You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

The #1 Thing We Look for in Applicants: Coachability This one key trait defines our hiring process.

By Stu Sjouwerman

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Building an amazing team is how we grew KnowBe4 into a unicorn. Without the team, we'd never have made it. This is why hiring is so crucial to every organization's success, regardless of the size of your business or industry.

But there are a lot of different factors to consider when hiring, such as a candidate's experience, education, and so on. How can you go beyond just the resume, and what exactly should you be looking for?

For us, we found it came down to one key trait: coachability.

Why coachability is such an asset

Today's organizations have to compete on a global level. Add in how rapidly technology and consumer preferences both change, and teams don't have a choice — they have to be able to adapt and pivot what they're doing. It's not negotiable.

In this type of environment, leaders need people who quickly and gracefully can take feedback and adjust how they think and behave. Otherwise, the people they lead will have a harder time keeping pace with the work in front of them. Those individuals subsequently might be less satisfied on the job and end up in more intentional or unintentional conflicts. It's a morale issue as much as it is a productivity one.

John Maxwell pinpoints this link between leadership and coachability in his book, How Successful People Lead. He asserts that "leadership deals with people and their dynamics [which are continually changing]. The challenge of leadership is to create change and facilitate growth. Those conditions require movement. . ."

Related: How to Give Employee Feedback Effectively (and Why It Matters)

Looking for coachability after hiring is too late

Every company occasionally has to discipline workers or even let them go. But doing so takes up managerial and leadership time you could spend on other things. It's also expensive and disruptive to the rest of the team to bring someone else on if your initial hire doesn't work out. If you discover after hiring that a person isn't going to take your advice and isn't willing to learn, then you run the risk of unnecessarily draining resources out of the organization and have to deal with the stress that falls on everyone from trying to solve the personnel issue.

Don't wait until someone is on your payroll to see if they'll listen. Screen for coachability from the very beginning — as part of your hiring process.

Using role-playing as a way to see if someone is coachable

At KnowBe4, we check for coachability during hiring with some simple role-playing. The interviewer gives the candidate a scenario, and they walk through it together. Then, the interviewer goes over both what the candidate did well while also offering some suggestions or explaining what to work on. Then, they run through the scenario again. If the candidate adjusts their behavior based on the advice from the interviewer, then the interviewer knows that the candidate is coachable. If they don't do anything differently, though, then the interviewer moves on to the next applicant.

Related: Ready to Hire Your First Employee? Prep With These 6 Steps

This technique works best once you've already had some interaction with candidates because both you and the candidates have to feel comfortable doing the role-playing. That usually requires at least a small amount of rapport and familiarity. Additionally, role-playing typically does take more time than, say, reading a resume paragraph. Practically, you only have so many minutes in the day. So aim to check for coachability with this strategy in the second or third interview, after you've narrowed your pool of potential hires down a little.

Managing, mentoring, and coaching are not the same

As you prioritize and look for coachability, make sure to distinguish between coaching, mentoring and managing.

Management is about moving the objectives and key results (OKRs) of the organization forward. It's task-oriented and measured by stats.

Mentoring is about providing expert guidance that somebody can use even outside of the office. It usually means you invest a lot of time and energy into the individual on a one-on-one basis, who you and others might see as your protege.

Coaching, by contrast, is meant to make a person more aware of where they can improve and sharpen those skills in a safe environment. It can be difficult to do as a mentor or manager because both managing and mentoring involve a different type of relationship with a stronger power dynamic. Coaching is far more scalable, especially in a business setting, as it can be done with everyone in the organization.

Why does this matter? Because once you've found coachable people, you need to make sure that they can tap sources of advice or training without interfering with workflow or monopolizing. It's also important that the people you hire receive messaging that is consistent with your company culture.

Related: Inclusivity Begins During the Hiring Process. Here's How to Do It.

Meeting these requirements might mean that you have to have one or more specialized individuals whose entire role is to coach. These people should have good expertise in your field, but they have to have great soft skills, too, because they have to make others feel comfortable enough to be honest and willing to improve. If you can't afford to bring on dedicated coaches, then spend time with everyone on your team, so you know their strengths and weaknesses and can point people to help each other when there's a need.

Start your search for coachable people right now

The fast pace of the global, tech-driven work environment means that organizations need adaptable employees who can learn, not people who already know everything (or think they do). Look for coachability right away during your hiring process with strategies such as role-playing to make sure your team stays flexible and cohesive.

Stu Sjouwerman

Founder and CEO, KnowBe4

Stu Sjouwerman (pronounced “shower-man”) is the founder and CEO of KnowBe4, Inc., which offers a platform for security awareness training and simulated phishing.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business News

James Clear Explains Why the 'Two Minute Rule' Is the Key to Long-Term Habit Building

The hardest step is usually the first one, he says. So make it short.

Side Hustle

He Took His Side Hustle Full-Time After Being Laid Off From Meta in 2023 — Now He Earns About $200,000 a Year: 'Sweet, Sweet Irony'

When Scott Goodfriend moved from Los Angeles to New York City, he became "obsessed" with the city's culinary offerings — and saw a business opportunity.


Get Your Business a One-Year Sam's Club Membership for Just $14

Shop for office essentials, lunch for the team, appliances, electronics, and more.

Business News

Microsoft's New AI Can Make Photographs Sing and Talk — and It Already Has the Mona Lisa Lip-Syncing

The VASA-1 AI model was not trained on the Mona Lisa but could animate it anyway.


You Won't Have a Strong Leadership Presence Until You Master These 5 Attributes

If you are a poor leader internally, you will be a poor leader externally.