Coaching vs mentoring: what’s the difference?

    coaching mentoring


    Investing in and supporting the personal and professional development of your people is shown to be beneficial for an organisation as a whole. Coaching and mentoring, for example, offer ways to develop, support and retain your staff, both in the short and long-term, ensuring the necessary skills for the organisation’s objectives to be achieved.

    While the terms may be used interchangeably in practice, there are key differences between coaching and mentoring. Understanding the differences can help employers optimise use of each approach for full impact.


    What is coaching?

    A coach would typically adopt a structured approach, more often in the short-term, identifying and prioritising goals to move a company or organisation forward.

    The role of the coach is to work with your staff to help manage certain aspects of the job and resolve any issues that are holding them back, or to teach them new skills to overcome these obstacles, often with immediate effects.

    By focusing on specific skills and development goals, and by breaking these down into concrete tasks to be completed within a specified period of time, the coach can help an individual or team move forward quickly. This can also help the business itself to become more goal-driven, accountable and competitive.


    What is mentoring?

    A mentor is someone who offers their professional expertise and advice to those with less experience, guiding their mentees in the right direction within a workplace context. Mentoring is often less formal than coaching, and is typically on a one-to-one or small group basis, where the mentor will form a relationship with their individual or team over a period of time.

    This may be, for example, where a senior employee provides regular one-to-one or group sessions for more junior employees, concentrating perhaps on a range of soft and hard skills, monitoring the mentees’ progress and making suggestions for change. The mentor will also usually be available to provide ongoing support and answer any queries that their mentees may have on an ad hoc basis.

    Mentoring can be used to help mentees consider training opportunities for career progression, set professional development goals, improve on or gain new skills, and even develop their overall attitude and confidence at work.

    Having often faced similar challenges themselves along the way, the support offered by the mentor is based on their own experiences, empathically sharing their skills and knowledge for the benefit of the mentee. The mentor will serve as a professional advisor and role model, helping mentees overcome any existing hurdles and progress toward any goals they have set.


    The differences between coaching & mentoring

    Coaching and mentoring both generally refer to one-to-one approaches to providing employees with the necessary support, training and guidance to succeed in their different roles at work.

    Coaching, for example, can be used to teach your employees a specific skill set to improve performance in their job roles, such as how to make effective sales calls in line with your company’s brand, policies and strategies.

    Mentoring, on the other hand, can be used to provide your staff with more long-term one-to-one support, such as moving towards internal promotion and building on an individual’s knowledge and experience to help them succeed.

    Both coaches and mentors can benefit businesses in several ways. To benefit the most, however, businesses need to be clear on their priorities, both in the short and long-term and what kind of learning and development support is required to support the workforce and meet company people objectives. With the right combination of support, at the right time, this can help both your people and your business to become more productive and profitable.

    In practice, it is not uncommon for a mentor to undertake coaching responsibilities, and vice versa. There are, however, key differences between the approach and tasks involved in each of these two types of support.


    The role of coaching and mentoring within the workplace

    The role of coaching and mentoring within the workplace, whether used individually or combined, are effectively twofold: to benefit your people and to benefit your business – where each of these benefits can have a positive, productive and mutually reciprocal effect on the other.


    For your business

    By coaching and mentoring your staff, you can get the most from your people, making them more valuable to your business by developing and enhancing their skills and abilities, both in the present and for the future. This could either be during a probation period, or continuing throughout the course of their employment, for example, to help employees work towards a promotion.

    Through appropriate support and training, employees will be able to perform to the best of their ability, and as self-sufficiently as possible, utilising your human resources to their fullest. By asking your staff to commit to learning new skills, this will help them to recognise that they can increase their value to you as their employer, creating a strong and competitive workplace culture, and reinforcing high levels of performance through employee accountability.

    Further, by focusing on individual growth, and by showing that you care about the progress of your employees, this can help you to build constructive and supportive working relationships, leading to greater employee engagement, high levels of commitment and higher rates of staff retention.


    For your leaders

    By focusing on people development within the workplace, you can help to develop the full potential of your staff, both in the short and long-term. This can often involve a combination of both coaching and mentoring to help employees develop the skills they need now, as well as the skills they will need to progress within your company or organisation moving forward.

    Coaching will provide your staff with the opportunity to develop vital new skills or strengthen existing skills to help them undertake their current job roles more effectively, typically through specific training sessions in the short-term.

    In contrast, mentoring can be used to provide your staff with the opportunity to identify and develop their long-term goals, and be given appropriate support and training to put them on the right path for promotion and progression.

    In this way, your staff will feel fully supported and engaged, not only within their existing roles but for their future aspirations, ensuring that you have a happy and motivated workforce at all times, with employees who are willing to work hard for the mutual benefit of both themselves and your business.


    How should coaching and mentoring be used to meet people objectives?

    Below we look at three keys ways in which coaching and mentoring can be used to meet your overall people objectives:

    • Optimise performance
    • Succession planning
    • Leadership development


    Optimise performance

    Optimising performance is not just about providing an employee with the necessary skills to meet the objectives of their role and to succeed in their existing job roles, but to give them sufficient incentive to work hard for their own future, and the future of your business.

    The business coach will primarily improve performance that impacts the employee’s present job, whilst the mentor will help to develop skills that are not just relevant for the mentees currently, but also moving forward.

    By combining these support methods together, not necessarily from the same coach or mentor, but in a considered and accessible way from those with the necessary skills to train and guide your staff, you will almost certainly reap dividends in the form of skilled, well-motivated and high-performing employees.


    Succession planning

    Successful coaching and mentoring approaches will incorporate company, team and individual goals to meet the objectives of each. The provision of on-the-job training through coaching will help to train employees in their existing roles, whilst long-term support through mentoring will help to guide an employee on the right career path for future promotion.

    The ability to observe an employees’ professional growth over a period of time through a well-established mentoring programme can help you to make crucial succession decisions, such as aligning the career path of an individual with the strongest skills for your business and developing leaders for future growth.

    In this way, you can identify and develop experienced and capable employees to assume the necessary roles as and when they become available.


    Leadership development

    If you have confident, motivated and satisfied employees they will help to steer your company or organisation forward. Through a combination of training and support over the course of an employee’s career, you can inspire those with the potential for leadership roles to progress through the ranks and acquire the necessary skills needed for leadership development.

    By investing in the personal and professional growth of all your staff, you will create a progressive working environment in which you have the pick of suitably qualified and ambitious employees, producing the next generation of leaders.

    With the right support, you will also develop a loyal and committed workforce, where employees are keen to work hard, and confident in the knowledge that there will be progression opportunities for them within the business.


    Tips for successful workplace coaching and mentoring

    Successful coaching and mentoring your employees requires a continuous and collaborative effort from everyone involved. The following practical tips can help you to incorporate coaching and mentoring techniques into your management practices, creating a positive and progressive environment for your workforce:

    • Identify ways to apply coaching and mentoring principles as part of an overall learning and development strategy, where necessary utilising a combination of both approaches to benefit individual employees.
    • Be clear about what training and support is available to employees, ensuring that this is easily accessible to all levels of staff. Everyone in your business has learning opportunities, both at a junior and senior level.
    • Be clear about what results you want to see, with realistic and achievable goals and parameters, providing a positive learning environment to motivate, rather than pressure, employees into performing well.
    • Give timely recognition and reward for a job well done, and appropriate support, rather than reprimand, where performance is lacking. Coaching and mentoring can be a good way of dealing with both performance issues and behavioural lapses, adopting a collaborative approach to problem-solving and change.
    • Regularly review an employees’ performance, providing clear feedback on a one-to-one and face-to-face basis for both for positive and negative performance efforts. You should identify if any further support is needed, creating a clear action plan and providing reasonable timeframes for any necessary improvement or progression.


    Coaching & mentoring FAQs

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    Legal disclaimer

    The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.


    Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

    Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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