The Coachability Quotient (CQ): A New HR & Leadership Tool

They are critical business questions every leader faces sooner or later – “Can this employee be saved?” or “Would coaching be a wise investment for this person?”. Not surprisingly, we are asked if there is a reliable means to identify people who will most benefit from formal or informal development programs. In fact, AETHOS recently introduced the innovative “CHIC coachability model” to guide leaders in answering these important talent questions. This model profiles the best coaching candidates as having Curiosity, Humility, Internal Locus of Control and Competitiveness. Preliminary research suggests that these four inherent drivers work together to form a foundation that has a much greater cumulative and positive impact.

Testing & Refining the CHIC Coaching Model
Thanks to the confidential cooperation of many clients, 200 worldwide hospitality professionals completed standardized questionnaires measuring the four CHIC variables through 149 items. This allowed us to compare two groups – one consisting of people with track records of responding successfully to coaching versus a second group of controls, or those with poor records of responding to coaching.

Independent statistical analyses on the dataset confirmed the overall CHIC model. Table 1 (below) shows that 19 of the original set of 149 items were valid in distinguishing the two groups. Further, these 19 items spanned all four CHIC variables, and they defined a single Rasch scale or factor. Rach scaling is a statistical technique used to construct and score many well-known achievement tests like the GRE, MCAT and LSAT. This means that aspects of Curiosity, Humility, Internal Locus of Control and Competitiveness are not independent traits, but rather they form a statistical hierarchy with different aspects building on one another to create coaching success. Thus, determining whether an employee “can be saved” or “coached to greater success” are not simple “yes or no” questions. The answers are grounded in the CHIC variables that define a continuum of likely coaching success.

It Begins with Personal Control and Ends with Restlessness
The Rasch analysis summarized in Table 1 (please click here) revealed a CHIC model more nuanced than we originally thought. For example, we proposed that coaching success began with a foundation of inherent Curiosity. However, we learned instead that coaching success starts with Internal Locus of Control – meaning the individual must believe in personal control over his/her destiny versus being at the mercy of external forces. Also, we expected that Competitiveness was a strong motivating factor in coaching success, yet we discovered that the end point is a form of Curiosity driven by stress-relieving motives as opposed to sensation-seeking motives. That is, the most successful coachees are driven by a restlessness focused on achieving a particular goal.

Note that this is not an aspirational, pleasant state for the person; rather, the drive is to remove stress and anxiety over worrying about achieving certain outcomes. This is generally consistent with the motivations and drivers by top leaders in the hospitality industry recounted in the book, The Loneliness of Leadership. Apparently, coaching success feeds as much off of negative-oriented aspects of Curiosity as it does positive-oriented aspects. To our knowledge, this insight has never before been noted or discussed.

CQ: the Psychometrics of Coachability
As implied in Table 1 (please click here), processing the answers to the 19 questionnaire items is complicated by the fact that four items are reverse-scored. Table 2 below indicates that the answers “Completely disagree”, “Disagree somewhat”, “Agree somewhat”, and “Agree completely” are normally scored as 0, 1, 2, and 3, but when reverse-scored these four answers receive 3, 2, 1, and 0 points.

AETHOS Consulting Group_The Coachability Quotient_Table2_James Houran_Thomas Mielke

We noted earlier that in the case of “Yes/No” decision-making Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) informs us that using questions whose difficulty levels resembles that of the cut-point between “Yes” and “No” will yield the best results (Lange, 2007). Independent analysis exploited this fact by identifying a subset of just six (6) questions that work nearly as well as the entire set of (19) items in this respect – that is, the decisions based on these 6 items alone are (almost) as reliable as those using all available items. In fact, in many cases it might not even be necessary to use all 6, as 5 or fewer might suffice, thus reducing the effort involved in evaluating an employee.

Table 3 describes this CAT procedure (please click here), which has a statistical likelihood of making a correct decision in at least 90% of all cases, and typically this percentage is far higher. An optimally-reliable decision is reached by first asking Questions 1 and 2 (i.e., “I don’t care if other people are better …” and “I would rather not compete”) and having the employee express his/her answers using the four category “Completely disagree” to “Completely agree” scale categories. Table 3 indicates that both questions are reverse scored, and thus “Completely disagree” receives 3 points while “Completely agrees” receives 0 points. Note that questions 3 through 6 are scored normally.

The points associated with both answers should be added, and the last two columns of Table 3 should be consulted. If the employee received a total 0 points we can safely conclude that s/he is not coachable. If s/he received a total of 6 points across the two questions, then we should conclude that the person is coachable. If the total is 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, then more questions are needed and the process proceeds with Question 3 (“I enjoy setting and beating goals …”), and the process continues until a “No” or “Yes” decision can be made. In Table 3 it is assumed that the interviewer does not want to administer more than 6 questions, i.e., a decision is always made at this point, even if the statistical decision criteria have not been met.

For example, consider an employee who rates “I don’t care if other people are better …” as “Disagree completely” and “I would rather not compete” as “Disagree somewhat.” This gives a total of 3 + 2 = 5 points, and because this total is neither 0 nor 6, Table 3 indicates that more questions need to be asked. If the employee then answered “Agree completely” to the third question (“I enjoy setting and beating goals …”) the total sum rises to 5 + 3 = 8 points. Table 3 indicates that a total of 8 or 9 is sufficient to reach a decision, and in fact this sum indicates that the employee is “coachable” with a reliability exceeding 90%.

Everyday CQ Applications
Whenever possible, we recommend that the process in Table 3 (please click here) be used with candidates during the pre-hiring stages. This way, leaders or HR pros can have confidence they are gaining bench-strength with people who can learn and adapt as needed. However, there are times when leaders and HR pros must evaluate incumbents, and here a conversation might seem to be a more appropriate or natural method to gauge CQ than using a questionnaire. While Curiosity driven by stress-relieving motives defined the highest part of the hierarchy for coaching success, the questions about Competitiveness most efficiently distinguish those on cusp between being coachable or not. Therefore, these questionnaire items can be transformed into open-ended interviewing questions that can elicit similar insight into someone’s CQ – for example, imagine you are interviewing a seasoned, Regional VP Account Management & Sales:

  • “I don’t care if other people are better at things than I am”: Imagine you are the lead on a project but your boss asks for your colleague to handle the negotiations as s/he has a better track record in closing deals. How would you handle this situation? Have you been in a similar situation before – what was the outcome?
  • “I would rather not compete”: It is year-end and your boss is setting new targets for your department. S/he is suggesting to ‘spice things up’ by letting you and your peer compete for the company’s biggest account. Do you think his/her strategy is the right one to pursue? In your professional life, has there been a comparable situation – how did you deal with it and did it yield positive results?
  • “I enjoy setting and beating goals through competition”: Imagine a scenario in which you are managing accounts worth USD$20 million. Your peer is managing accounts worth USD$30 million. Your boss now has to decide whom to groom as his/her successor within the next 18 months. S/he sets you a challenge, giving you a year to ramp up your numbers which in turn should position you as a strong contender for the more senior role. How would you react to this challenge? Have you been through something comparable in your current position?
  • “I love the thrill of competition”: Talk me through a time where you had to prepare a pitch to win a potential business – in such a scenario, would you say you are generally speaking in a state of excitement with emotions running high or in a ‘lock-down’ mode, buried in data and analysing all facets, fearing to have missed an important bit of information that the other party might use against you? Please elaborate.
  • “No matter what, I try to be better than others at things”: Talk me through a scenario where you had to deliver / hand-in a project that you were not 100% content with? What were the aspects you were dissatisfied with?
  • “I brood for a long time in an attempt to solve some fundamental problem”: Imagine you have to decide between keeping two loyal customer accounts worth USD $20 million each or drop them to secure a new account with a competing firm potentially worth USD $40 million – talk me through your decision making process. Can you translate this into a real life scenario?

These are simply sample questions as food for thought. The exact questions can and should be modified according to individual circumstances of a role or company culture. The main point is that leaders and HR pros should listen for clear indications in responses to questions like these that the person is restless or anxious and adopts and incorporates a strong sense of competitiveness into his/her professional approach and focus on success metrics. These themes signify that the person is likely to be coachable, i.e., receptive to feedback and new learnings that can help to correct or calibrate counterproductive behaviours, as well as to build on existing strengths that will prepare a person for the next career step.

Determining whether an employee “can be saved” or “coached to greater success” isn’t a simple “yes or no” question. It’s an educated risk or assessment. The best guess answer is arguably grounded in the CHIC variables, which define a continuum of likely coaching success – and now you know the fundamental principle behind the empirical coaching quotient (CQ).