Employee Performance

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ENHANCING EMPLOYEE AND ORGANIZATIONAL PERFORMANCE THROUGH COACHING BASED ON MYSTERY SHOPPER FEEDBACK: A QUASI-EXPERIMENTAL STUDY G A R Y P. L AT H A M , R O B E R T C . F O R D , AND DANNY TZABBAR Based on reinforcement theory, a quasi-experimental design was used to evaluate the effect of (a) feedback obtained from (b) a relatively neutral third party (namely, mystery shoppers) that was obtained on a (c) variable interval schedule for managers to use to (d) coach their employees. An interrupted time-series design showed that both employee and organizational performance increased as a result of this intervention. Performance dropped when this intervention was cut back and, subsequently, discontinued. These results were replicated in two additional restaurants. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: employee coaching, mystery shopping, variable interval schedule, performance feedback

Introduction
he service industry is a major driver of Western economies. In the United States alone, it represents over 75 percent of the GDP (Ford & Bowen, 2008). Thus, it follows that research directed at increasing an understanding of drivers of employee and organizational performance in this sector is of growing concern to human resource management scholars and practitioners (e.g., Bowen & Ford, 2002;

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Chesbrough & Spohrer, 2006; Liao, 2007; Pugh, 2001; Schneider, Ehrhart, Mayer, & Saltz, 2005). The purpose of the present study was to contribute to this knowledge base through a quasi-experimental investigation. Specifically, this study examined the application of a technique adapted from marketing, namely, mystery shopping, to overcome a problem that confronts most managers— providing employees timely systematic

Correspondence to: Robert C. Ford, College of Business Administration, 400 Central Florida Blvd., Orlando, FL 32816, Phone: 407.823.5088, E-mail: rford@bus.ucf.edu Human Resource Management, March–April 2012, Vol. 51, No. 2. Pp. 213– 230 © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com). DOI:10.1002/hrm.21467

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HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, MARCH–APRIL 2012

performance feedback. Specifically, we looked at the effect of feedback from a third party unknown to both the employees and their supervisors—hence, the term mystery. Mystery shoppers assessed the performance of employees in three restaurants on a variable interval schedule. We wanted to see if feedback from this source could be used to enhance the coaching effectiveness of supervisors on the performance of frontline sales staff who in turn have a direct impact on their organization’s performance. Prior to conducting this study, there was no evidence to suggest that Extensive empirical employee performance and the research conducted performance of the restaurant where they worked would inin experimental crease or decrease as a result of this intervention. Thus, we and organizational wanted to ascertain whether supervisory coaching of direct repsychology ports based on feedback provided throughout the on a seemingly random, albeit systematic schedule from a neutwentieth century tral third party affects employee and organizational performance has demonstrated positively. that feedback is critical for learning (i.e., ability) and

Performance Management

Performance management in the service industry is typically problematic. Requiring a manager to effort and persist in systematically assess each emgoal attainment (i.e., ployee is often not logistically possible. In the majority of instances, an employee cannot consistently motivation). be observed interacting with a customer who is being served. Nonetheless, employees in this new millennium want relatively immediate performance feedback (DeStobbeleir & Ashford, in press). Empirical research shows that this request is justified. Extensive empirical research conducted in experimental and organizational psychology throughout the twentieth century has...
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