Coachability: A Foundational Capability for Employee Agility and Adaptability

Creating and Sustaining an Agile Workforce.

By The Coachability Consultants Team

Seventy-seven percent (77%) of HR practitioners and leaders report their organization remains in a constant state of change, with goals, priorities, and strategies continuously shifting. Organizational scholars characterize the nature of the current work environment by the term VUCA [volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous].  In other words, the landscape of our work environment is extremely fast-paced and ever-changing.

As a result, researchers and practitioners widely regard the ability of leaders and employees to adapt to novel situations in the workplace and thrive during times of change as more crucial now than ever before.  Echoing these sentiments, organizational experts suggest that agile and adaptable employees are indispensable for organizations. 

What do we mean by agile and adaptable employees?

Agility refers to an employee’s ability to monitor the current environment to anticipate change and then respond rapidly and appropriately when changing circumstances require it.  Proactivity forms a key component of agility, which enables individuals to not only respond well to change, but to also predict changing circumstances before they occur. 

 Similarly, researchers define employee adaptability as individuals’ ability to rapidly modulate behavior to adjust to novel internal and organizational issues and external environmental factors.

 To remain effective in today’s rapidly-changing, performance-driven landscape, many organizations invest in large-scale change management initiatives (e.g., restructuring, expansions), but, unfortunately, fail to properly and effectively prepare and equip individual employees with the skills necessary to succeed and prosper in today’s unpredictable work environment.

What’s the importance of coachability for employee agility and adaptability and enhancing change management capabilities?

According to global HR & LD leaders, employee coachability offers organizations an effective method for accomplishing change management at an individual (employee) level, as well as a broader organizational level.  Based on extensive empirical research, we define coachability as an individual’s willingness and ability to seek, be receptive to, and enact constructive feedback to drive individual development and improve performance.


 Recent peer-reviewed research conducted in the Health Sciences/Bio-Pharma Industry demonstrates highly coachable employees are significantly more agile and adaptable than their less coachable counterparts. More specifically, this research indicates highly coachable individuals, when compared to those lower in coachability, are 28% more agile and adaptable.  This means highly coachable employees are better able to effectively handle and succeed in turbulent work environments or those involving change, such as the current VUCA environment.  

For example, research suggests that highly coachable employees are more effective than less coachable employees when faced with new tasks/procedures/strategies, company expansions, change management initiatives, and mergers & acquisitions.  Additionally, recent coachability research indicates that highly coachable employees achieve greater sales and job performance.  So, while highly coachable employees are significantly more agile and adaptable, they also reach considerably higher performance levels than employees lower in coachability, even in tumultuous work environments.

How does coachability enhance employees’ agility and adaptability during times of change?

As we noted, employee agility and adaptability involve monitoring the surrounding environment to anticipate change, and then responding appropriately to adjust to these novel internal and external organizational and environmental demands.

Understanding how to effectively modify behavior and pivot during times of change requires employees possess role, process, and goal clarity.

  • Role clarity refers to clarity around one’s specific role, expectations, and responsibilities
  • Process clarity centers on understanding the process(es) necessary for effectively carrying out one’s role and responsibilities
  • Goal clarity describes the consequences resulting from performance and the impact on the individual, team, and organization

A greater understanding of one’s specific role and responsibilities, the process(es) best utilized for fulfilling those responsibilities, and the resulting impact on individual and team success allows individuals to perform more effectively across a variety of contexts (e.g., familiar and unfamiliar environments). 

Taken together, when employees proactively seek feedback from a variety of sources (and their organizations empower them to do so), internalize this information, and subsequently leverage the feedback, it positions them to rapidly adjust behaviors, as a result of this increased clarity. 

In other words, proactively seeking feedback in a way that elicits the provision of high-quality, actionable information – rather than waiting for it to be provided – allows employees to anticipate change and more quickly obtain the insights needed to pivot and adapt.  Of course, this rests on the assumption employees not only solicit feedback proactively, but listen intently and enact the feedback to effectively modify behavior and perform in change-bound environments.


Robust psychological research highlights the importance of coachability as a foundational capability that enables employee agility and adaptability and significantly improves the ability of employees and organizations to thrive in today’s VUCA context.  As such, coachability must serve as a core competency for all employees.  By identifying coachability during the hiring process and elevating existing employees to highly coachable levels, organizations will more efficiently and effectively develop talent that can thrive during times of change, ultimately establishing a competitive advantage relative to rivals. 

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