At a recent workshop on Adaptable Leadership, I presented a four-quadrant model (below) that I developed to capture the relationship between an employee’s expertise—associated to their job-related ability—and then the degree to which they are teachable.
The vertical axis is the degree to which someone is personally teachable with the horizontal axis highlighting the degree to which someone has job-related expertise or competence in their job
Quadrant 1. The Poor Fit
If this employee has been with the organisation for some time and has shown little or no progress in job competence, teachability and enthusiasm for the job are the most likely cause. Current lack of job expertise combined with little or no desire to learn makes forward progress challenging and time-consuming for management. It does not mean there is anything wrong with the person; it’s more likely to be explained by their place within the organisation, or that the organisation itself isn’t a naturally good-fit to inspire them to learn and grow. This type of person would probably be better placed elsewhere (perhaps in someone else’s business). The arrows in this quadrant indicate training and coaching are required in both job-related expertise and personal teachability. The red arrow suggests helping them depart could be the most mutually agreeable outcome.
Quadrant 2. The Know-it-all
This team member (actually individual player) is: highly competent in their work but their lack of teachability is reflected in resistance to change. Mostly, they simply don’t see the need for a personal or professional shift; they live in a zone somewhere between the ostrich – with its head in the sand – and God himself. They generally reject the notion that they could possibly improve; believing the organisation revolves around them. I’ve even heard the Know It All say that the boss would never sack them because they are too valuable. The vertical arrow represents coaching is required in teachability.
People in this quadrant may change in the direction of teachability if they are fortunate enough to experience a perspective enhancing “moment of truth” to shift them out of the potential complacency that makes them vulnerable to changes in the organisation, technology, context, legislation and customer preferences.
Quadrant 3. The Fast Mover
This person may not have fully developed expertise in their role but because they are naturally higher on teachability they approach each day as an opportunity to develop new skills that will make them proficient in their job. This person is a “gift” within the organisation and is the perfect recruit whether early or later in their career. Nurturing such an employee along the horizontal arrow via mentoring /training will foster even faster growth and promote loyalty.
Quadrant 4. The Autonomous
The combination of teachability and technical skill means this employee will meet and exceed the demands of their specific job requirements. People in this quadrant are likely to be innovators within the business, blessed with the insight and foresight needed to perceive and respond to change. This type of person can function autonomously; with the horizontal arrow recommending further growth tailored to the individual’s personal and professional goals. To retain employees of this calibre, managers/business owners need to work with the person to identify meaningful ways to reward and sustain exceptional performance, noting that providing financial or promotional opportunities are only two of many ways to reward outstanding contributions made by employees.
A Note On Teachability
In over thirty years of coaching people, teaching people to be teachable is plain hard work. On developing this model I did a web search on “how to teach people teachability.” Zero results. Every entry on the first few pages spoke to the individual of how to cultivate teachability within themselves. The issue for the manager is when you have someone that doesn’t demonstrate teachability, how do you teach it when they don’t want to be taught?
Someone early in their career—apprentices come to mind—can sometimes reflect this unteachable attitude. Being patient with them, praising them for even the smallest task completed well, explaining that because they listened and did what was asked of them resulted in a great outcome, can sometimes inspire them to begin opening up to further instruction.
Others I have coached who I would have deemed to be unteachable at the start demonstrated a growing enthusiasm and teachability when I helped them connect their daily responsibilities to what motivated them personally. Others I have noticed to be unteachable in one particular environment or role, but when shifted elsewhere, began to learn and shine.
Get it Right in Recruitment
The best place to ascertain the degree of personal teachability is at the recruitment stage. Here are some questions you might like to consider integrating into your initial interview process.
- Tell me about what you have been learning, reading etc?
- What areas do you feel you need to grow most in?
- What are some of the things in life that you love doing? How have you personally developed in these areas?
- If you were to be successful with this application, what areas would have the most challenge with? How would you deal with those challenges?
- Tell me about a time how you handled criticism or a constructive critique from your boss?
- Tell me about a time how you handled criticism or a constructive critique from your peers? What did you learn from this? What did you do about this?
- Tell me about a time where you were allocated a task that you didn’t know how to do?
- How do you stay up to date with this industry?
This model seeks to help employers and managers understand where a person sits on the two scales and corresponding quadrants and is useful for determining: someone’s current role placement; the type of coaching/training required; what leadership style to adopt along with being a useful recruitment model.
If you would like to discuss how this might enhance your organisation or to have an assessment completed of your key personnel please feel free to reply here or call direct on 0403 341 105.