Lots of people think coaching and mentoring is the same thing which is understandable because they do fit very well together.  However, I believe they should be looked at separately and managers should focus on understanding the difference so they can provide the right support in the workplace.

The difference between coaching & mentoring

Good managers are focused on improving performance, which is good.  Providing effective coaching can improve the individual’s performance in a job, it involves people improving their skills and gaining new ones.  Once this has been achieved coaching on this particular aspect stops because the coach is no longer needed.  However, adding a dimension to supporting an individual that focuses on personal development allows a manager to look at providing a provision that mentors and develops someone not only for their current job role but for duties, tasks or job roles that may be needed in the future.

It is possible for coaching to be provided in the short term over a few sessions or even one session depending on the needs of the person being coached.  Mentoring is a long term plan that requires those involved to build a successful business relationship that has a lot of trust.  It is very important that the person being mentored feels secure enough to share real concerns that influence the level of their success.

A task orientated approach to getting things completed requires effective coaching and the person providing the coaching is seen as the expert in their subject area.  The coach supports the development of specific skills and evaluates progress.  A relationship orientated approach provides a mentoring service whereby the focus is on being able to share experiences and provide a working environment that promotes the growth of people.  The person being mentored feels comfortable in sharing issues with their mentor that affects their personal growth.  While specific goals will still be identified the focus is broader and empowers people to grow in confidence, understand self-perception and the impact they can have on a business.

A coach can provide coaching quickly without giving the topic a lot of thought although there will be occasions when a certain amount of design is needed but compared to mentoring the lead in time is significantly less.  Mentoring links into the strategic aims of a business and the design of the support given is determined by this.  Consideration is also given to areas of relationship development and the style of mentoring needed to get the best out of an individual.

Coaching involves a person’s immediate manager either through them being the person providing the coaching or via feedback on progress from an appointed coach.  If a separate coach is used the manager is a critical person in the process ensuring that they provide the coach with details of coaching need.  The coach is able to use this information to provide them with a focus for coaching.  In mentoring the immediate manager is indirectly involved with no direct link to the mentor, helping the mentor maintain trust with the person being mentored.  However, a manager can provide advice and guidance on how the employee can get the best experience possible.

When to use coaching, when to use mentoring

Having discussed the differences between coaching and mentoring above please see some examples below showing when you might use them in the workplace:

Coaching is best used when:

  • an organisation wants to involve the immediate line manager to help develop employees in specific competencies using performance management tools
  • an organisation has employees who are not meeting expectations and they want to support them to achieve goals
  • a new system is being implemented
  • a leader or executive needs assistance in acquiring a new skill to enable them to take on additional responsibilities

Mentoring is best used when:

  • an organisation is looking at succession planning and wants to develop a talent pool for future activity
  • an organisation wants to develop employees through removing barriers that impact on their success rate
  • developing people in others ways is required and not just the acquisition of specific skills/competencies
  • there is a need to support a workforce with work/life balance

I hope you find this article useful in understanding the difference between coaching and mentoring plus identifying what support is most appropriate in the workplace.


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