In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Workplace Coaching

  • Introduction
  • History and Trends in Workplace Coaching
  • Textbooks and Handbooks
  • Coaching Practice and Skills
  • Coaching Techniques and Tools
  • Coach Behavior
  • Coach Competency Frameworks
  • Ethics in Coaching
  • Coach and Coachee Personality
  • Coach-Client Factors
  • Coaching Supervision

Management Workplace Coaching
Jonathan Passmore, Christian van Nieuwerburgh, Margaret Barr
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0164


Workplace coaching is an organizational intervention that is designed to support and enhance individual and organizational performance. This article deals with workplace coaching, not life coaching, personal coaching, or sports coaching, although some publications cited may also have relevance for life coaching, personal coaching, or sports coaching. Workplace coaching is a relatively new field, with most of the research being conducted since 1995 – although a few earlier studies date as far back as 1937, when C. B. Gorby published “Everyone Gets a Share of the Profits” (Gorby 1937, cited under History and Trends in Workplace Coaching). Coaching is now widely used in organizations in a variety of different ways to achieve a range of different outcomes. The term is increasingly being applied to situations and environments that range from leadership development and career transition to supporting health-care interventions and improving safety outcomes. This diversity has led to confusion about the nature of coaching and its boundaries and, arguably, misunderstanding and misuse. Among academics and practitioners, opinions differ about the definition of coaching. Two definitions are offered to help clarify the terminology. In Coaching for Performance: GROWing People, Performance and Purpose (Whitmore 2017, cited under Coaching Practice and Skills), John Whitmore suggests that: “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” (p. 8). He notes that “the dual generic goals of coaching are to deepen a person’s self-awareness and to increase the individual’s personal responsibility” (pp. 70–88). Jonathan Passmore and Annette Fillery-Travis in Passmore and Fillery-Travis 2011 (cited under History and Trends in Workplace Coaching) offer a technical definition of coaching: “a Socratic-based, future-focused dialogue between a facilitator (coach) and a participant (coachee/client), where the facilitator uses open questions, summaries and reflections which are aimed at stimulating the self-awareness and personal responsibility of the participant” (p. 74). This article will be of use to academics, researchers, practitioners, and students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, in addition to students in high school.

History and Trends in Workplace Coaching

Brock 2014 provides a monograph on the historical roots of coaching and the influence of pioneers in business and professional coaching. It may be argued that workplace coaching research is on a development pathway not dissimilar to many areas of human resources practice that can be traced back to 1995. This progression has seen coaching move from exploration of the phenomenon to a focus increasingly in scientific research on the effect of the intervention on clients. The authors of Passmore and Fillery-Travis 2011, a critical review of executive coaching research, begin by briefly outlining the history of coaching research from the first research on coaching for performance in the 1930s to the present. In the first phase of research—exploration —researchers focused on exploring and defining this “new” intervention. The intention seems to have been to explore the phenomenon of coaching and share practice between practitioners. It may be argued that this phase helped practitioners to develop and deepen their knowledge, but it also drew the attention of researchers to what was happening in human resource management (HRM) practice. After the exploration phase, attention shifted to the second phase—theory building—in which methods such as case studies and qualitative research became more dominant in the literature. Writers offered their own unique models or adapted existing models drawn from parallel domains, such as counseling. In the third phase of coaching research the focus gradually shifted from theory building to the use of randomized controlled trials (RCT). These studies have grown in size, sophistication, and scientific precision as the phase developed. However, throughout this period examples of both theory papers and discursive papers exploring boundaries, definitions, and practice remain popular in some journals, most notably the specialist coaching journals. It may be argued that coaching has begun to enter a fourth stage in which meta-studies and reviews of the literature seek to confirm the validity of the approach. Based on other development trends from HRM, a fifth phase may emerge that seeks to explore exceptions to and variations from the established theories.

  • Brock, Vikki G. Sourcebook of Coaching History. 2d ed. Ventura, CA: Vikki G. Brock, 2014.

    Distilled from the author’s PhD research, this book details the historical roots of coaching, and links the many social forces and philosophical, professional, and scientific disciplines that led to the dawn of coaching, thus laying a foundation for critical thinking about coaching as a discipline. Available for purchase online.

  • Gorby, C. “Everyone Gets a Share of the Profits.” Factory Management & Maintenance 95 (1937): 82–83.

    Widely accepted as the earliest paper published on workplace coaching. The author uses the terms training and coaching interchangeably. The paper describes how training and coaching have contributed to improved performance in a manufacturing environment.

  • Passmore, Jonathan, and Annette Fillery-Travis. “A Critical Review of Executive Coaching Research: A Decade of Progress and What’s to Come.” Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice 4.2 (2011): 70–88.

    DOI: 10.1080/17521882.2011.596484

    Useful critical review of executive coaching research, which summarizes the state of research at the time of writing, providing a frame of reference for researchers and reflective practitioners interested in research to ensure that future studies build on previous work and add to knowledge and understanding. Identifies key themes for future research and notes opportunities for researchers and practitioners working in partnership.

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