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Coachable Moments: Identifying the factors that influence managers to take advantage of them in day-to-day management.

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to identify the factors that influence managers to take advantage of coachable moments in day-to-day management. Interviews with ten managers found that time, skills, and relationships were key factors considered by managers but that these were considered within the context of potential “risk” to the manager. This paper elaborates on these findings and makes recommendations for further research into how managers consciously assess the risks associated with coaching in order to decide whether to take advantage of an informal coaching opportunity.
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Coachable Moments: Identifying Factors that
Influence Managers to take Advantage of Coachable
Moments in Day-to-Day Management
Christina Turner1 and Grace McCarthy2
1Queensland University of Technology
2Sydney Business School, University of Wollongong
Contact email: cf.turner@hdr.qut.edu.au
Abstract
The purpose of this study was to identify the factors that influence managers to take advantage of
coachable moments in day-to-day management. Interviews with ten managers found that time, skills,
and relationships were key factors considered by managers, but that these were considered within the
context of potential “risk” to the manager. This paper elaborates on these findings and makes
recommendations for further research into how managers consciously assess the risks associated with
coaching, in order to decide whether to take advantage of an informal coaching opportunity.
Key Words: coachable moments, internal coach, risk, coaching skills, managerial coaching
Introduction
Line managers are increasingly responsible for coaching (Anderson, Rayner & Schyns, 2009) and
coaching by line managers is rated the second most effective learning and development practice and
nearly three times as effective as coaching by external practitioners (CIPD, 2012). Managers can
coach in structured, prearranged formal sessions or can coach in day to day management activity such
as “a chance meeting in the hallway, a telephone session or a coaching interaction that comes about
unexpectedly during a casual lunch!” (Macmillan, 2011, p.5). This type of just-in-time feedback
(Lindbom, 2007) has been referred to as “coaching moments” (Lennard, 2010) or “coachable
moments” (Kaye, 1993; Hart, 2005; Mobley, 2001), the latter term appearing to be similar to the term
“teachable moment” which is often used in the education and health disciplines to refer to “an
opportunity or a particularly useful time to facilitate some sort of change” (Lawson & Flocke, 2009,
p26).
However, despite the recognition that informal coaching is a valuable and effective learning and
development practice, generally managers engage infrequently in coaching and often fail to
demonstrate the skills associated with coaching (Gilley, Gilley & Kouider, 2010). Unless managers
are very experienced coaches, informal coaching conversations or “corridor coaching” does not
happen (Green & Grant, 2003). Accordingly, identifying the factors which affect managerial coaching
implementation is an area that needs significantly more research (Hagen, 2012). By understanding the
barriers and enablers to managers coaching informally, organisations can develop interventions to
overcome these barriers.
Much of the peer-reviewed literature relating to internal coaching examines the development of
coaching cultures in organisations through the appointment and training of internal managers to
conduct formal, structured coaching sessions with employees. There is also reference in peer reviewed
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literature to informal coaching, also referred to as coaching on the fly (Johnson, 2011), anytime
coaching (Klosters & Swires, 2010), and corridor coaching (Grant, 2010; Green & Grant, 2003).
However, the identification and consideration of the factors which need to be present for this type of
coaching (coachable moments) to occur is largely confined to anecdotal practitioner literature. There
is little evidence of coachable moments being the subject of empirical research in workplace
coaching. This study aims to address this area through a qualitative study of ten managers.
The justification for this research lies in the benefits of managerial coaching identified by previous
research, such as learning, self-awareness, cost savings and enhanced commitment to the organisation
(Ellinger 2003; Ellinger, Beattie & Hamlin, 2010). Furthermore, using internal coaches within an
organisation may cost as little as 10% of the cost of using external coaches but internal coaches can
provide the same results as external coaches (Rock & Donde, 2008). Fifty one percent of respondents
to the 2012 CIPD Learning and Talent Development Survey said that the most effective learning and
talent development practices are coaching by line managers. However, there is little research evidence
as to whether managers use that knowledge or indeed their experience when they have a critical
choice in day to day management when coachable moments arise.
This study was designed to answer the question: What are the factors that influence managers to
take advantage of coachable moments in day-to-day management? The research identified a range of
organisational, skill, resource, or cultural barriers that may inhibit or motivate managers to take
advantage of coachable moments. This article is structured in three main parts. The first part outlines
the relevant literature and particularly focuses on the use and definition of the term ‘coachable
moment’ and how it relates the creation of a coaching culture. The second part outlines the six broad
themes that emerged from the interviews with coaching managers. The third section separately
discusses the six interview themes so that a distinction can be seen between the themes that were
broadly consistent with previous research, and the emerging theme of risk as a potential barrier.
Literature
There are many different terms and references in the literature to describe these unstructured
coaching conversations that occur sporadically or on an ad-hoc basis as the need arises. The
characteristics attributed to these types of coaching conversations are outlined in Table 1.
In summary, the features that are common to all the definitions in Table 1, regardless of the
terminology, are that they are short, informal, unexpected, unscheduled, and focused and targeted on
an immediate or just occurring incident or issue. Such conversations are key to managerial coaching
and to the development of a coaching culture.
A coaching culture is where “coaching is the predominant style of managing and working
together” (Clutterbuck & Megginson, 2005, p.19), and it is a critical factor in ensuring the long-term
success of an organisation (Lindbom, 2007). In the 2006 CIPD annual learning and development
survey, 80% of organisations surveyed stated that they aspired to develop a coaching culture. A
coaching culture can be characterised by coaching being “woven into the fabric of the business”
(Eglin, 2006 in Connor & Pokora, 2012), has underlying principles of responsibility, self-belief and of
being blame free (Wilson, 2007), and of being “embedded in meetings, reviews, one-to-one working
relationships and team and workgroup processes” (Clutterbuck & Megginson, 2006).
A coaching culture can be created through coaching delivered by people external to an
organisation or by an organisation’s employees. In the early days of coaching, coaches to
organisations were mostly external (Tyler, 2000) but progressively, “quietly and without fanfare”
internal coaches have become popular in organisations (Frisch, 2001, p.241), and coaching has
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become one of the most important functions of a manager (Mujtaba, 2007). The majority of business
coaching is done internally in organisations although it is not always explicitly labelled coaching; it is
just managers using their coaching skills to improve their job (Scoular, 2011). An internal coach is
more likely than an external coach to decrease the chance of losing a “derailment risk” employee
(Rock & Donde, 2008). Other advantages of internal coaching are that an internal coach is on-the-
spot, and can accordingly often observe the behaviours and learnings of the coachee and relay those
observations to the coachee in a timely manner (Frisch, 2001).
Author Terminology Characteristics
Grant (2010)
Grant and
Green (2003)
“Corridor coaching” “impromptu”
“on-the-job’
“few minutes snatched in the corridor in the midst
of a busy project”
“on-the-run”
Bennett (2003) “Off-line coaching” “opportunistic”
“short and timely conversations”
Johnson (2011) “Coaching on the fly”
“On-the-job
coaching”
“Ad-hoc coaching”
“brief unexpected day-to-day conversations”
“spontaneous ad-hoc’
Kloster and
Swires (2010) “Anytime Coaching” “short, targeted conversations when they are
needed”
“open and available to capture a coachable
moment”
“anytime the situation demands”
“quick and Focused”
Hart (2005) “Informal Coaching” “cultivating collaborative moments”
Table 1: A comparison and explanation of terms used to describe informal coaching conversations.
Although coaching cultures are desirable, and corridor or informal coaching is integral to creating
these cultures, in practice, many managers do not apply their coaching skills in this way, although
they may conduct formal coaching with their employees. Without understanding the factors which
influence a manager to put into play what they have learnt in coaching training, or conversely what
barriers prevent putting skills into play, then it could be argued that investment in coaching training of
internal managers is not an effective use of resources. Yet there has been little empirical research as
to the specific barriers which cause this infrequency in informal coaching. The literature discusses at a
strategic level why coaching cultures may not develop, identifying reasons such as competing
business pressures, a lack of expertise, lack of investment, and poor senior management commitment
(CIPD, 2006). In addition, organisational commitment, upheaval and politics, whether coaching
programs are mandated, and the sponsor-coachee relationship have been identified as reasons why a
coaching culture may not develop (Frisch, 2005). However these factors are largely at an
organisational level and there is little evidence as to whether these are the same factors which
influence individual managers in day to day decisions as to whether to take advantage of a coachable
moment.
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Whilst there is reference to ‘coachable moments’ in the popular, practitioner literature, there is
little empirical evidence from coaching managers as to when they choose to coach and when they do
not. Hunt and Weintraub (2011) explore the area of coachable moments through the ‘coaching
mindset’ of the coaching manager and submit that an ‘attitude of helpfulness’, being vigilant about
employee learning, considering how much interest an employee has in learning, assessing whether the
time is right, and having regard to the employee’s state of mind, are key factors in motivating a
manager to coach. They also argue a barrier to manager coaching could be a perception that they are
micro-managing. However, these submissions are anecdotal from their work within organisations and
have not been the subject of any empirical study. Trust between the manager as coach and the
potential coachee is a common factor identified in the literature as being crucial to the decision to
coach (Ladyshewsky, 2010; McCarthy & Ahrens, 2011; Rock & Donde, 2008). The coachee’s
receptiveness to feedback is also crucial to the outcome (Joo, 2005). Ferrar (2006) concludes that it is
likely that the roles of manager and coach are non-compatible, citing fragile psychological contract,
management mind-set and two way perception disorder as being impediments to effective managerial
coaching, even where a prior relationship between manager and coachee have been excellent.
There is also some limited literature which identifies factors that may cause managers not to coach,
such as conflicts of interest (Wilson, 2011; Rock & Donde, 2008), time constraints (Goleman, 2000;
Wilson, 2007; CIPD, 2012), a preference for “command and control” (Daniel, 2011), and a lack of
skill about how to effectively turn a moment into a coachable moment (de Jong et al, 1999; CIPD,
2012). A previous study found that managers felt comfortable in formal coaching situations for which
they could prepare but less comfortable in informal coaching (Baker-Finch, 2011).
There is considerably more research into the link between perceived coaching skills and coaching
behaviours with studies by Graham, Wedman, and Garvin-Kester (1994) and Peterson and Hicks
(1996) demonstrating a link between being trained in coaching skills and managers being observed to
increase their coaching behaviours. However, the barriers and enablers to managers demonstrating
coaching behaviours are not explored in any detail by the authors and do not appear to have been
identified through case studies examining the views of actual coaching managers. For example, Gilley
et al,’s (2010) study of 485 employees was undertaken by interviews with potential and actual
coachees about their perceptions of their managers’ coaching behaviours, but not with the managers
themselves, so we do not have empirical data relating to why the coaching managers choose to
leverage a potential coaching moment or not.
McCarthy and Ahrens (2011) suggest that some of the unique issues that a coaching manager (as
opposed to an external coach or a formally appointed internal coach) might encounter in the context
of coaching subordinates relate to issues of confidentiality, power, and role conflict due to role
switching, but there is no evidence in the literature of whether these issues are factors which are
considered by the coaching manager when deciding to take advantage of a coachable moment.
Whitmore (2009) suggests that the answer as to when managers should coach is simple, and that it
should involve an assessment of whether time, quality or maximising the employee’s learning is the
most important factor. However, whilst on the surface it appears likely that managers would consider
these factors, there is no evidence that these are considered by managers, whether they are the only
factors which would be considered, or indeed whether they would be the key or priority factors.
In summary, the literature in the area of coachable moments is limited because it is either not
empirically research based (Hunt & Weintraub, 2011), is focused at an organisational rather than
individual coaching manager level (CIPD, 2006; Frisch, 2005), is focused solely on barriers rather
than enablers (Wilson, 2011; Rock & Donde, 2008; Goleman, 2000; Daniel, 2011; de Jong, Leenders,
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&Thijssen, 1999; McCarthy & Ahrens, 2011), or is based on the views of coachees and not the
coaching managers (Graham et al, 1994; Gilley et al, 2010).
Methodology
This research aimed to identify the factors that influence managers to take advantage of coachable
moments in day-to-day management. As the research required contextual data, a qualitative
methodology was selected (Quinlan, 2011, p 106). The methodology involved conducting face-to-
face interviews with ten managers from a regional university who were part of a pool of twenty four
managers who had attended coaching awareness training within the preceding six months. At the time
of the interviews, neither of the authors was employed by, or was studying at, the university in which
the research was conducted.
Interviews were semi-structured (Kvale, 1996) and utilised a critical incident technique (Flanagan,
1954) because the researcher wanted participants to relate actual experiences. The decision to use
face-to-face interviews was largely predicated on the assumption that there may be an immaturity of
understanding of some coaching terminology to be used (such as a ‘coachable moment’) and also
because being able to probe answers with participants would allow the researcher to gain richer depth,
and more highly contextual data than would be possible with a survey or quantitative method (Hill et
al, 1997). The interview schedule was initially piloted with one of the managers from the pool of
twenty four managers to test the quality of the questions and to identify suitable probing questions
depending on the variation of responses to the initial questions (Quinlan, 2011, p273).
Interviewees who participated in the research responded to an invitation to participate issued by the
university’s human resources department. A definition of ‘a coachable moment’ developed from the
descriptions of coachable or coaching moments in the literature (Kaye, 1993; Hart, 2005; Mobley,
2001; Lennard, 2010; Schachter, 2008; Hart, 2005) was given to each participant before the interview.
The definition provided to participants was:
A coachable moment is 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. It is aimed at helping them to learn rather
than instructing, directing or teaching them.
The majority of interviews were of approximately one hour duration. During the interview,
participants were asked to identify specific examples of times they had encountered a coachable
moment, and either used it to coach an employee, or made the decision not to coach the employee.
They were asked to describe the circumstances relating to the example they provided and to
specifically consider the specific factors that influenced their decision to coach or not to coach. A
secondary area of questioning was asking participants to identify a time when a coachable moment
existed for their own manager to coach them and whether that coaching occurred or not. They were
asked to describe the circumstances relating to that opportunity. Responses were recorded by the
researcher by hand.
As there is little theory relating to coachable moments, an inductive approach to thematic analysis
was utilised (Braun & Clark, 2008), and Flanagan’s (1954) three step method for analysing data
collected through critical incident technique interviewing was followed. The researcher identified
some broad categories as a frame of reference, then refined them into logical themes, and then
classified the individual responses into themes. The researcher looked for recurring patterns of
meaning, and unexpected words used (such as ‘risk’) were coded to ascertain the commonality of use
among interviewees.
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Findings
In considering critical moments when coachable moments occurred or did not occur, participants
recounted a diverse range of workplace incidents that related to opportunities to give coachees
feedback about constraining or negatively viewed behaviours, issues related to learning about
technical aspects of their role, issues of conflict between employees, broad career or personal
development, and conflicts of interest that were not recognised as such by the coachee.
Six broad themes emerged from the factors that participants identified as influencing them to take
advantage of coachable moments: the consciousness or awareness of the coach to identify a coachable
moment, the type of employee that was a prospective coachee, the relationship between the manager
and the coachee, the type of situation that was presenting the potential coaching opportunity, the
physical environment or location in which the manager and coach found themselves, and the
manager’s coaching skills. These are discussed in detail below.
Coach’s awareness
All participants interviewed reflected that their decision to coach or not coach was a conscious and
deliberate process of weighing up a number of factors which are explained in more detail below. Key
to their deliberations in weighing these factors was the concept of risk, that is, what might be the
consequences to the manager if the employee did not welcome the coaching approach, or if the
environment was not right, or if indeed the coach/manager had over-estimated the relationship with
the potential coachee and the level of trust that they had between them? A key quote from one
participant which illustrates this risk assessment was: “It’s triage – critical decision-making about
whether to coach”. Some participants recounted incidents in which the coaching approach was not at
all appreciated by the coachee, and they reflected that they had miscalculated the risks associated with
their approach despite them deliberately assessing the risks initially. This conscious awareness of a
coaching opportunity and the deliberation around the risks associated with taking advantage of the
opportunity underpinned many of the responses in the interviews.
Type of employee
Another theme which emerged from the interviews was the perception by participants that not
all employees are perceived to be coachable. What constituted ‘coachability’ varied among
participants from whether a coachee might be ‘too junior’, whether they were aggressive or difficult
to relate to, to whether the inherent makeup of the employee was such that they did not want to learn.
One participant remarked, “Some employees just don’t want to be coached – they just want direction”.
Three participants recounted situations in which the responses by employees they tried to coach was a
specific stated response that they did not have time to engage in the questioning process and just
wanted the answers and/or directions. Many participants stated that their coachable moments arose
from specific approaches by coachees who indicated through the nature of their approach and
questions that they wanted feedback and actively encouraged it. This was broadly seen as a situation
without risk and welcomed by the coach/manager.
The concept of risk to the coaching manager around coachability was again demonstrated in the
comments, “Some employees are just too high risk – I need to feel safe too” and “I coach when there
are no risks in it for me”.
Relationship
The relationship between the coach/manager and the potential coachee was a critical issue in
managers deciding to take advantage of a coachable moment. Underpinning this was the concept of
mutual trust and respect which participants related was crucial – if it was not apparent, then they
would not attempt to coach at that moment. In relating incidents in which coachable moments were
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actualised, all participants referred to incidents in which they had an established relationship with the
coachee. The relationship needed to be one of mutuality of trust and respect, that is, both parties
needed to respect and trust the other. Comments illustrating this concept include: “There must be a
trusting relationship”, “There must be mutual trust and respect”, “Confidentiality and trust are
crucial”, “They must respect and trust me”, and “If there’s no rapport it won’t work.”
The situation presenting
Time to coach was considered by all participants as being an important factor that was weighed up
when deciding to take advantage of coachable moments. Participants submitted that coaching when
there were pressures of time such as when a deadline loomed for a tender or the manager had
competing priorities was not an optimum time to explore learning opportunities with an employee.
Again, most participants reported that they consciously assessed coaching opportunities by
considering the time investment against the learning opportunity. Most participants considered that in
some circumstances, it was appropriate to take a directive stance rather than capitalising on a learning
opportunity. The key factors in that decision were time to coach, the level of difficulty or ambiguity
around the learning opportunity, and again, the level of risk both to them as a coach/manager and the
risk to the activity being undertaken.
Physical environment or location
The majority of participants volunteered that the physical environment was a key enabler to taking
advantage of a coachable moment, with the majority of scenarios that they recounted having taken
place outside of the coach/manager’s office or formal workspace. Most participants described
coaching moments which arose because they happened to be with the coachee in a non-formal
situation rather than having deliberately created a moment outside their formal workspace in order to
coach. Managers described what they identified at the time as being ideal coachable moments as
being in a vehicle travelling from a work function, walking across campus, and having coffee at the
campus cafe. The key theme in this was equalising the relationship between the manager and the
coachee, and the view that informality gave rise to coachable moments is illustrated by the following
participant comments: “it needs to be an intimate moment”, and “the office reminds you of status”,
and “ambience is important – they don’t see you as their boss”.
Coach’s skills
How competent the coach/manager felt about their coaching skills was another factor that
participants reported they weighed up when decided whether to take advantage of a coachable
moment. Some participants reported that since attending the coaching awareness training in the
preceding six months, they felt more competent to coach in difficult situations and that this training
had increased their awareness of potential coachable moments. A common factor that was cited by
many participants as being a test of their skills was dealing with a ‘difficult’ employee, that is, one
whose interpersonal skills were either abrasive or aggressive. Again the concept of the level of risk in
taking advantage of a coaching opportunity appeared to be of high importance to participants and it
was consciously assessed against their perception of their coaching capability – “There are some
issues and some people, I just don’t feel competent enough to tackle by coaching”
Discussion
Overall, participants in this study placed more emphasis on identifying positive factors or enablers,
rather than factors that inhibited them from coaching. This may have been influenced by the question
being posed to them being framed in the positive term of ‘taking advantage’ but nevertheless, in free
form conversation during the interviews, participants freely chose to initially identify enablers in
preference to barriers.
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The key themes of coachability, relationship and trust, time to coach, and the manager’s coaching
expertise which arose from this study are factors which needed to be in place for managers to coach
and are largely consistent with the findings of previous literature (Whitmore, 2009; McCarthy &
Ahrens, 2011; Graham et al, 1994; Peterson & Hicks, 1996).
The notion of the coachability of an employee is characterised as future looking lacking core
limiting beliefs (Guttman, 2007) curiosity, self-reflection, and a desire to improve and learn (Hunt &
Weintraub, 2011). Participants in this study recounted that employees who not only were receptive to
feedback but actively sought it out were considered by them to be extremely coachable and that this
influenced their decision to coach. This is consistent with the overall findings of this study which
found that a coaching manager is less likely to attempt to coach an employee whom they perceive as
reluctant to learn and improve.
Also consistent with previous literature was the notion that the relationship between the coaching
manager and the potential coachee is crucial to whether the manager chooses to coach (Scoular, 2011,
p6; Rogers, 2008, p54). Trust was a key theme that emerged from participants in this study as being
crucial to the decision to coach or not coach.
Although time to coach was identified by participants in this study as being a factor in deciding
whether to coach, participants did not place as much emphasis on time to coach as being an enabler or
barrier to them as is perhaps emphasised in previous studies such as CIPD (2012). This may be due to
two reasons: firstly that the question in interviews focused on coachable moments, that is, short and
timely (Bennett, 2003), quick, focused, targeted conversations (Klosters and Swires, 2010), as
opposed to longer planned coaching conversations where time is a considerable issue. It may also be
due to a level of social desirability bias (Fisher, 1993) in which participants having attended training
in coaching have assumed a message from the organisation that informal coaching by line managers is
a key aspect of the line manager’s role and accordingly issues such as time should not be considered
an acceptable barrier to coaching taking place.
The perception of their coaching skills or expertise was also a key factor that influenced the
participant managers to coach and this is consistent with the findings of the CIPD (2012) study that
found this to be one of the top three reasons cited by managers as being a barrier to coaching. It is
interesting that when probed around the perception of a lack of coaching skills, participants in this
study largely cited dealing with difficult people as being the key example. This is wholly consistent
with the CIPD (2012) study which also linked the two areas. Further, participants in this study also
identified difficult employees as lacking coachability.
Another factor identified by managers in this study which was influential on their decision to take
advantage of a coachable moment was the physical environment in which the coaching manager and
potential coachee founds themselves. Participants found that more informal environments were more
conducive to conducting a coaching conversation. Whilst there is significant literature around
feedback seeking environments (Whitaker, 2001; Bogle, 2010) there is little literature around
examining physical environments for coaching conversations. This is an area for further research.
The most interesting and original theme that emerged from this study was the concept of managers
assessing ‘risk’ when considering whether or not to coach. This assessment was relayed to the
researcher by the participants as conscious and deliberate when considering the coachable moment,
although this may have been because participants were asked to identify a specific potential coaching
moment and analyse it for triggering factors. Thus what was recounted was seen by participants as a
conscious assessment in retrospect but at the time may not have been a conscious assessment.
Nevertheless, the concept of seeing risk as a potential barrier was an interesting theme that had not
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been anticipated by the researcher and the interviews provided an opportunity to explore what
coaching managers saw as ‘risk’. Risk from the perspective of the interviewees, related to the risk of
an adverse reaction by the potential coachee, perhaps resenting the feedback, and therefore the
potential for open conflict between them that might have consequences for the long term relationship.
One manager recounted they would assess risk and proceed with coaching “when there are no risks in
it for me”. The risks for an external coach if a coaching intervention does not succeed are primarily
financial and reputational, with the potential loss of further contracts with the sponsoring organisation.
The risk to a coaching manager is having to manage a disgruntled employee on an on-going basis if
the employee reacts negatively to the manager's attempt to coach.
The concept of psychological risk in coaching has been explored in the literature but largely from
the perspective of teams and learning, and also the impact on the person initiating or requesting
feedback rather than the coaching manager (van der Rijt, 2012). Van de Rijt’s (2012) study
highlighted the importance of psychologically safe work environments for the giving and the
receiving of feedback, but did not focus on identifying the nature of the risks for the coaching
manager.
Conclusions and implications for practice
The stated purpose of this research was to identify the factors that influence coaching managers to
take advantage of a coachable moment. The themes explored in the literature review of this paper that
were confirmed by this research related to time, skills and relationships (trust). The research
confirmed that these were critical enablers to managers in deciding whether or not to coach. We also
conclude that taking advantage of a coachable moment is largely situational and whether they are
conscious of it or not, managers assess whether a number of factors are in place before they coach.
When assessing these factors, managers also have regard to the risk to them in having the coaching
conversation.
The findings can be utilised in designing future training programs, equipping managers to take
advantage of coachable moments, not only for formal coaching sessions, but also for the times when a
coachable moment occurs. If, when managers recognise a coachable moment, they are already
familiar with some of the perceived risks in having an informal coaching conversation, then these
risks may be able to be somewhat mitigated. Designing training content around the awareness of a
coachable moment, as well as rehearsing coaching difficult employees and/or those perceived not to
be coachable, may enable managers to feel more comfortable about capitalising upon informal
coaching opportunities.
The findings can also provide an impetus for informed organisational conversations about
developing a coaching culture and the importance of informal coaching conversations, especially
‘coachable moments’ to the creation of a coaching culture. If managers are supported to take
advantage of coachable moments, then it is likely that they will do so more frequently and develop
skills in this area without being prompted to do so only in formal scheduled coaching forums.
Limitations and further research
However, there are some limitations of this research which should be noted. Firstly, the sample
size comprised ten managers who all work within the same university, all have managed staff at some
stage in their careers, all are in non-academic roles, and all had attended coaching awareness training
within the preceding six months. Whilst the first three factors are not considered to have any
significant bearing on this research, the latter factor, that of having attended coaching awareness
training may have had some impact on responses. Managers were highly encouraged to attend this
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training and thus in responses to questions there may have been a social desirability bias (Fisher,
1993) with managers presenting themselves as being diligent coaches and exaggerating the level of
informal coaching they undertook.
A second possible limitation of this study was the use of the critical incident technique which is
contingent upon interviewees recalling specific incidents. Using this technique there is always the
possibility that embellishments might occur (Sharoff, 2008) and that participants may overlook
routine incidents because they are focussing on ‘critical’ incidents (Quinlan, 2011, p230). It became
apparent to the researcher during some interviews that the latter limitation may have impacted on the
research participants as many found it difficult initially to recall examples of coachable moments but
as conversation ensued in the interview, understood that these moments may well be day to day
unremarkable incidents. Efforts were made by the researcher to overcome this by probing for detail
and encouraging behaviourally based descriptions, and also by explaining the nature of ‘critical’ in
more detail to interviewees.
Future research could use alternative methodologies with a larger cross-sectional design, and
explore the perceptions of employees as well as managers including how to develop a coaching
culture .
It is worth investigating to what extent the manager’s risk threshold is linked to their perceived
self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977; Bandura, 2012), in other words, if managers are more confident in their
ability to deploy their skills, are they more likely to take a risk and coach a difficult employee than a
manager with less confidence in their skills? Furthermore, it is worth investigating to what extent
managers’ perceptions of risk change over time. Grant (2010) suggests that managers need support
during the first few months after a coaching training program if they are to persevere in applying their
skills. Grant and Hartley (2013) suggest that coaching supervision sessions build self-efficacy and
help transform insights and actions into habits.
An additional theme from this research which warrants further research is the extent to which the
physical environment not only influences a coaching manager to take advantage of a coachable
moment, but whether the physical environment also affects the likelihood of feedback seeking by the
employees, whether positively or negatively. An increase in feedback seeking would increase the
perception of coachability of an employee (Hunt & Weintraub, 2011) and according to the results of
this study, could increase the likelihood of a manager taking advantage of a coachable moment.
Despite the small sample size, this research is significant because it has contributed to the body of
knowledge relating to why managers choose to coach or not to coach in informal situations. The
finding relating to managers assessing risk is considered to be an original outcome of the research and
it is recommended that this be further researched to better explore and understand the impact that risk
may have on informal coaching conversations, as well as how to manage such risks. This in turn will
contribute to developing coaching cultures in organisations.
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About the authors
Christina Turner
Christina has come to coaching from a professional background as a human resources executive, line
manager, management consultant, mediator, executive coach, trainer, and a content and process
facilitator. With post graduate qualifications in HRM/IR and law, Christina has had a successful
corporate career leading the human resource management functions of a number of global, multi-
national, and national private and public sector organisations. She is a Past President of the Australian
Human Resources Institute. Christina recently graduated with a Master of Business Coaching degree,
and is currently a PhD student at the Queensland University of Technology researching managerial
coaching.
Grace McCarthy
Grace is Associate Dean (Education) in the Faculty of Business, University of Wollongong, New
South Wales, Australia. Grace led the development of the Master of Business Coaching degree.
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... They concluded that codes of conduct have very limited use in such challenges: Ethical codes are experienced by coaches to be either irrelevant, insufficient, or even an obstacle when it comes to resolving the challenges. Turner and McCarthy (2015) collected and analyzed descriptions of "coachable moments" of line managers, that is, examples of informal, unplanned opportunities to coach their direct reports. ...
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