Manager as Coach: Aptitude, Trust, Time
Mintzberg, H. (1975). The manager’s job: Folklore and fact. Harvard Business Review, March-April, 49-61.
Turner, C., & McCarthy, G. (2015). Coachable moments: Identifying factors that influence managers to take advantage of coachable moments in day-to-day management. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 13(1): 1-13.
Untitled image. Obtained from https://pixabay.com/en/discussion-restaurant-business-2822066/
Public domain. https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/
© John Ballard, PhD, 2018. All rights reserved.
Author of Decoding the Workplace, BEST CAREER BOOK Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2016.
Decoding the Workplace “deals with principles and practices that are timeless – how to relate to others in the workplace, the psychology of groups and teams, the use (and abuse) of power and influence, and how to manage stress. Is this a must-have for managers and would-be managers? Yes.” Ron Riggio, Book Review, Academy of Management Learning & Education, in-press.