Are We There Yet?

Evidence-Based Workplace Coaching

Abschlussarbeit von Dr. Annika Nübold, als PDF lesen

Workplace coaching is one of the fastest growing fields within consulting (Liljenstrand & Nebeker, 2008)
and has become an integral part of human resource development portfolios in many organizations
(Bozer & Delegach, 2019). Workplace coaching can be defined as a developmental, tailor-made
intervention in which a professional coach (internal or external; Bozer & Jones, 2018; Passmore &
Lai, 2020; Smither, 2011) utilizes collaborative, reflective, and goal-oriented strategies to facilitate
the development and performance of individuals or groups in organizations (Athanasopoulou &
Dopson, 2018; Bozer & Jones, 2018; Grant, 2017). Workplace coaching has become a multibillion-
dollar global market (Armstrong, 2011) with an estimated 71,000 professional coaches in 2019
worldwide, an increase of 33% on the 2015 estimate (International Coach Federation, 2020).
Whereas coaches had mainly been hired to address toxic issues in leadership, they are nowadays
mostly hired to develop high-potential performers or support the transition to a leadership role
(Athanasopoulou & Dopson, 2018; Coutu et al., 2009).

Despite the high demand and popularity of workplace coaching, the field is still in the process of gaining
professional credibility, partly due to stark differences in coaching practices and coaches’ background
(Athanasopoulou & Dopson, 2018; Drake, 2008). This issue is also reflected in research where the field
has long been criticized for its lack of robust study designs and rigorous empirical evidence (Silzer et al.,
2008). The majority of articles still consist of case studies or descriptive papers that highlight the benefits
of a certain approach or technique (De Meuse et al., 2009). In a recent systematic review by Athanasopoulou
and Dopson (2018), only 32 out of 110 peer-reviewed studies on executive coaching were published in
journals with an impact factor and only 15 used a robust quantitative research design, such as randomized
controlled trials (RCTs) or quasiexperimental designs.

Although the quality of research has increased considerably during the past five to ten years (Bachkirova, 2017;
Kotte, 2019), further theoretical grounding and knowledge, particularly on the mechanisms and contextual
boundary conditions that drive and influence coaching effectiveness, are highly needed (Athanasopoulou &
Dopson, 2018; Bozer & Jones, 2018; Grover & Furnham, 2016). For example, there is still a lack of clarity
regarding the drivers of coaching effectiveness (i.e., the psychological mechanisms) and the boundary
conditions that boost or hinder coaching success (e.g., coach and coachee characteristics, the role of the
organizational context; Bozer & Jones, 2018; Jones et al., 2016). To date, the field has been preoccupied
with the question whether coaching works but has largely ignored the questions of why and when it works
(Athanasopoulou & Dopson, 2018). Furthermore, the field is still not entirely clear about what factors define
coaching effectiveness, i.e., what outcomes should be measured and evaluated (De Haan et al., 2013). While
most research has focused on outcomes on the individual level of analysis (e.g., improvements in coachees’
self-efficacy or behavior), benefits on a group or organizational level (e.g., team satisfaction, productivity)
have rarely been considered yet.

In the present work, after providing a more extensive definition of workplace coaching, I will review and summarize
the current state of research regarding its effectiveness. Then, I will shortly discuss potential unwanted side effects
of workplace coaching that may occur during or after the coaching process. I will conclude with a set of open and
yet unresolved questions in this field of inquiry and suggestions for future research which could help to further
increase the field’s credibility and scientific maturity.

Workplace Coaching – A Definition 

Generally, coaching can be defined as a “result-oriented, systematic process in which the coach facilitates the
enhancement of life experience and goal-attainment in the personal and/or professional life of normal, non-
clinical clients” (Grant, 2003, p. 254). Thus, coaching differs from therapy as it does not address mental health
problems (De Haan et al., 2013) but also from mentoring, counselling and other conversation-based approaches
to change as coaching helps individuals to learn rather than teaching them (Passmore et al., 2018; Whitmore,
2002). Coaching is a systematic learning and development approach that is characterized by a collaborative,
reflective, goal-focused relationship between coach and coachee. Coaching puts coachees as learners at the
center of the coaching experience, thereby aiming to promote their self-awareness and personal responsibility
and unlock their full potential (Passmore & Fillery-Travis, 2011). In general, coaches use a wide variety of
cognitive, motivational, and behavioral techniques to help the coachee achieve a mutually identified goal.
Those techniques typically facilitate goal attainment by asking open questions (Passmore & Fillery-Travis, 2011;
Passmore et al., 2018).

Whereas coaching as a general concept can be applied to a multitude of domains (e.g., the private sphere, sport
contexts, occupational settings), workplace coaching specifically relates to the coaching process in a professional
environment where a custom-made, learning and development intervention is applied to achieve professional
outcomes that are valued by the coachee and the organization (Smither, 2011). Workplace coaching subsumes
different terminologies which are often used interchangeably in the literature, including executive coaching,
leadership coaching, and business coaching (e.g., Blackman et al., 2016; Theeboom et al., 2014). Following
Jones et al. (2016), workplace coaching is provided by an internal or external coach who does not have formal
supervisory authority over the to be coached employee, who may stem from all possible hierarchy levels not
only the executive level. Workplace coaching is typically of triadic nature and, as such, not only involves the
partnership of coach and coachee but also the coachee’s sponsoring organization as a key stakeholder
(Athanasopoulou & Dopson, 2018). In general, workplace coaching is characterized by a high context-sensitivity
comprising a “unique mix of environments, characteristics, motivations and attitudes of stakeholders who have
direct effects on coaching outcomes” which is further amplified by the variety of coaches’ backgrounds and
coaching approaches (Athanasopoulou & Dopson, 2018, p. 71).

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