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The impact of executive coaching on self-efficacy related to management soft-skills

Authors:
  • ESG UQAM (Montréal, Canada)

Abstract

Purpose Executive coaching has become an increasingly common method to skill development. However, few rigorous empirical studies have tested its capacity to generate outcomes. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the links between executive coaching and self‐efficacy in regard to supervisory coaching behaviors. Design/methodology/approach The paper reports on a pretest‐posttest study of a leadership development program using three training methods: classroom seminars, action learning groups, and executive coaching. Data are collected in a large international manufacturing company from 73 first‐ and second‐level managers over an eight‐month period. Findings Results indicate that, after controlling for pre‐training self‐efficacy and other training methods, the number of coaching sessions has a positive and significant relationship with post‐training self‐efficacy. Results also show that utility judgment, affective organizational commitment, and work‐environment support have each a positive and significant relationship with post‐training self‐efficacy. Practical implications The paper first suggests that an organization that wishes to improve its return on investment with regard to coaching should implement a program with multiple sessions spread over a period of several months. This paper also suggests that organizations should consider coaching from a systemic point of view, that is, taking into account not only the design but also individual and situational variables. Originality/value This paper contributes to the scientific literature by investigating, with a solid methodological design, the capacity of executive coaching to increase self‐efficacy related to management skills.
The impact of executive coaching
on self-efficacy related
to management soft-skills
Louis Baron and Lucie Morin
Universite
´
du Que
´
bec a
`
Montre
´
al, Montre
´
al, Canada
Abstract
Purpose Executive coaching has become an increasingly common method to skill development.
However, few rigorous empirical studies have tested its capacity to generate outcomes. The purpose of
this paper is to investigate the links between executive coaching and self-efficacy in regard to
supervisory coaching behaviors.
Design/methodology/approach The paper reports on a pretest-posttest study of a leadership
development program using three training methods: classroom seminars, action learning groups, and
executive coaching. Data are collected in a large international manufacturing company from 73 first-
and second-level managers over an eight-month period.
Findings Results indicate that, after controlling for pre-training self-efficacy and other training
methods, the number of coaching sessions has a positive and significant relationship with post-training
self-efficacy. Results also show that utility judgment, affective organizational commitment, and
work-environmentsupporthave eacha positive andsignificantrelationship with post-trainingself-efficacy.
Practical implications The paper first suggests that an organization that wishes to improve its
return on investment with regard to coaching should implement a program with multiple sessions
spread over a period of several months. This paper also suggests that organizations should consider
coaching from a systemic point of view, that is, taking into account not only the design but also
individual and situational variables.
Originality/value This paper contributes to the scientific literature by investigating, with a solid
methodological design, the capacity of executive coaching to increase self-efficacy related to
management skills.
Keywords Coaching, Supervisory training, Management development
Paper type Research paper
In organizational settings, executive coaching has become an increasingly common
method to skill development (Bacon and Spear, 2003; Kampa-Kokesch and Anderson,
2001). In line, the number of professional coaches has increased considerably in recent
years: in 2008, the International Coaching Federation alone counted more than 15,000
members in 90 countries (www.coachfederation.org). The reason most commonly cited
in the popular literature to explain this keen inter est in coaching is that the numerous
and frequent changes experienced within organizations (e.g. mergers and acquisitions,
changes in management philosophies, new forms of work organization) have created a
new need to develop management skills, especially interpersonal skills (Zeus and
Skiffington, 2001). However, from a scientific perspective, it has been noted that very
few empirical studies have been conducted on executive coaching (Lowman, 2005;
Sue-Chan and Latham, 2004). Moreover, some authors have argued that coaching is
over-utilized in organizational settings, considering the limited research on its efficacy
(McGovern et al., 2001).
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/0143-7739.htm
LODJ
31,1
18
Received January 2009
Revised April 2009
Accepted May 2009
Leadership & Organization
Development Journal
Vol. 31 No. 1, 2010
pp. 18-38
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
0143-7739
DOI 10.1108/01437731011010362
The goal of this study was to partially fill this gap in the scientific literature on
executive coaching. Specifically, the study had two objectives: first, to determine whether
there is a positive relationship between executive coaching and self-efficacy related to
supervisory coaching behaviors, these behaviors becoming key in the current context
where most industrialized countries are undergoing a transition toward a knowledge
economy based largely on the efficient management of human resources (Ulrich and
Brockbank, 2005); and second, to examine the links between some individual and
situational variables that have been widely studied in the training literature (Salas
and Cannon-Bowers, 2001; Tannenbaum and Yukl, 1992; Ford and Weissbein, 1997) and
self-efficacy. The selection of which variables to study was based on research indicating
that utility judgment (Alliger et al., 1997), learning goal orientation (Seijts and Latham,
2005; Kozlowski et al., 2001), affective commitment (Bartlett, 2001; Saks, 1995), and
work-environment support (Cromwell and Kolb, 2004; Kirwan and Birchall, 2006) are
positively linked to transfer of training. To our knowledge, this study is among the first to
investigate these variables in relation to executive coaching.
Executive coaching
A number of definitions have been proposed for executive coaching, mainly in the
popular press. These definitions differentiate themselves, to use the taxonomy of
Sperry (2004), by their focus either on performance enhancement, skill development,
or personal development. The typ e of executive coaching studied in this paper refer to
skill-focused coaching and is well described by the definition of Douglas and Morley
(2000) for which coaching is:
The process of equipping people with the tools, knowledge, and opportunities they need to
develop themselves and become more effective (Peterson, 1996). Executive coaching involves
the teaching of skills in the context of a personal relationship with the learner, and providing
feedback on the executive’s interpersonal relations and skills (Sperry, 1993). An ongoing
series of activities tailored to the individual’s current issues or relevant problem is designed
by the coach to assist the executive in maintaining a consistent, confident focus as he or she
tunes strengths and manages shortcomings (Tobias, 1996).
The adjective “executive” can be explained by the original use of coaching with CEOs
and vice-presidents. Although the use of executive coaching has been extended to
lower levels of management over the past decade, the expression “exe cutive coaching”
was kept because the objectives of the coaching interventions did not changed.
Executive coaching differs from supervisory coaching behaviors, which are
increasingly performed by managers (Ellinger et al., 1999). First, the manager, due to
his position of authority over the employee, exercises significant control over him.
This authority and control can have the effect of restraining the employee from
bringing up certain subjects thought to be more delicate, notably those of a more
personal nature involving the manager. An executive coach, either from within or
outside the organization, has no direct authority over the employee-coachee. Second,
daily coaching behaviors that a manager displays with an employee do not constitute a
formal development process with a beginni ng and an end as is the case with executive
coaching. Executive coaching also differs from mentoring, which refers to “a
rel atio nship bet ween an older, more e xperienced mentor and a younger,
less-experienced prote
´
ge
´
for the purpose of helping and developing the prote
´
ge
´
’s
career” (Ragins and Kram, 2007, p. 5).
The impact
of executive
coaching
19
Reviews of the literature on executive coaching (Kampa-Kokesch and Anderson,
2001; Smither and Reilly, 2001) have proposed the following six stages for an effective
coaching process:
(1) establishing a relationship of trust between the coach and the coachee;
(2) evaluating the coachee and the professional setting in which he or she works;
(3) providing feedback on this evaluation to the coachee;
(4) establishing a development plan and setting goals;
(5) implementing the behaviors to be developed or improved; and
(6) evaluating the progress achieved.
Furthermore, two types of coaches offering coaching services can generally be
identified: in-house or internal coaches, from within the sam e organization where the
coachee works, or external coaches, from outside the organization. Hall et al. (1999) and
Wasylyshyn (2003) described the main advantages and disadvantages of each type of
coach. For example, whereas an internal coach knows the coachee’s work environment
better, an external coach generally approaches the training situation with more
objectivity. Finally, Peltier (2001) described the four contexts in which executive
coaching is most commonly used. These contexts are:
(1) major organizational changes requiring new skills;
(2) a skill-development need stemming from a promotion;
(3) a specific skill-development need for the managers in question; and
(4) the resolution of individual performance problems.
In the first three contexts, coaching is proposed in order to achieve development goals,
whereas in the fourth context, the objective is corrective.
Empirical studies on executive coaching
To date, very few empirical studi es have investigated executive coaching. Indeed, a
review of the literature by Kampa-Kokesch and Anderson (2001), as well as a literature
search using the Psyclit and ABI Inform search engines for the 2001-2008 period,
reveal that only seven quantitative empirical studies that go beyond simple surveys
have been published in recent years. The following is a brief overview of those studies.
Research conducted by Thach (2002) evaluated the impact of a program combining
3608 feedback and executive coaching on leadership improvement among 281 senior
executives and promising managers. The participants were entitled to four coaching
sessions targeting the development needs identified by a multisource evalua tion (peers,
employees, immediate superior). Six months later, another multisource evaluation with
the same respondents was conducted. The results indicated that leadership skills
improved by 55-60 percent on average during the professional development program.
In addition, the results indicated a positive correlation between the number of coaching
sessions and leadership efficacy, as reported by managers themselves.
A study by Luthans and Peterson (2003) examined the effect of executive
coaching on the integration of information from 3608 feedback evaluations by
20 managers. Specifically, the study evaluated the effects of executive coaching on
self-awareness, as measured by changes in the discrepancies between a self-evaluation
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and evaluations made by others. The results demonstrated that, after a coaching
session to examine the results of 3608 feedback and a follow-up session three months
later, the observed differences between the participant’s self-evaluation and the resul ts
of 3608 feedback (n ¼ 67) tend to disappear for the three assessed skills (behavioral,
interpersonal, and person al). Al so, the authors noted an increase in satisfaction with
work, supervision and peers for both the managers who participated in the program
and their employees. Organizational commitment was also higher for managers after
the program and intention to leave the organization (turnover intention) was
significantly lower for both the managers and t heir employees. Finally, the
organizational performance of the employees, as evaluated by the company’s
objective data (sales revenues, client satisfaction, and production quality), was higher
in the three months following the program, compared to the data from the previous
year.
A study by Smither et al. (2003) also examined the added value of an executive
coaching program in the context of multiso urce evaluations. The participants in the
study were 1,361 second- and third-level managers in a large corporation. The study
used a pretest-posttest format and included a control group. The exper imental group
included 400 managers who participated in a coaching program over the course of one
year. The control group was composed of more than 800 managers. Multisource
evaluations of the participants were conducted at the beginning of the program and
one year later. The results showed that the managers who worked with a coach set
more clear and specific goals, were more likely to ask for ideas for self-improvement
from their supervisor, and had better evaluations from their supervisor and their direct
contacts than did the managers in the control group who did not receive coaching.
The principal weakness of this study is the small number of coa ching sessions
received (2.42). It may have been more appropriate to call these interventions
“multisource debriefing sessions” since the length does not allow a formal executive
coaching process.
A study by Olivero et al. (1997) investigated the effect of an executive coaching
program on productivity. After three days of management skills training, 23 managers
received eight coaching sessions from in-house coaches spread over a period of two
months. During these sessions , the managers were to develo p a project aimed at
improving the performance of their work unit. Productivity was evaluated using
archival data on the quantity of outputs per employee (services provided, repeated acts,
etc.). The data were collected immediately after the training and then again after the
coaching sessions. The results indicated that the three-day training helped improve
the organizational productivity by 22 percent, compared to an increase of 88 percent
after the coaching program.
For their part, Jones et al. (2006) evaluated the influence of executive coaching on the
managerial flexibility of 11 managers participating in a leadership development
program which included multisource evaluation, leadership seminars, and six sessions
of executive coaching. The authors assessed managerial flexibility with questionnaire
items targeting proactive behavior, adaptability, and resilience. The results indicated
that managerial flexibility tended to increase slightly ( p , 0.10) through executive
coaching. However, as in the study by Thach (2002), a major limitation of this study
was the inability to isolate the influence of executive coaching from that of multisource
evaluations or the seminars attended by the managers.
The impact
of executive
coaching
21
Recently, Kombarakaran et al. (2008) conducted an online survey of 42 coaches and
114 executives at a large multinational corporation. After 12 coaching sessions spread
over a six-month period, the two groups of respondents were asked to what degree
coaching had had a positive impact on five goals for personal change. The results
indicated that executive coaching was positively associated with effective people
management, relationships with managers, goal setting and prioritization, engagement
and productivity, and dialogue and communication. However, due to the post facto
design and the des criptive nature of the study, no statistical correlation could be
established between executive coaching and outcome s, which considerably weakens
the scientific impact of the results.
Finally, using a repeated measures design, Evers et al. (2006) tested the efficacy of
coaching in the development of self-efficacy beliefs and outcome expectancies with
respect to three central areas of functioning: setting one’s own goals, acting in a
balanced way, and mindful living and working. The scores of the 30 managers who
received coaching from their immediate superior during a four-month period (an
average of 3.67 sessions) were compared to those of 30 managers who did not receive
coaching. The results showed that the experimental group had significantly higher
scores than the control group for two variables: the self-efficacy to set one’s own goals
and outcome expectancies to act in a balanced way.
Overall, a limited number of studies have investigated the efficacy of executive
coaching in organizational settings. In addition, as we have seen, these studies had
substantial limitations such as the inability to isolate the effects of executive coaching
from those of other development methods used at the same time or post facto
assessments that precluded a retrospective evaluation of changes. As Feldman and
Lankau (2005) emphasized, the most rigorous study designs must be used to determine
if executive coaching is really an effective development method. Along with other
authors (Goldstein and Ford, 2002; Wexley and Latham, 2002), these observers suggest
the use of pretest/posttest designs in which valid and reliable measures of the benefits
of coaching are collected.
Executive coaching and self-efficacy
In situations where training aims to develop management skills, the measurement of
skills transfer is often a considerable challenge. Consequently, many researchers opt
for the measurement of self-efficacy as the main outcome of training.
Self-efficacy is defined as the belief that a person has of being capable of
accomplishing a given task (Bandura, 1997). The relationship between self-efficacy and
various aspects of organizational life have been observed in numerous studies. For
example, in the industrial and organizational psychology, more than 800 articles on
self-efficacy have been published in scientific journals in the last 25 years (Judge et al.,
2007). These studies have notably examined group efficacy (Prussia and Kinicki, 1996),
adaptation stress (Schaubroek and Merritt, 1997), creativity and productivity (Tierney
and Farmer, 2002), management efficacy, performance and idea generation (Gist, 1989;
Luthans and Pe terson, 2002; Wood a nd Bandura, 1989), and adaptation to
organizational changes (Judge et al., 1999). The connection between self-efficacy and
the performance of complex interpersonal tasks such as negotiation has also been
demonstrated many times (Gist and Stevens, 1998; Gist et al., 1991). Furthe rmore, the
results of a meta-analysis of 114 studies published between 1976 and 1998 conducted
LODJ
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by Stajkovic and Luthans (1998) showed a significant correlation between self-efficacy
and work performance which, according to the authors, translates into a 28 percent
improvement in work performance.
In the field of organizational training, self-efficacy is also a key va riable (Bandura,
1997). Results from empirical research indicate that self-efficacy has a significant effect
on learning and transfer of training (Colquitt et al., 2000). Briefly, a person with a
strong self-efficacy with respect to a task targeted in training, will learn and transfer
more than a person with a weak self-efficacy. Many studies attribute other roles to
self-efficacy, including a mediator role between training and various post-training
variables suc h as performance (Morin and Latham, 2000; Gaudine and Saks, 2004;
Mathieu et al., 1993), satisfaction with training (Mathieu et al., 1993), and the ability of
new employees to deal with challenges (Saks, 1995). With regard to executive coaching,
of all the studies published to date, only two studies included self-efficacy in their
analysis model (Dingman, 2004; Evers et al., 2006).
In light of these findings and the limitations of earlier research, we considered it
highly pertinent to study the relationship between executive coaching and self-efficacy.
Consequently, the following hypothesis was formulated:
H1. Executive coaching has a positive relationship with self-efficacy.
Individual and situational variables related to self-efficacy
The scientific literature on training (Ford and Weissbein, 1997; Baldwin and Ford,
1988; Salas and Cannon-Bowers, 2001; Tziner et al., 2007) shows that many individual
and situational variables can have an impact on both learning and transfer of training.
Although Feldman and Lankau (2005) have noted the need to study the effect of these
variables in the context of executive coaching, to our knowledge, no empirical studies
have been conducted within the framework of a development program using executive
coaching. Consequently, it seems pertinent to examine whether other variables, beyond
participation, can explain the development of self-efficacy in the context of executive
coaching. This aspect constitutes the second objective of this study. Figure 1, inspired
by Baldwin and Ford (1988), shows the an alysis model for our study, including our two
objectives.
Among the relevant individual variables, we first chose to examine utility judgment.
This variable refers to a participant’s subjective evaluation of the utility of the training
received when he or she returns to work (Alliger et al., 1997). For Kirkpatrick (1994),
Figure 1.
Conceptual model
Performance
Training design
Executive coaching (H1)
Individual variables
Utility judgment (H2)
Learning goal orientation (H3)
Affective commitment (H4)
Self-efficacy
Situational variable
Work-environment support (H5)
The impact
of executive
coaching
23
utility judgment constitutes, along with satisfaction, the first level of evaluation of the
efficacy of a training method. However, in contrast to satisfaction,research has shown that
utility judgment is positively associated with transfer (Alliger et al., 1997; Axtell et al.,
1997). Indeed, research has shown that participants who perceive that the training has
great utility relative to their work or their career are more motivated to invest in the
training activity than those whose utility judgment is low (Clark et al., 1993). In the case
under study here, we consider that the more experiential nature of the proposed training
program and the “soft” nature of the skills to be developed could impact the utility
judgment of participating managers and thus be associated with their self-efficacy.
That being said, we formulate the following hypothesis:
H2. Utility judgment has a positive relationship wi th self-efficacy.
Dweck’s (1986) theory of goal orientation suggests that the objectives pursued by
individuals create a reference framework for their interpretation of and reaction to
events. Thus, individuals who are pursuing learning goals view their abilities as
malleable and generally make an effort to acquire new skills in order to increase their
skill level in a given activity. This type of goal orientation results in taking actions that
target skill mastery, seeking stimulating tasks, making sustained efforts when faced
with difficulties, and integrating errors and feedback aimed at improve ment (Button
et al., 1996). In a training context, learning goal orientation seems to be a major
individual factor that influences learning, motivation, and performance (Colquitt et al.,
2000). Briefly, research had shown that learning goals are significantly an d positively
associated with effort (VandeWalle et al., 2001), seeking feedback (VandeWalle and
Cummings, 1997), self-efficacy (Phillips and Gully, 1997; Kozlowski et al., 2001), and
performance (Brett and VandeWalle, 1999; Fisher and Ford, 1998; Bell and Kozlowski,
2002). Although Joo (2005) suggested that this variable should be investigated in the
context of exe cutive coaching, to our knowledge no such study has yet been conducted:
H3. Learning goal orientation has a positive relationship with self-efficacy.
The concept of organizational commitment is defined as the level of attachment felt by an
employee toward the organization where he or she works. Meyer and Allen (1996) defined
three components of organizational engagement: affective commitment, concerning the
psychological attachment to the organization; continuance commitment, concerning the
costs associated with leaving the organization; and normative commitment, concerning
the perceived obligation to remain with the organization. Organizational commitment has
been abundantly studied in the human resources and organizational behavior literature.
For training, research indicates that the level of organizational commitment is positively
associated with participation in training by new employees (Saks, 1995; Tannenbaum
et al., 1991) and the motivation to transfer learning (Seyler et al., 1998). Further, the
strongest correlations were observed for affective commitment (Bartlett, 2001). In the
context of executive coaching, it appears that an individual’s level of attachment to
the organization could influence their willingness to invest in this type of more personal
and experiential process, which necessitates changes associated with the development of
relational know-how and attitudes. We believe that this could also affect the development
of self-efficacy, which leads us to hypothesize that:
H4. Affective organ izational commitment has a positive relationship with self-
efficacy.
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Finally, a number of important studies have investigated the link between work
environment support and training transfer. The most important components of
support are related to the immediate superior, peers and the organization (Kirwan and
Birchall, 2006). In brief, empir ical research has shown that, after training, participants
who reported a high le vel of support in their working environment were mo re likely to
apply the knowledge and skills acquired in the training to their job, when compared to
participants who reported a low level of support (Fa cteau et al., 1995; Kontoghiorghes,
2004; Cromwell and Kolb, 2004; Rouiller and Goldstein, 1993; Tracey et al., 1995). Since
executive coaching involves a triadic relationship between a coachee, a coach and the
organization (Kilburg, 2002), we believe that the support provided by the work
environment could influence the development of self-efficacy. Thus, we formulated this
last hypothesis:
H5. Work-environment support has a positive relationship wi th self-efficacy.
Methods
Setting and professional development program
This study was conducted in one division of a large international manufacturing
company that offered its junior and mid-level managers a leadership development
program lasting eight months and addressing the following topics: organizational
culture, leadership, interpersonal communication, power and delegation, employee
development, partnership, team working, and mobilization. This study concentrated
more particularly on a skill encompassing several of the subjects addressed, namely
the ability to adopt su pervisory coaching behaviors, a responsibility incumbent on
managers to an ever increasing degree (Ellinger et al., 2003; Latham et al., 2005). In this
leadership development program, three training methods were used:
(1) Classroom seminar (eight sessions of one day each). Participants gathered in
groups of 11-15 persons outside the wor kplace each month. Sessions were
conducted by a training consultant and addressed the topics described above.
(2) Action learning groups (seven sessions of one-and- a-half day each). Participants,
called set members, gathered in groups of five to eight persons each month to
reflect on their skills and practice. At each meeting, three members presented in
turn a project addressing a professional difficulty. Members were asked to
present projects over which they had a certain control so they could influence
their attainment. The role of each set membe r was to support and challenge their
colleague in their self-examination process, by adopting a questioning stance and
by avoiding advice-giving on how to address issues. As defined by McGill
and Beaty (1995, p. 21), action learning “is a continuous process of learning and
reflection, supported by colleagues, with an intention of getting things done.”
This learning method aims to allow an enlarged comprehension of the
professional issue addressed by participants and the elaboration of an action
strategy translated in objectives to attain for the next meeting. The external
consultant who led the classroom seminars was also respon sible for facilitating
the exchanges among the participants during the action learning meetings.
(3) Executive coaching (up to 14 sessions of one-and-a-half hour each). Executive
coaching consisted of face-to-face interactions betw een a “certified” internal
coach and a manager participating in the leadership development program.
The impact
of executive
coaching
25
The pairings were done so that no coach had hierarchical authority over the
managers he or she coached. The stages described earlier structured the
coaching process. Thus, based of the self-assessment of soft skills made by
managers during their first seminar, managers were asked to establish, during
the first meeting with their coach, a development plan aiming three main goals
they wanted to work on. These goals had to be related to the skills addressed
during the leadership development program. Learning activities and conditions
that could facilitate the attainment of their goals were then identified. The
coaches’ main responsibility was to guide and support coachees in carrying out
identified learning activities, by offering in-depth listening, helping questioning
and constructive feedback. As illustrated in Table I, though the development
program suggested one coaching session every two weeks, the specific
scheduling was left to the discretion of the coach and the coachee.
Participants
Participants were managers who had voluntarily signed up for the management skills
development program (n ¼ 127). Of these, 118 managers completed the first questionnaire
during the first classroom seminar. Among these, 101 responded to the second
questionnaire administered five months later, and 80 responded to the third questionnaire
administered after an additional three months. Non-respondents were mostly absent
participants when questionnaires were distributed, and in a few cases, managers who
simply refused to answer. Of this group of 80 participants who answered all
questionnaires, seven respondents were excluded from the analysis because they had only
participated very partially in the program (e.g. one to two seminar or no coaching). Our
final sample was thus composed of 73 coachees (63 men, ten women) for a response rate of
57.5 percent. The average age of participants was 38 years, 63 percent had a
university-level education and the average number of years as a manager was 4.7 years.
Research design and data collection
The design used in this study resembles a one-group pretest-posttest design, except
that coachees received the treatment (executive coaching) at various intensities
(Goldstein and Ford, 2002; Wexley and Latham, 2002). However, even though the
number of sessions of coaching varied significantly among coachees, this design did
not allow for a verification of causality.
The data were collected using three questionnaires. Specifically, questionnaire No. 1
was used to measur e learning goal orientation, organizational commitment, and
pre-training self-efficacy related to the ability to adopt supervisory coaching behaviors;
questionnaire No. 2 focused on measuring various factors that could have an impact on
training transfer; and questionnaire No. 3 measured post-trainin g self-efficacy. The
participants were recruited during the first classroom seminar given by the first author
of this study. The managers who agreed to participate in the study then filled in
questionnaire No. 1. Questionnaire No. 2 was also completed in the classroom, during
Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Classroom seminar Executive coaching Action learning group Executive coaching
(one full day) (One-and-a-half hours) (Half-a-day) (One-and-a-half hours)
Table I.
Suggested monthly
schedule for the
leadership development
program
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the fifth seminar , approximately mid-way through the professional development
program. Finally, questionnaire No. 3 was completed during the last classroom
seminar, which was a wrap-up of the professional development program. Podsakoff
et al. (2003) recommend using several measurement points to decrease the bias of
common methods.
Measures
Self-efficacy supervisory coaching behaviors (pre-training and post-training). The
dependant variable was measured by an eight item 11-point Likert type scale
specifically developed for this study. As recommended by Bandura (2001), 0 indicated
“Not at all confident” and 10 indicated “Completely confident”. The wording of items
(e.g. “Today, as a manager, I feel confident in my ability to help my employees learn
lessons from the difficulties and setbacks they may encounter”) was developed in line
with the content of the training program related to supervisory coaching behaviors. All
items were examined by two subject matter experts, namely an academic specializing
in management skills and the senior practitioner who designed the training program.
The
a
coefficients were 0.89 (pre-training) and 0.88 (post-training).
Training participation. The number of sessions attended by each participant
(seminars, professional development, and coaching) was provided by the HR
department at the end of the program.
Utility judgment. This variable was measured by means of five item five-point
Likert scale (e.g. “What is taught in training closely matches my job requirements”)
extracted from the Learning Transfer System Inventory (Holton et al., 2000), an
instrument widely used in the training literature. The
a
coefficient is 0.76.
Learning goal orientation. This variable was measured by means of a six item
six-point Likert scale (e.g. “I enjoy challenging and difficult tasks at work where I’ll
learn new skills”) derived from an instrument developed by VandeWalle (1997) and
widely used in the literature. The coeffic ient of internal consistency (
a
¼ 0.73) was
above the acceptable threshold for a psychological construct (Kline, 1999).
Affective organizational commitment. This var iable was measured by means of six
item six-point Likert scale (e.g. “I really feel that I belong in this com pany”) extracted
from the Org anizational Commitment Questionnai re (Allen and Meyer, 1990;
Vandenberghe, 1996, for French validation ). The
a
coefficient is 0.85.
Work-environment supp ort. The measurement of work-environment support is a
composite of three factors extracted from the Learning Transfer System Inventory
(Holton et al., 2000), that is:
(1) supervisor support (six items,
a
¼ 0.82, e.g. “My supervisor shows interest in
what I learn in training”);
(2) peer support (four items,
a
¼ 0.80, e.g. “My colleagues encourage me to use the
skills I have learned in this training”); and
(3) organizational openness to change (six items,
a
¼ 0.87, e.g. “People in my
group are open to changing the way they do things”).
The intercorrelations between the three factors are, respectively, 0.40 (supervisor and
peers), 0.31 (s upervisor and openness to change), and 0.25 (peers and openness to
change).
The impact
of executive
coaching
27
Results
Preliminary analyses
Before proceeding with the verification of our hypotheses, we first tested for significant
differences between the managers who completed all the questionnaires and the other
managers enrolled in the develo pment program. No significant difference was
observed for the following sociodemographic characteristics: age (t
116
¼ 2 0.48, ns),
sex:
x
2
(1) ¼ 0.39, ns), maternal language (
x
2
(1) ¼ 0.02, ns), educational level (
x
2
(3) ¼ 1.65, ns), and number of years as a manager (t
115
¼ 2 0.78, ns). Pre-training
self-efficacy did not differ significantly between the two groups (t
114
¼ 2 0.01, ns).
In addition, a correlation analysis showed that the pre-training self-efficacy of the
73 participants in the study had no association with the number of coaching sessions
they received (r ¼ 0.00, ns). Furthermore, the basic postulates that permit the use of
parametric tests were satisfied for all of the study variables. Finally, the scores for the
“learning goal orientation” variable and two of the three components of the “perceived
support” variable were transformed (log
10
) because they did not have normal
distributions (z
kurtosis.
colleagues ¼ 3,91; z
kurtosis
openness ¼ 2,91). The z-scores were
then used to create a composite score (Ghiselli et al., 1981).
Descriptive analyses
Table II presents the descriptive statistics of the study variables. Briefly, these results
show that:
.
all of the participants attended seven or eight classroom seminars;
.
96 percent of the participants took part in more than five of the seven planned
action learning sessions; and
.
the number of coaching sessions received was highly variable; the participants
received between one and 11 sessions.
Finally, the results ob tained from the paired t-test analysis showed that there was a
significant increase from pre-training self-efficacy to post-training self-efficacy
(t
72
¼ 6.27, p , 0.01).
Table III shows the partial correlation matrix among the study variables,
controlling for pre-training self-efficacy. In short, the results show that only the “action
Variables
a
nMSD Min. Max.
Self-efficacy supervisory coaching behaviors
Pre-training 0.89 73 7.10 1.22 4.63 9.75
Post-training 0.88 73 7.90 0.87 5.88 9.88
Training methods
Classroom seminar 73 7.78 0.42 7 8
Action learning group 73 6.10 0.86 3 7
Executive coaching 73 5.34 2.05 1 11
Utility judgment 0.76 68 3.44 0.62 1.80 4.80
Learning goal orientation
a
0.73 73 5.13 0.61 3.00 6.00
Affective commitment 0.87 73 4.66 0.93 2.00 6.00
Work-environment support
a
0.86 68 3.33 0.50 1.53 4.53
Note:
a
Data before transformation
Table II.
Descriptive statistics for
variables under study
LODJ
31,1
28
learning group” and “learning goal orientation” variables were not significantly
associated with post-training self-efficacy. Consequently, H3, concerning a relationship
between learning goal orientation and self-efficacy, could not be confirmed.
Testing of hypotheses
We used hierarchical multiple regression analysis to test our hypotheses. The
“classroom seminar” variable was not retained because there was minimal variance.
In addition, to develop the regression model, we only retained those variables
presenting a significant partial correlation with post-training self-efficacy. Table IV
presents the results of our analysis. In keeping with the method of Axtell et al. (1997),
the variables were inserted in the post-training self-efficacy regr ession model in the
following order: Step 1, control variable; Step 2, variables related to the training design;
Step 3, individual variables; and finally Step 4, situational variables.
The H1 of this study proposed a positive and significant association between
executive coaching and post-training self-efficacy. The results of the regression
Variables B SE B
b
(standardized)
Adjusted R
2
(adjusted DR
2
)
Step 1 control variable 0.24
Pre-training self-efficacy 0.37 0.08 0.50
**
Step 2 training design 0.29 (0.06
*
)
Pre-training self-efficacy 0.37 0.08 0.51
**
Executive coaching 0.10 0.04 0.24
*
Step 3 individual variables 0.47 (0.18
**
)
Pre-training self-efficacy 0.32 0.07 0.44
**
Executive coaching 0.09 0.04 0.22
*
Utility judgment 0.50 0.13 0.35
**
Affective commitment 0.20 0.09 0.21
*
Step 4 situational variable 0.47 (0.00)
Pre-training self-efficacy 0.33 0.07 0.45
**
Executive coaching 0.09 0.04 0.20
*
Utility judgment 0.44 0.14 0.30
**
Affective commitment 0.18 0.09 0.19
*
Work-environment support 0.14 0.12 0.12
Notes: n ¼ 73;
*
p , 0.05,
**
p , 0.01
Table IV.
Hierarchical multiple
regression of
post-training self-efficacy
Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1. Executive coaching
2. Action learning group 0.14
3. Utility judgment 2 0.01 0.23
4. Learning goal orientation 2 0.15 2 0.10 2 0.03
5. Affective commitment 0.12 0.10 0.21 0.03
6. Work-environment support 0.19 0.28
*
0.39
**
0.05 0.26
*
7. Post-training self-efficacy 0.28
*
0.08 0.45
**
0.08 0.35
**
0.38
**
Notes:
*
p , 0.05,
**
p , 0.01; control variable: pre-training self-efficacy
Table III.
Partial correlations
between variables under
study
The impact
of executive
coaching
29
analysis (Step 4) showed that executive coaching is positively associated with
self-efficacy (
b
¼ 0.20, p , 0.05), thus confirming our H1. Further, the fact that action
learning did not have a signi ficant correlation with post-training self-efficacy and that
the variance of the classroom seminar variable was almost zero suggests a unique
effect of coaching on self-efficacy.
The results also support H2 and H4. Both utility judgme nt (
b
¼ 0.30, p , 0.01) and
affective commitment (
b
¼ 0.19, p , 0.05) are positively associated with post-training
self-efficacy. In addition, these two variables account for 18 percent of the variance in
self-efficacy, as shown by the results for adjusted R
2
change in Step 3. Finally, the
addition of the work-environment support variable to the regression model did not
account for any substantial additional percentage of the self-efficacy variance.
However, the significant correlation (r
p
¼ 0.38, p , 0.01) between perceived support
and post-training self-efficacy still supports our H5.
Discussion
The objective of our study was to partially fill a gap in the training literature by examining
the link between an executive coaching intervention and self-efficacy related to
supervisory coaching behaviors. Our results indicated that executive coaching,
operationalized in our study by the number of coaching sessions received, was
positively and significantly associated with self-efficacy at the end of the leadership
development program, after having controlled for the two other development methods
used and for pre-training self-efficacy. In other words, the higher the number of coaching
sessions, the greater the increase in the manager’s self-efficacy beliefs. In addition, the size
of the effect of executive coaching on the self-efficacy variance (r ¼ 0.35) exceeds the
threshold of 0.30 established by Cohen (1992) for an average effect. Considering the limited
number of rigorous empirical studies on the efficacy of coaching in organizational settings,
this result constitutes a substantial theoretical contribution.
The second theoretical contribution of this study is to have tested, in the context of
executive coaching, the influence of individual and situational variables whose impact is
recognized in the context of more traditional training. Indeed, utility judgment, learning
goal orientation, and work-environment support have been widely studied in the area of
organizational training, but the pertinence of these variables had not yet been investigated
in the context of a professional development program including executive coaching. Our
results show a positive and significant relationship between utility judgment of the
professional development program and self-efficacy. While some authors question
whether a participant’s reaction to training has predictive power for learning and transfer
(Ruona et al., 2002; Tan et al., 2003), our results suggest the contrary. As we hypothesized,
the participants who perceived this management skills training as not very useful in
meeting the demands of their job showed less development of self-efficacy than did those
who perceived the training as useful. This result suggests that, as withtraditional training,
professional development programs for managers that rely in part on coaching should not
overlook presenting the program’s objectives and the expected benefits for the
participants in their jobs. This appears to be even more important when the program’s
objectives are to teach non-technical or “soft” skills, which would be more difficult for the
participants to grasp.
Concerning the other individual variables, the results also show that affective
organizational commitment at the beginning of training is positively associated with
LODJ
31,1
30
self-efficacy at the end of trainin g. This result suggests that the more an individual
feels emotionally connected to his organization, the more he develops his skills when
the organization gives him the opportunity. This result, which is in agreement with
several studies on affective commitment in the area of training (Seyler et al., 1998;
Tannenbaum et al., 1991), suggests that pre-training affectiv e commitment is a
determining factor for transfer in coaching situations. Furthermore, Morris and
Sherman (1981) postulate that the degree to which an individual is committed to an
organization varies with the extent to which it meets his or her needs for growth and
success. It would thus be interesting to examine the impact of executive coaching on
post-training affective commitment in a future study.
While several authors have suggested an association between learning goal orientation
and the benefits of training or executive coaching (Joo, 2005; Colquitt et al., 2000), our
results offer only qualified support for an association between learning goal orientation
and post-development self-efficacy. Although we observed positive correlations between
learning goal orientation and pre-training self-efficacy and post-training self-efficacy, the
results for these factors in our regression analysis were not significant. In this study,
learning goal orientation was not predictive for the participants’ self-efficacy increase over
the professional development program. One possible explanation of this result is that the
behaviors associated with a weak learning goal orientation may be attenuated by the
nature of executive coaching. In effect, whereas an individual may have a natural
propensity to avoid tasks that test his skills, he or she may be strongly encouraged to take
on such tasks by his coach. A development plan that targets such tasks, follow-up from a
coach, and the coach’s support in adversity could decrease the risk of task avoidance and
contribute to appropriate risk-taking by the participants.
In addition, the results of our regression analysis show that work-environment
support does no t account for significantly more of the self-efficacy variance than had
been already been accounted for by the model, in spite of a highly positive correlation
between the two variables ( r ¼ 0.38, p , 0.01). This result corroborates those of other
studies that did not observe an effect of situationa l variables on the benefits of training
beyond that explained by individual variables (Axtell et al., 1997; Chiaburu and
Marinova, 2005). One possible explanation of this result is that the design of the
professional development program already included supportive interventions to
facilitate transfer, such as coaching and action learning, which possibly attenuated the
effect of traditional forms of supp ort from supervisors or peers. In addition, peer
support may have less of an effect on the development of the participants’ self-efficacy
when they are managers, because in general, managers have less contact with peers
than do employees. Furthermore, in the situation examined here, the perceived support
from the internal coach (which was no t measured) probably was more determinant
than was the perceived support from the supervisor or immediate superior. All of
which suggests that studies of perceived support should take the training context into
account. For example, it is plausible that support from peers and supervisors would be
more important in the context of tech nological change affecting all employees than in
the context of specialized training for a professional who is already highly qualified.
Finally, this stu dy also indirectly contributes to the literature on the adopt ion of
coaching behaviors as a method of supervision and employee empowerment (Ellinger
and Bostrom, 1999; Ellinger et al., 2003; Heslin et al., 2006) Recent research has shown
that the adoption of coa ching behaviors by managers is associated with improved
The impact
of executive
coaching
31
employee performance and satisfaction (Ellinger et al., 2003). The finding that a
professional development program that included executive coaching favored the
self-efficacy related to the ability to facilitate the development of one’s subordinates is
an additional contribution of this study. To date, few studies have examined training
methods that aim to develop supervisory coaching behaviors. In one of the rare studies
on the subject, Heslin et al. (2006) observed that a static or dyna mic conception of skills
(Dweck, 1999) was predictive for the adoption of coaching behaviors (guidance,
facilitation, and inspiration) by a manager toward his or her employees, as assessed by
those employees. In addition, training that targeted managers with a static conception
of skills (i.e. believing that they are innate and cannot be developed) showed that, after
training, these managers were more motivated to coach a hypothetical employee as
compared to a control group.
Limitations
This study has limitations. First, the absence of a control group decreased internal
validity; a pretest-posttest design with a control group would have been preferable
(Goldstein and Ford, 2002; Wexley and Latham, 2002). However, the use of a
longitudinal design with a variable intensi ty treatment (coaching) in this study and the
fact that we were able to control for the other training techniques used offset this
weakness in part. The statistical power of this study also constitutes a methodological
strength, considering the effect size of executive coaching on post-training self-efficacy
(d ¼ 0.35, 1 2
b
¼ 0.88; Cohen, 1992).
The absence of performance measurements is a second limitation of this study.
Although the literature shows a very strong relationship between self-efficacy and
performance, it would have been interesting to include a measurement of performance
(e.g. evaluation by subordinates) in the analysis model. Finally, for all of the internal
coaches, their contribution to the professional development program was their first
experience in coaching. The use of external coaches would no doubt have had an even
larger impact, in addition to allowing the results to be more widely generalized.
Practical implications and avenues for future research
The results of this study suggest that coaching can have a real practical impact. Beyond
the significant statistical results, the average effect size of coaching on self-efficacy
showed that it is worthwhile for organizations to invest in this development method.
Furthermore, Malone (2001) suggested that executive coaching is a professional
development activity designed to improve self-efficacy, because it naturally allows the
coach to use techniques that target the determinants of self-efficacy. A manager with a
strong self-efficacy related to a given skill would be more effective than a manager with a
weak self-efficacy. In addition, the intervention strategies that favor the development of
self-efficacy put forward by Gist and Mitchell (1992) suggest that coaching constitutes an
appropriate method to clarify the advantages and disadvantages of behavioral strategies,
to set short-term objectives that favor the experience of success, and to promote modeling.
In addition, Smither and Reilly (2001) suggested that the coach’s efforts to strengthen the
employee’s belief in self-efficacy are critical to the establishment of behavioral changes.
It would be interesting for future research to examine the coaching process and coaching
behaviors to identify the elements that are most likely to increase self-efficacy. The results
of such research could then be integrated into coaching certification programs.
LODJ
31,1
32
The results of this study also show that an organization that wishes to improve its
return on investment with regard to executive coaching should consider the
development situation from a systematic point of view, that is, taking into consideration
not only the design (e.g. coaching activity), but also various individual (e.g. affective
commitment) and situational (e.g. perceived support) variables . These variables could
affect the transfer of training or the degree to which the managers apply what they have
learned during the development program to their work.
Finally, the positive association between the number of coaching sessions received
and self-efficacy suggests that an organization that wishes to set up a coaching progra m
targeting the development of management skills should ensure that the participants
receive a certain minimum number of coaching sessions. A development program that is
spread over a period of several months also seems to be required for maximal impact. In
addition, some authors have stated that a certain number of sessions seem to be
necessary to establish a working alliance between the coach and the coachee, which
favors the success of the coaching process (Kilburg, 2001; Kampa-Kokesch and
Anderson, 2001; Lowman, 2005). Future research could also investigate the impact that
the quality of the relationship between the coach and the coachee has on the coachee’s
involvement in the process and the benefits received from it.
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Corresponding author
Louis Baron can be contacted at: baron.louis@uqam.ca
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