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Supervisory Coaching Behavior,

Employee Satisfaction, and


Warehouse Employee
Performance: A Dyadic
Perspective in the Distribution
Industry

Andrea D. Ellinger, Alexander E. Ellinger, Scott B. Keller

Coaching has received considerable attention in recent years as the


responsibility for employees’ learning and development has been increasingly
devolved to line managers. Yet there exists little published empirical research
that measures specific coaching behaviors of line managers or examines the
linkages between line managers’ coaching behavior and employee perfor-
mance. This survey study integrates the perceptions of supervisors and
their respective employees to examine supervisory coaching behavior in an
industrial context and to assess its association with employee job satisfaction
and performance. Findings suggest that supervisory coaching behavior is
positively associated with employees’ job satisfaction and performance.
Implications for research and practice are presented.

Recently, scholars have acknowledged that many human resource practices that
have traditionally been performed by human resource professionals are being
devolved to supervisors and line managers (de Jong, Leenders, & Thijssen,
1999; Hall & Torrington, 1998; McGovern, Gratton, Hope-Hailey, Stiles, &
Truss, 1997; Mindell, 1995; Thornhill & Saunders, 1998; Schuler, 1990;
Yarnall, 1998). According to Thornhill and Saunders (1998), supervisors
and line managers often play critical roles in the selection, assessment,
development, and retention of their employees. In particular, they are being

Note: We thank the editors and three anonymous reviewers for their insightful and
helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.

HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY, vol. 14, no. 4, Winter 2003


Copyright © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 435
436 Ellinger, Ellinger, Keller

increasingly expected to develop their employees and facilitate their learn-


ing (Beattie, 2002; Gilley, 2000; Feldman & Moore, 2001; Frisch, 2001;
Hankins & Kleiner, 1995; Sussman & Finnegan, 1998).
Therefore, to facilitate employee development, managers are expected to
assume roles as teachers (Cohen & Tichy, 1998; Senge, 1990), coaches
(Barlett & Goshal, 1997; Evered & Selman, 1989; Frisch, 2001; Marsh, 1992;
McGill & Slocum, 1998; Orth, Wilkinson, & Benfari, 1987), mentors (Booth,
1996), developers (Hyman & Cunningham, 1998), strategic learning man-
agers (Larsen, 1997), and learning champions (Gilley, 2000). As Webber
(1993) asserts, “Managers, therefore, have to attract and motivate the best
people, reward, recognize, and retain them, train, educate, and improve them-
and in the most remarkable reversal of all, serve and satisfy them” (p. 27).
As organizational practices become more focused on employees, cus-
tomers, and the processes that achieve sustained competitive advantage
(Hiltrop, 1998; Pfeffer & Veiga, 1999), established command-and-control
management models are being replaced by new models that are characterized
as being nonpositional, team based, and empowering (McGill & Slocum,
1998; Stevens & Ash, 2001). These new models require that supervisors and
line managers adopt new behaviors that involve encouraging, coaching,
and facilitating their employees’ learning and development (Feldman & Moore,
2001; Hotek, 2002; Lang & Wittig-Berman, 2000; MacNeil, 2001; McGill &
Slocum, 1998). In fact, scholars suggest that the supervisor should relinquish
some authority and control and fulfill a new role as coach to improve employee
performance (Hotek, 2002; Humphrey & Stokes, 2000).
Accordingly, the concept of coaching has emerged as a new paradigm or
metaphor for management and has gained considerable popularity, as evidenced
by the escalating number of books and articles on the topic (Armentrout, 1995;
Hunt & Weintraub, 2002a; Kilburg, 1996, 2001; King & Eaton, 1999;
McGovern et al., 1997; Redshaw, 2000). Coaching is increasingly becoming an
important developmental approach for producing long-lasting learning, con-
tributing to high levels of motivation, and improving and enhancing employee
performance, working relationships, job satisfaction, and organizational com-
mitment (“Mentoring and coaching help employees grow,” 2001; Redshaw,
2000).
Despite the growing interest in and the apparent benefits associated with
coaching for both individual employees and for organizations, coaching in
general, and managerial coaching in particular, remains an area on which
little has been written from an empirical or theoretical perspective (Kilburg,
1996, 2001; McLean & Kuo, 2000; Minter & Thomas, 2000; Popper &
Lipshitz, 1992; Talarico, 2002). More specifically, limited published research
exists that identifies and measures the specific coaching behaviors of
managers, examines the relationship between coaching behaviors and
improved performance, or compares the perceptions of line managers
and employees associated with coaching (Ellinger, 2003; Ellinger & Bostrom,
Coaching Behavior, Employee Satisfaction, and Employee Performance 437

1999; Graham, Wedman, & Garvin-Kester, 1993, 1994; Marsh, 1992; Yukl,
1994).
The purpose of the research reported here is to examine the extent to
which supervisory coaching behaviors are occurring within an industrial set-
ting using a newly developed measure that draws on the manager-as-coach
concept as articulated by Ellinger (1997; Ellinger, Watkins, & Bostrom, 1999).
In addition, the associations between supervisory coaching behavior and
employee job satisfaction and employee performance are examined. A unique
aspect of this study is that front-line employees were asked to respond to
questions about their supervisors’ coaching behaviors and their own job satis-
faction, and supervisors were asked to respond to questions about their own
coaching behavior and the performance of front-line employees for whom they
were directly responsible.

Review of Literature
Coaching emerged in the management literature in the 1950s as an approach
to develop employees through a master-apprentice type of relationship
(Evered & Selman, 1989). In the 1970s, several articles appeared that sought
to translate athletic and sports coaching into managerial contexts, and the
application of coaching to the art and practice of management was a focus
in much of the management literature in the 1980s and 1990s (Kilburg,
1996).
A general base of literature on coaching exists from a sports and athletics
perspective (Black & Weiss, 1992; Chelladurai & Saleh, 1980; Feltz, Chase,
Moritz, & Sullivan, 1999; Smith, Smoll, & Hunt, 1977; Smoll & Smith, 1989;
Weiss & Friedrichs, 1986; Zhang, Jensen, & Mann, 1997). Therefore, much
of the literature about coaching in the context of management has been drawn
from sports coaching (Evered & Selman, 1989; Kilburg, 1996; McLean & Kuo,
2000; McNutt & Wright, 1995). However, some scholars suggest that using
the sports analogy of coaching may be insufficient for business settings
(Evered & Selman, 1989; McLean & Kuo, 2000).
Conceptualizations of Coaching. The term coaching is often used inter-
changeably with counseling and mentoring, but many scholars differentiate these
activities (Burdett, 1998; Evered & Selman, 1989; Hargrove, 1995; King &
Eaton, 1999; Kirk, Howard, Ketting, & Little, 1999; Mink, Owen, & Mink,
1993; Minter & Thomas, 2000; Orth et al., 1987; Popper & Lipshitz, 1992).
Counseling generally addresses the employee’s emotional state and the causes
of personal crises and problems, and it involves short-term interventions
designed to remedy problems that interfere with the employee’s job perfor-
mance (Burdett, 1998; King & Eaton, 1999; Mink et al., 1993), while men-
toring typically describes a longer-term process that is developmental and
career focused and covers all life structures (Burdett, 1998; Hansman, 2002;
Mink et al., 1993).
438 Ellinger, Ellinger, Keller

In contrast, coaching has been variously defined as a process for improv-


ing problem work performance (Fournies, 1987); as a day-to-day, hands-on
process of helping employees recognize opportunities to improve their per-
formance and capabilities (Orth et al., 1987; Popper & Lipshitz, 1992); as a
process of empowering employees to exceed prior levels of performance
(Burdett, 1998; Evered & Selman, 1989; Hargrove, 1995); as a process of
giving guidance, encouragement, and support to the learner (Redshaw, 2000);
and as “a process by which one individual, the coach, creates enabling rela-
tionships with others that make it easier for them to learn” (Mink et al., 1993,
p. 2). Coaching has traditionally been perceived as a remedy for poor perfor-
mance and as an approach that links individual effectiveness with organiza-
tional performance (“Mentoring and coaching help employees grow,” 2001).
Other scholars have incorporated the importance of providing relevant learn-
ing opportunities so that improved performance becomes a by-product of
learning (Mink et al., 1993; Redshaw, 2000).
The conceptualization of coaching as a form of facilitating learning to
encourage growth and development is adopted in this article (Ellinger, 1997;
Ellinger & Bostrom, 1999; Mink et al., 1993; Ellinger, Watkins, & Bostrom,
1999). This view of coaching is far more aligned with evolving organiza-
tional forms that emphasize the development of a high-performance work
environment through management practices that value and support learn-
ing and growth. This conception of coaching from an empowerment para-
digm is considerably different from many of the control-dominate-prescribe
paradigms often associated with sports coaching where, to achieve higher
levels of performance, the coach directs and defines goals and the behaviors
of players.
Research Literature on Coaching Skills, Behaviors, and Outcomes. Most
of the formal research on coaching in management has come from graduate
dissertations (Kilburg, 1996). Numerous prescriptive articles and books have
also discussed the skills and techniques required for effective coaching. Over-
all, there is general agreement about the skills required for effective manager-
ial coaching: listening skills, analytical skills, interviewing skills, effective
questioning techniques, observation, giving and receiving performance feed-
back, communicating and setting clear expectations, and creating a support-
ive environment conducive to coaching (Graham et al., 1993, 1994; King &
Eaton, 1999; Marsh, 1992; Mobley, 1999; Orth et al., 1987; Phillips, 1994,
1995; Zemke, 1996).
From a behavioral perspective, qualitative research studies by Ellinger
(1997), and more recently by Beattie (2002) and Talarico (2002), have specif-
ically examined the role of line managers as coaches or learning facilitators,
and behavioral taxonomies have begun to emerge. Research on the coaching
programs developed for managers to enhance their on-the-job behavior sug-
gests that such programs have a positive impact on managers’ behaviors
(Marsh, 1992; Peterson, 1993, 1996).
Coaching Behavior, Employee Satisfaction, and Employee Performance 439

As a performance improvement strategy, it is often assumed that coaching


has a positive impact on individual and team performance, and research has
suggested that specific coaching behaviors have been directly correlated with
net increases in sales (Graham et al., 1994). Other research has suggested
that improvements in systems and cost savings may be directly attributed to
coaching interventions when managers serve as coaches for individuals or
teams of employees (Ellinger, 2003). Yet overall, “empirical research on the
effects of coaching . . . by managers is still very limited” (Yukl, 1994, p. 125).
In summary, numerous prescriptive articles have been written that empha-
size approaches and techniques for coaching and advocate changing roles of
managers to coaches because of the growing popularity of coaching as an
approach for facilitating employees’ learning and development. However, “the
scientific basis for these applications is extremely limited at this time” (Kilburg,
1996, p. 136). Therefore, considerable research is needed that empirically
examines the prevalence of line managers’ coaching behavior and the associa-
tions between such coaching behavior and employee job satisfaction and
performance (Ellinger, 2003).

Conceptual Framework and Research Questions


The conceptual framework guiding this study is an adaptation of the Campbell,
Dunnette, Lawler, and Weick model (1970) and Clawson’s Person-Role Model
(1992). The Campbell et al. model, referred to as the person-process-product
model by Morse and Wagner (1978), is a heuristic model, which is a schematic
portrayal of factors determining the expression of managerial behaviors. The
person in this model refers to a manager enacting a role. The manager brings
belief systems that are influenced by individual characteristics and abilities
and developmental experiences to the role he or she is stepping into. The
process refers to the manager’s on-the-job behaviors and activities, and the prod-
uct refers to the outcomes. For this study, the person represents the front-line
manager or supervisor who enacts coaching behaviors, the process represents
the enactment of coaching behaviors as they are perceived by both the super-
visor and his or her respective employees who are the recipients of such coach-
ing behaviors (Research Question 1), and the product refers to the influences
of the perceived coaching behaviors on employees’ job satisfaction and per-
formance (Research Questions 2 and 3). Figure 1 presents the adapted frame-
work that served as the point of reference for this study. The model itself was
not empirically tested here, however, the research questions emanated from
the model.
RESEARCH QUESTION 1: To what extent are supervisory coaching behaviors occur-
ring in an industrial context?
RESEARCH QUESTION 2: Is there a positive association between supervisory coaching
behaviors and employee job satisfaction?
Figure 1. Conceptual Framework for the Manager as Coach
Research Question 1 Research Question 2

Supervisor’s Employee’s
Perception of Perception of
Coaching His or Her Job
Behaviors Satisfaction

Outcomes of
Supervisor
Supervisor
Supervisor Coaching
Coaching Research Question 3
Behaviors
Behaviors
Employee’s
Perception of Supervisor’s
His or Her Perception of
Supervisor’s Employee’s
Coaching Performance
Behaviors

Person Process Product


Coaching Behavior, Employee Satisfaction, and Employee Performance 441

RESEARCH QUESTION 3: Is there a positive association between supervisory coaching


behaviors and employee performance?

Research Context
Warehouse distribution centers were selected as appropriate research settings
for studying supervisory coaching behavior and its influences on employee job
satisfaction and performance in an industrial context. The distribution industry
has consistently struggled to attract and retain quality employees; its annual
turnover rates frequently exceed 100 percent (Speh & Maltz, 2002). Tradi-
tionally, warehouse workers are modestly compensated and perform relatively
mundane and repetitive tasks under adverse conditions. The distribution
industry has been accused of not placing sufficient emphasis on front-line
employee development (Warehousing Education and Research Council Report,
1999) with efforts often being limited to employees’ learning by trial and error
and on-the-job experience (Mississippi State University, 1999).
However, organizations in the distribution industry are beginning to real-
ize that they cannot afford to wait for employees to either leave or become par-
tially competent at their jobs (Warehousing Education and Research Council
Report, 2001). Warehouse employees often have final contact with products
prior to shipment or with customers during the exchange process. Therefore,
it is critical that they are able to exercise high levels of customer consciousness
and provide exceptional service quality when performing their job duties.
Modern warehouse employees are also increasingly called on to use sophisti-
cated technology, make decisions that may require analytical skills, and estab-
lish and maintain effective interpersonal relationships with customers and
fellow workers. These new skill requirements have shifted the traditional
supervisory role from one of intensely directing and managing employees to
educating employees about their roles in key processes and assisting them with
goal setting and career advancement. Accordingly, it is predicted that human
resource issues will dominate distribution industry agendas for the foreseeable
future, especially the growth and development of front-line workers (Hotek,
2002; Mississippi State University, 1999; Warehousing Education and Research
Council Report, 1999).

Research Design
A survey methodology was used to develop two instruments in accordance
with procedures set forth by Dillman (1983).
Instrumentation. One survey was designed to be administered to
supervisor/line managers. This survey contained the Supervisor/Line Manager
Coaching Behavior Measure along with items measuring warehouse employee
performance. The other survey was designed to be administered to warehouse
employees and contained the Employee Perceptions of Supervisor/Line Manager
Coaching Behavior Measure and included items measuring job satisfaction.
442 Ellinger, Ellinger, Keller

Both survey instruments contained demographic items relating to time in job


position, education level, and hourly pay rate.
Coaching Behavior Measures. A thorough review of the coaching literature
was conducted to identify an appropriate measure of coaching behavior
suitable for a business context. Although several coaching instruments have
been developed within the field of sports and sports psychology, these
instruments were developed primarily for use in athletic settings to assess
sports leadership or athletic coaching behavior (Chelladurai & Saleh, 1980;
Feltz et al., 1999; Smith et al., 1977; Smoll & Smith, 1989; Zhang et al., 1997).
And although some consulting firms have developed coaching instruments for
business settings, the psychometric properties of these instruments are often
not provided (McLean & Kuo, 2000).
Accordingly, two versions of an eight-item coaching behavior measure
were developed based on the findings of a prior qualitative critical incident
research study that specifically explored the ways in which exemplary man-
agers coach their employees (Ellinger, 1997; Ellinger & Bostrom, 1999;
Ellinger, Watkins, & Bostrom, 1999). The textual data resulting from in-depth
personal interviews were transcribed and rigorously thematically analyzed to
develop a taxonomy of coaching behaviors (Ellinger, 1997). Some of the par-
ticipating firms in the original study included manufacturers of consumer
packaged goods, and several interviews were conducted with managers and
supervisors responsible for front-line employees.
We selected eight of the behaviorally anchored themes from the previ-
ous qualitative study for operationalization because they could be easily
translated into items that could be understood by front-line employees and
supervisors while maintaining face validity. The selection of these eight
themes was corroborated by a review of the existing coaching literature that
has examined skills and requisite behaviors of coaches. The eight themes
were operationalized into two seven-point scales (1 ⫽ almost never; 7 ⫽
almost always). The Supervisor/Line Manager Coaching Behavior and
Employee Perceptions of Supervisor/Line Manager Coaching Behavior mea-
sures used the same behaviors to assess supervisors’ perceptions of their own
coaching behavior and employees’ perceptions about the coaching behavior
of their supervisors, respectively. Table 1 presents the eight themes that were
selected for operationalization, the definitions of these themes, and the result-
ing items for the two measures that emerged from the operationalization of
these eight themes.
Employee Job Satisfaction. Five items for job satisfaction were adapted
from Cammann, Fichman, Jenkins, and Klesh (1983) and Porter and Smith’s
(1981) existing scales.
Employee Warehouse Performance. Six items for measuring warehouse
employee performance were extracted from research studies by Mississippi
State University (1999) and the Warehouse Education and Research Council
(2001).
Table 1. Behaviorally Anchored Themes, Definitions, and Operationalization of Themes
for Measures of Coaching Behavior
Items for Employee Perceptions
Emergent Themes and Their Definitions Items for Supervisor/Line Manager of Supervisor/Line Manager
Selected for Operationalizationa Coaching Behavior Measureb Coaching Behavior Measureb
Using analogies, scenarios, and examples: [Sup1] I use analogies, scenarios, and [Emp1] My supervisor uses analogies,
Personalizing learning situations with examples to help my employees learn. scenarios, and examples to help me learn.
examples, and using analogies and scenarios.
Broadening employees’ perspectives—getting [Sup2] I encourage my employees to broaden [Emp2] My supervisor encourages me to
them to see things differently: Encouraging their perspectives by helping them to see broaden my perspectives by helping me
learners to think out of the box by encouraging the big picture. to see the big picture.
them to see other perspectives, and by provid-
ing other perspectives and experiences.
Providing feedback to employees: Providing [Sup3] I provide constructive feedback to my [Emp3] My supervisor provides me with
observational, reflective, and third-party employees. constructive feedback.
feedback to learners.
Soliciting feedback from employees: Seeking [Sup4] I solicit feedback from my employees [Emp4] My supervisor solicits feedback from
feedback from learners about their progress. to ensure that my interactions are helpful me to ensure that his/her interactions are
to them. helpful to me.
Being a resource—removing obstacles: [Sup5] I provide my employees with [Emp5] My supervisor provides me with
Providing resources, information, and resources so they can perform their jobs resources so I can perform my job more
material to learners, and removing roadblocks more effectively. effectively.
and obstacles they perceive to be in their way.
(Continued)
Table 1. Behaviorally Anchored Themes, Definitions, and Operationalization of Themes
for Measures of Coaching Behavior (Continued)
Items for Employee Perceptions
Emergent Themes and Their Definitions Items for Supervisor/Line Manager of Supervisor/Line Manager
Selected for Operationalizationa Coaching Behavior Measureb Coaching Behavior Measureb
Question framing to encourage employees to [Sup6] To help my employees think through [Emp6] To help me think through issues, my
think through issues: Posing outcome, issues, I ask questions, rather than provide supervisor asks questions, rather than
results-oriented questions, or context-specific solutions. provide solutions.
questions to encourage learners to think
through issues themselves.
Setting and communicating expectations— [Sup7] I set expectations with my employees [Emp7] My supervisor sets expectations with
fitting into the big picture: Setting goals and and communicate the importance of those me and communicates the importance of
expectations with learners and communicating expectations to the broader goals of the those expectations to the broader goals of
their importance to learners. organization. the organization.
Stepping into other to shift perspectives: [Sup8] To help them see different [Emp8] To help me see different perspectives,
Stepping into another person’s shoes to perspectives, I role-play with my my supervisor role-plays with me.
experience their perspective. employees.
aAdapted from Ellinger (1997) and Ellinger & Bostrom (1999).
bScale: 1 ⫽ almost never to 7 ⫽ almost always.
Coaching Behavior, Employee Satisfaction, and Employee Performance 445

Survey Pretest and Implementation. Prior to administering the pretest


surveys, the researchers submitted the two instruments to five academics
researching human resource development issues in the logistics field and to
two distribution center managers to ensure that the wording and content were
appropriate for the sample populations. Suggestions about the wording of
items were incorporated into the surveys. The surveys were then administered
at two distribution centers to assess the internal consistency of the measures.
To conduct the pretests of the instruments, one of the researchers traveled to
the two distribution centers and personally administered the surveys to a con-
venience sample of fifty front-line employees and seven supervisors. Senior
management introduced the researcher to employees and assured them that
their responses would be seen only by the researchers. Senior management
allowed employees to complete the surveys during their regular work hours
by delaying daily operations by approximately thirty minutes. Front-line
employees were placed in a separate room from their supervisors, and the
researcher distributed and collected all of the surveys.
Next, analyses were performed to assess the internal consistency of the
Employee Perceptions of Supervisor/Line Manager Coaching Behavior Measure.
All variables exceeded the minimum .40 item-to-total correlation (Dunn,
Seaker, & Walker, 1994), and the Cronbach alpha for the multi-item measure
was .875. The Supervisor/Line Manager Coaching Behavior Measure could not
be comprehensively pretested due to an insufficient sample size of supervisor/line
managers. However, since the item analysis pretest results for the employee sur-
vey supported the reliability and internal consistency of the Employee Percep-
tions of Supervisor/Line Manager Coaching Behavior Measure, the researchers
proceeded with the implementation of the main study.
Sample and Main Study Implementation. A convenience sample of eigh-
teen distribution centers representing six organizations was used as the
research settings for the main study implementation that did not include
the two pretest facilities. Prior senior management consent was solicited to
administer the surveys to supervisors and their respective front-line employ-
ees at these sites. The distribution centers, located in the Northwest, South-
west, Midwest, and East in the United States, supported wholesale and retail
grocery and mass merchandise, paper product manufacturing, various third-
party manufacturing distribution, motor carrier transportation cross-docking,
and loading service firms. Fresh, frozen, and dry storage facilities were repre-
sented among this sample, and the facility sizes ranged from approximately
100,000 square feet to 300,000 square feet.
The same data collection procedures implemented in the pretest were used
for the main study. A total of 438 employee surveys and 67 supervisor surveys
were completed at the eighteen distribution centers. At the time of the admin-
istration of the surveys, all employees and supervisors who were on site at each
of the eighteen distribution facilities were invited to participate in the study,
and nonparticipants were not apparent to the researchers. Most respondents
446 Ellinger, Ellinger, Keller

had been working for their employer for approximately two years and had
some college or technical training; the average hourly pay was $13.23
for employees and $21.43 for supervisors. To encourage responses, front-line
employee respondents were eligible for two fifty dollar cash drawings, which
were made when data collection was completed at all of the facilities.

Data Analysis
A primary objective of our study was to examine the prevalence of supervisory
coaching in an industrial context by using a newly developed measure that
draws on the manager-as-coach concept. To begin our analyses, we assessed
the psychometric properties of the two versions of our supervisory coaching
behavior measure by performing principal components (PC) analysis, item-to-
total correlation analysis, and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA).
Psychometric Properties of the Coaching Behavior Measure. Table 2 pre-
sents the results of the PC analyses for the two versions of our supervisory
coaching behavior measure. The PC scores for the eight items of the Employee
Perceptions of Supervisor/Line Manager Coaching Behavior Measure were
exceptional, ranging from .769 to .876. In addition, the item-to-total correla-
tions ranged from .704 to .829, and Cronbach’s alpha for the multi-item mea-
sure was .939. Not surprisingly, the supervisor responses yielded relatively

Table 2. Principal Components and Reliability Analyses for Main Study


Results of the Multi-Item Coaching Behavior Measure
Principal Item-Total Alpha If Standardized
Item Component Scores Correlations Deleted Cronbach’s Alpha
Employee measure
Emp1 .836 .781 .931 .939
Emp2 .872 .824 .928
Emp3 .874 .826 .927
Emp4 .876 .829 .927
Emp5 .839 .784 .930
Emp6 .807 .749 .933
Emp7 .820 .763 .932
Emp8 .769 .704 .936
Supervisor measure
Sup1 .523 .392 .801 .829
Sup2 .793 .689 .765
Sup3 .737 .583 .780
Sup4 .708 .594 .773
Sup5 .653 .506 .787
Sup6 .542 .431 .795
Sup7 .762 .629 .767
Sup8 .672 .564 .801
Note: For employees, N ⫽ 438, and for supervisors, N ⫽ 67.
Coaching Behavior, Employee Satisfaction, and Employee Performance 447

lower coefficients due to the smaller sample size. The PC scores for the eight
items of the Supervisor/Line Manager Coaching Behavior measure all exceeded
the suggested threshold of .60 with the exception of two items: Sup1 (.523)
and Sup6 (.542). As indicated in Table 2, Sup1 was also the only variable
associated with an item-to-total correlation score (.392) that was lower than the
baseline .40. However, the reliability analysis revealed an acceptable Cronbach’s
alpha of .829 for the eight-item supervisor measure, and we decided to retain
the two items to maintain the face validity and consistency of the measures.
Next, a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was performed to obtain a more
rigorous evaluation of the psychometric properties of the employee version
of the coaching behavior measure. Results are presented in Table 3. With
respect to the employee data, all of the item loadings (lambdas) were signifi-
cant (t values ⬎ 1.96) and in the direction specified. This is an indication of
convergence among the variables representing the scale (Anderson & Gerbing,
1988). While the result of the chi-square statistic (134.54, p ⬍ .00) was sig-
nificant and therefore unacceptable, it is also known that the chi-square mea-
sure is sensitive to large sample sizes (Hair, Anderson, Tatham, & Black, 1995).
Therefore, Hair et al. suggest that researchers use several additional indices for
evaluating the multi-item constructs and, as shown in Table 3, the goodness-
of-fit index (GFI) at .93, comparative fit index (CFI) at .96, and incremental
fit index (IFI) at .96 all lend support to the unidimensionality of the Employee
Perceptions of Supervisor/Line Manager Coaching Behavior Measure.
The results of our analyses collectively suggest that the two versions of the
coaching behavior measure have internally consistent and unidimensionally
valid and reliable characteristics. Accordingly, the measures were considered
to be acceptable for use in analyses to address our research questions.
Prevalence of Coaching. To address our first research question regarding
the extent to which supervisory coaching behavior was occurring in an indus-
trial context, employee respondents were asked to indicate their perceptions
of how often their respective supervisors engaged in each of the eight coaching

Table 3. Results of the Confirmatory Factor Analysis for the Multi-Item


Coaching Behavior Measure: Employee Measure (N ⴝ 438)
Item Chi
Item Loadings t Value Square p Value DF GFI CFI IFI RMR
Emp1 .83 20.92 134.54 .00 20 .93 .96 .96 .03
Emp2 .88 22.99
Emp3 .88 23.39
Emp4 .88 23.33
Emp5 .83 20.96
Emp6 .77 18.79
Emp7 .79 19.77
Emp8 .75 18.06
448 Ellinger, Ellinger, Keller

behaviors, while supervisor respondents were asked to indicate the extent to


which they engaged in the same coaching behaviors. The mean scores and
standard deviations for each of the eight items on the two coaching measures
are presented in Table 4. Mean scores for employees ranged from 3.04 to 4.11
across the eight items, and supervisors’ mean scores ranged from 4.33 to 6.08.
The mean scores for employees suggest that they perceive their respective
supervisors to be providing low to moderate coaching behavior, while super-
visors appear to perceive that they are providing their employees with relatively
high levels of coaching behavior.
The behaviors that employees perceived that their respective supervisors
engaged in most often were providing resources (mean score ⫽ 4.11), pro-
viding feedback (mean score ⫽ 3.98), and setting expectations (mean score
⫽ 3.92). In contrast, supervisors perceived themselves to be using the
coaching behaviors considerably more often. In particular, supervisors per-
ceived that they encouraged their employees to broaden their perspectives
(mean score ⫽ 6.08) and provided feedback (mean score ⫽ 5.92) to their
employees. The least-used coaching behavior for both supervisors and
employees was role playing (supervisor mean score ⫽ 4.33; employee mean
score ⫽ 3.04).
To examine these differences further, a series of paired sample t tests was
performed that revealed significant differences (at p ⬍ .001) between the two
groups on all eight coaching behaviors. Since each supervisor responded at
a group level, the responses for all employees reporting to each supervisor were
averaged to maintain consistency in the unit of analysis. Therefore, the sam-
ple size for the paired t tests was 67. Table 4 presents the mean scores, stan-
dard deviations, and results of the group-level t tests for the eight coaching
behavior items on the employee and supervisor surveys.

Table 4. Means and Standard Deviations for the Coaching


Behavior Measures
Coaching Behavior Coaching Behavior
Items on Employee Items on Supervisor
Survey (Employee Survey (Supervisor
Perceptions) Meana SD Perceptions) Meana SD
Emp1 3.57b 1.18 Sup1 5.75 1.06
Emp2 3.73b 1.27 Sup2 6.08 0.84
Emp3 3.98b 1.38 Sup3 5.92 0.84
Emp4 3.84b 1.19 Sup4 5.77 0.90
Emp5 4.11b 1.12 Sup5 5.69 0.88
Emp6 3.79b 1.26 Sup6 5.62 0.99
Emp7 3.92b 1.25 Sup7 5.88 1.03
Emp8 3.04b 1.17 Sup8 4.33 1.75
aScale: 1 ⫽ almost never to 7 ⫽ almost always. N ⫽ 67 supervisors and employee group-level
responses.
bIndicates significant difference between group means at p ⬍ .001.
Coaching Behavior, Employee Satisfaction, and Employee Performance 449

To obtain a more holistic perspective of supervisors’ and employees’ per-


ceptions about developmental role expectations and the extent to which super-
visors are fulfilling these role expectations, a gap analysis was performed on
two additional survey items. Table 5 presents the results of the group level
t tests for these items.
The results of these tests suggest that there are significant differences
between perceptions about the extent to which supervisors are actively focused
on helping their employees to recognize work-related learning opportunities
to improve performance and skills and what ought to be occurring based on
role expectations for both employees and supervisors. These results corrobo-
rate the earlier findings concerning the prevalence of the eight coaching behav-
iors: whereas supervisors perceive that they are serving in a developmental role
and are engaging in coaching behaviors, their respective employees only
moderately perceive that this is the case.
Supervisory Coaching Behavior and Job Satisfaction. To address the sec-
ond research question regarding the association between employees’ percep-
tions of their respective supervisors’ coaching behaviors and their own
perceptions of their job satisfaction, stepwise regression analysis was performed
using the summated items in the Employee Perceptions of Supervisor/Line
Manager Coaching Behavior Measures and three demographic variables
(employee pay, time in job position, and education level) as the predictor
variables and the summated items of a five-item job satisfaction scale as the
criterion variable. The reliability estimate for the employee job satisfac-
tion measure was .842. Employees were asked to indicate their responses to
items measuring job satisfaction on a seven-point Likert scale (1 ⫽ strongly
disagree, 7 ⫽ strongly agree). The five items in the job satisfaction scale were,

Table 5. Gap Analysis of Perceptions of Role Expectations


and Role Performance
Employees’ Supervisors’
Perceptions Meana SD Perceptions Meana SD
My supervisor actively 3.81b 1.15 I actively focus on helping 5.52b 1.02
focuses on helping me my employees to recognize
to recognize work-related ↑ work-related learning ↑
learning opportunities opportunities to improve
to improve my their performance and ↓
performance and skills. ↓ skills.
I believe that my 4.68 0.79 I believe that my role as a 5.97 1.01
supervisor’s role is to help manager is to help my
me recognize work-related employees to recognize
learning opportunities work-related learning
to improve my opportunities to improve
performance and skills. their performance and
skills.
aLikert scale: 1 ⫽ strongly disagree to 7 ⫽ strongly agree. N ⫽ 67.
bIndicates significant difference between overall mean scores at p ⬍ .001.
450 Ellinger, Ellinger, Keller

“In general, I like working here”; “All in all, I am satisfied with my job”;
“I would accept almost any kind of job assignment in order to keep working
for this organization”; “I find that my values and the organization’s values are
very similar”; and “This organization really inspires the very best in me in terms
of job performance.”
The results of the stepwise regression analysis are presented in Table 6.
The regression model suggests that supervisory coaching behavior was a highly
significant predictor variable for employee job satisfaction. However, the three
demographic variables (employee pay, time in job position, and education
level) were not statistically significant predictor variables for job satisfaction.
The results suggest a positive association between employees’ perceptions of
their respective supervisors’ coaching behavior and their own job satisfaction.
As shown in Table 6, the coefficient of determination (R2) indicates that 44 per-
cent of the variance in employees’ perceptions of job satisfaction could be
attributed to coaching even when only low to moderate levels of coaching
behavior were exhibited by supervisors.
Supervisory Coaching Behavior and Warehouse Employee Perfor-
mance. Stepwise regression was also used to address our third research ques-
tion regarding the association between employees’ perceptions of their

Table 6. Results of Stepwise Regression Analyses of Summated


Coaching Behavior Measure on Employee Job Satisfaction
and Warehouse Performance
Standard Beta t Value Significance R2 p Value
Job Satisfaction (5 items, alpha ⫽ .842)a
Employee perception of .61 15.08 .00 .44 .00
coaching behavior
measure
Excluded variables
Beta in
Employee pay .03 .64 .52
Time in job position ⫺.03 ⫺.72 .47
Education ⫺.04 ⫺.91 .37
Warehouse employee performance (6 items, alpha ⫽ .937)b
Employee perception of .33 2.20 .03 .11 .03
coaching behavior measure
Excluded variables:
Beta in
Employee pay .06 .37 .71
Time in job position ⫺.03 ⫺.55 .59
Education ⫺.05 ⫺.33 .75
aLikertscale: 1 ⫽ strongly disagree to 7 ⫽ strongly agree. N ⫽ 438.
bLikert scale: 1 ⫽ strongly disagree to 7 ⫽ strongly agree. Employee responses: N ⫽ 385 aggregated
by supervisor (385 of 438 employees were considered for this analysis because they were relevant to
this warehouse performance measure). Total for this analysis: N ⫽ 67.
Coaching Behavior, Employee Satisfaction, and Employee Performance 451

respective supervisors’ coaching behaviors and supervisors’ perceptions of


their employees’ performance. For this analysis, the employee sample size
was reduced to 385 because it was determined that only 385 of the 438
employees were performing job duties (functional versus clerical) that were
most relevant to the items within the warehouse performance outcome scale.
To maintain consistency in our analyses, the average employee response
for each supervisor was compared with the supervisor’s group-level percep-
tions of employee performance. In addition to the Employee Perceptions of
Supervisor/Line Manager Coaching Behavior Measure, the same three
demographic variables (employee pay, time in job position, and education
level) were used as the predictor variables and the summated items of a
six-item warehouse employee performance scale as the criterion variable.
The reliability estimate for the employee warehouse performance measure
was .937.
To measure warehouse employees’ performance, supervisors were asked
to indicate their responses to items measuring functional aspects of warehouse
performance on a seven-point Likert scale (1 ⫽ strongly disagree, 7 ⫽ strongly
agree). The six items in this scale were: “My employees apply the fundamen-
tal procedures for . . . ”; “handling product without injury to co-workers”;
“safely moving products through the facility”; “operating materials handling
equipment”; “properly handling products when storing”; “safe lifting tech-
niques”; and “moving and handling products without damages.” The results
of the stepwise regression analysis are presented in Table 6.
The results suggest that supervisor coaching behavior was a highly signif-
icant predictor variable of employee warehouse performance. However, as with
employee job satisfaction, the three demographic variables were not statisti-
cally significant predictors for employee warehouse performance. These find-
ings suggest the existence of a positive association between employees’
perceptions of their respective supervisors’ coaching behavior and supervisors’
group-level perceptions of their subordinates’ performance. As shown in
Table 6, the coefficient of determination (R2) indicates that 11 percent of the
variance in supervisors’ perceptions of their employees’ performance could be
attributed to low to moderate levels of supervisory coaching behavior.

Discussion and Limitations


Our research study examined the prevalence of supervisory coaching behav-
ior in an industrial context and the associations between such coaching
behavior and warehouse employee job satisfaction and performance. A
unique aspect of this research is that the perceptions of supervisors and
those of their respective employees were integrated to explore supervisory
coaching behavior.
The management and human resource literature speculates that coach-
ing is increasingly becoming a critical task for line managers and that line
452 Ellinger, Ellinger, Keller

managers are assuming roles as coaches. However, based on the findings of the
study reported here, it is apparent that there are significant discrepancies
between supervisors’ beliefs about their coaching behavior and the importance
of their roles as coaches and their actual behavior as measured by employees’
perceptions of the level of coaching they received.
Consistent significant differences between the perceptions of employees
and supervisors were revealed on all eight supervisory coaching behavior
items. Therefore, our results suggest that supervisors perceive that they are
engaging in coaching behavior at higher levels than those perceived by their
employees. A subsequent gap analysis further corroborated these findings by
revealing significant differences between the extent to which supervisors were
actively engaged in developmental activity and the extent that both they and
their employees perceive that they should be.
Our findings are also somewhat consistent with research that has exam-
ined the extent to which human resource practices, in particular performance
appraisal and career development, have been devolved to line managers. Sev-
eral studies indicate that in practice, line managers’ involvement in employee
development may be more rhetoric than reality (Hall & Torrington, 1998;
McGovern et al., 1997; Thornhill & Saunders, 1998; Yarnall, 1998). Despite
supervisors’ acknowledgment of the importance of assuming developmental
roles and their perceptions that they are engaging in effective coaching behav-
ior and assuming coaching roles, employees perceive that the manager as coach
is a relatively rare species within these industrial settings.
It appears that although supervisors recognize the importance of the
coaching role, supervisors in our sample may need to develop their skills as
effective coaches. Scholars suggest that short-term demands on line managers,
time pressures, lack of rewards or recognition for assuming developmental
roles, confusion about their roles, lack of an organizational climate conducive
to employee development, and inadequate skills and competence may serve
as barriers that impede employee development (Goleman, 2000; Honey, 1995;
Hunt & Weintraub, 2002b; Hyman & Cunningham, 1998; Larsen, 1997;
McGovern et al., 1997; Redshaw, 2000; Talarico, 2002; Yarnall, 1998). It is
possible that some of these barriers may exist in the industrial settings explored
in this study.
Research also suggests that employee commitment improves when line
managers are actively involved in developing a high-quality workforce through
coaching, team building, and employee involvement (Thornhill & Saunders,
1998). The positive associations between employees’ perceptions of their
respective supervisors’ coaching behavior and their own perceptions of job
satisfaction offer additional support for the positive influence of coaching on
employee job satisfaction. Thus, developing supervisors’ coaching skills and
creating organizational environments conducive to coaching may increase the
prevalence of supervisory coaching, which may have an even more significant
impact on employee job satisfaction and retention.
Coaching Behavior, Employee Satisfaction, and Employee Performance 453

Finally, it is often assumed that coaching has a positive impact on perfor-


mance at the individual and organizational levels. The findings from this study
lend credence to the efficacy of supervisory coaching behavior as an approach
that improves employee performance. The positive associations between
employees’ perceptions of their respective supervisors’ coaching behaviors
and supervisors’ perceptions of their subordinates’ performance help to estab-
lish the linkage between coaching behavior and performance outcomes and
extend the limited empirical research on this aspect of coaching (Ellinger,
2003; Yukl, 1994).
There are several limitations associated with the study. We conducted our
study within eighteen warehouse settings representing six organizations in the
distribution industry and used a convenience sampling approach to obtain
supervisor and employee respondents. Different results may have been
obtained using random samples of supervisors and employees within differ-
ent industrial settings. Another potential limitation is that we used subjective
perceptual measures to assess supervisors’ perceptions of employee perfor-
mance and employees’ perceptions of job satisfaction. It is possible that other
more objective outcome measures could have been obtained, such as quan-
tifiable measures of employee output and employee retention data. It is also
possible that using employees’ perceptions of supervisory coaching behavior
and their own job satisfaction may have introduced common method bias.
However, we believe that in coaching situations, employees are the most
appropriate respondents to articulate their own job satisfaction and the extent
to which they perceive they are receiving coaching behaviors; similar strate-
gies have been used in the sports coaching literature (Smoll & Smith, 1989;
Zhang et al., 1997).
We also acknowledge the limitations of drawing on the findings from a sin-
gle qualitative study to generate the coaching behavior items. It is possible that
behaviors in subsequent studies (Beattie, 2002; Hamlin, 2002; Talarico, 2002)
could have been operationalized to extend our measure. Finally, this study was
not intended to provide a comprehensive model of all of the factors that may
influence the manager-as-coach phenomenon. Consequently, other variables
that may influence the extent to which supervisors enact coaching behaviors
were not included in this study. For example, the extent to which the supervi-
sors themselves had received coaching, their readiness to coach, personal
beliefs about coaching, the development of the requisite skill sets required for
coaching, the availability of coaching role models, and an organizational expec-
tation for coaching may be other important elements contributing to the
adoption of coaching roles (Beattie, 2002; Ellinger, 1997; Ellinger & Bostrom,
2002; Talarico, 2002). In addition, the readiness and receptivity of employees
to receive coaching could have been considered, as well as employee job
characteristics like skill variety, task identity, task significance, and autonomy
(Hackman & Oldham, 1980). However, these limitations also represent
opportunities for future research in this area.
454 Ellinger, Ellinger, Keller

Conclusions and Implications


The concept of coaching has received considerable attention in the business lit-
erature, especially at the executive level. However, despite the growing interest
in coaching and the apparent benefits associated with coaching for individual
employees and their organizations, it remains an area on which little has been
written from an empirical perspective. In particular, the concept of manager-
as-coach has attracted considerable attention, but empirical research on this
phenomenon has only recently begun to emerge. This study was designed to
extend the manager-as-coach literature base by examining supervisory coaching
behavior and its relationships to job satisfaction and employee performance.
Our findings lend credence to the efficacy of supervisory coaching as an
employee development approach that can have a positive impact on job satis-
faction and performance. However, although line managers in this study
acknowledged the importance of their roles as developers, it was apparent that
their admirable intentions did not necessarily translate into practice, as per-
ceived by their respective employees.
Implications for Practice. Coaching has always been considered an infor-
mal role that human resource development professionals have performed
(Frisch, 2001). However, even as supervisors and managers increasingly serve
in more developmental roles, scholars suggest that human resource profes-
sionals will continue to fulfill vital roles as coaches and learning counselors
(McLagan, 1999; Watkins, 1995) because their expertise will be needed to
develop the coaching skill sets of line managers. Human resource profession-
als may also assume more strategic roles in organizations that are committed
to employee development by facilitating the development of learning infra-
structures that emphasize the value of coaching. Accordingly, the supervisory
coaching behavior measure developed and tested in our study can be used as
a diagnostic tool or to assess the effects of training programs designed to
improve supervisory coaching behavior by obtaining measures of each of the
behaviors prior to and following training on coaching techniques.
Furthermore, for coaching to be effective, organizations must ensure that
cultures, reward systems, and expectations for coaching exist and are in align-
ment. With a plethora of expertise in learning facilitation and organizational
change initiatives, human resource professionals are uniquely positioned to
serve as change agents (Gilley, 2000) and to embrace coaching as an approach
to management and employee development within their organizations.
Implications for Future Research. As acknowledged in this study, the
management coaching literature base must be extended as the practice of
coaching may have preceded the focus on empirical research and coaching
theory. Specifically, future research should continue to investigate our findings
by integrating a wider variety of objective performance outcome variables,
including analytical and interpersonal skills, as well as variables that assess the
organizational cultures and incentive systems for coaching. In addition,
although our coaching behavior measure appears to be robust and we offer the
Coaching Behavior, Employee Satisfaction, and Employee Performance 455

psychometric properties as a contribution to the manager-as-coach literature


stream, the two versions of the coaching behavior measure could be validated
in different contexts and possibly broadened in their scope. It is also conceiv-
able that a more comprehensive survey instrument that examines beliefs and
values about coaching, the efficacy of skills required for coaching, and addi-
tional coaching behaviors could be developed. In addition, cross-cultural stud-
ies would help establish whether the relationships between coaching behavior
and job satisfaction and performance are consistent across cultures.

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Andrea D. Ellinger is assistant professor of human resource education at the


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Alexander E. Ellinger is associate professor of marketing and supply chain


management in the Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration
at the University of Alabama.

Scott B. Keller is assistant professor of logistics and supply chain management in the
Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University.