Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Is coaching a profession?

The term ‘profession’ derives from the Latin word ‘profiteor’ meaning to profess. It implies, therefore, that a professional is someone who possesses knowledge (theoretical and practical) about a particular field. Professionalisation, is the process whereby a gainful activity moves from the status of ‘occupation’ to the status of ‘profession’ (Emener and Cottone, 1989). The literature offers three alternative models of professionalism. First, the Process Model explores the process through which an occupation becomes a profession (Ritzer, 1977). Professionalisation, then, is the sequence of stages of organisational change that must occur before an occupation can call itself a profession (Pickard, 2009; Wilensky, 1964). Second, the Structural-Functionalist Model which focuses on the characteristics that distinguish a profession from other occupations. These characteristics include: (a) a theoretical body of knowledge; (b) long specialised training for members to master the body of knowledge; (c) a service of altruism; (d) authority over clients; (e) professional autonomy; (f) community sanctions of professional norms are transgressed by a member; (g) the existence of a professional culture (Cullen, 1978; Ritzer, 1977). Third, the Power Model defines a profession in terms of its ability to obtain a set of rights and privileges from societal groups that might not otherwise be granted to them (Ritzer, 1977).

In a seminal paper, Goode (1960) outlines a range of features that an occupation acquires for it to become a profession, including:
• The profession determines its own standards of education and training
• Professional practice is often legally recognised by some form of license to practice
• Licensing and admission boards are manned by members of the profession
• Most legislation concerned with the profession is shaped by members of the profession themselves
• The practitioner is relatively free of lay evaluation and control
• The norms and practices enforced by the profession are more stringent than legal controls
• Members strongly identify with the profession and are affiliated to it
• Members see themselves as ‘tied’ to the profession and have no plans to leave it.

So, is coaching an occupation or profession? A glance at the web sites of some of the coaching associations suggests a claim for the latter. Certainly, there have been extensive moves over recent years, for example, to ensure that most of the associations have a written code of ethics that members are required to adhere to. There is also extensive education and training, including the creation of standards for coaching programmes.

Problems, however, remain. It would be difficult to argue that within coaching there is a'body of knowledge' that is widely accepted. Indeed, it could be argued that there are at least two strongly contested bodies of knowledge between psychological/therapeutic approaches to coaching and the more business focused approaches - to name but two.

At Surrey, we are currently completing the analysis of a major online survey (with 267 responses) that sought the views of managers (as beneficiaries of coaching) as to what they were looking for in a coach. Personal factors such as the coach's ability to listen, provide empathy and constructive support came out highly positively correlated with decisions to select a coach. However, criteria such as the possession of qualifications, including coaching qualifications, were negatively correlated with the decision to select a coach. So, far from coaching qualifications being seen as factor in choosing a coach, they tend to put people off! This finding is not good news for the coaching associations who see qualifications and credentialing as one of the cornerstones of the push towards professionalisation of the industry.

There is, however, an alternative perspective. Rather than placing the emphasis on formal qualifications, professionalisation could be nurtured through other forms of personal development. Mentoring by more experienced coaches would be just one possibility.
More details on the results of our survey will be provided in later reports on this site.

Do you have a view on whether coaching is, or should be a profession? If so, do post a comment.

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