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The difference between coaching and mentoring

The difference between coaching and mentoring

The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

Corporations often use the the terms coaching and mentoring interchangeably to refer to some form of education and training that employees receive throughout their employment. In contrast to "traditional" forms of training and development, both coaching and mentoring are characterised by a focus on the individual (rather than the group), giving them much common ground to start with.

Yet even though the core of the two terms can be interpreted as one and the same, there are significant differences between the two in terms of approaches and methodologies. What are these and what do they imply in terms of the ways in which organisations deliver them to their staff?

Difference #1: skills vs. behaviours

Coaching is largely a task-oriented approach while mentoring is more relationship-oriented. As a result, coaching focuses on concrete management issues and related skills, such as the development of interpersonal skills or business communication expertise. In this sense, coaching is a very objective and goal-focused process that aims to be measurable in terms of outcomes and effectiveness.

Conversely, mentoring revolves around the relationship between the mentor and the employees (learners) where the mentor uses personal life examples and experiences to create a more relaxed environment where candidates can explore attitudes, behaviours and feelings on a more subjective level. Mentoring can thus be thought of as leading to a slower transition in the way an individual approaches various situations from a behavioural point of view.

Difference #2: the long vs. short term

Where coaching focuses on short-term learning and training, mentoring is a long-term process. Coaching is evaluated in terms of sessions or pre-determined lessons and concepts taught to the employees. On the other hand, mentoring sessions usually go on for much longer. In fact, they never really stop for some individuals, and the relationships their they build with their mentors end up lasting a lifetime.

Difference #3: the end goal

The strategic needs of different organisations vary depending on their long-term goals and objectives, as well as their  expectations of employee performance. Though coaching and mentoring are often used in combination to achieve these goals, coaching is more likely to come into play during the following scenarios:

  • When a need for specific competencies and skills is identified.
  • When new new business systems or processes are being introduced.

Mentoring, on the other hand, is preferred when companies are:

  • Establishing a succession planning strategy or programme.
  • Undergoing significant periods of change.
  • Actively seeking to nurture diversity in the workplace.

Coaching and mentoring in practice: blurring the lines?

Some giant corporations like American Express, KPMG and UPS are using an innovative approach in training their employees through a method called Happiness-at-work-coaching. The process focuses on the psychological state of the employees and aims to ensure they remain positive by using key motivation techniques and other measures. It revolves around the basic idea of stimulating positive thinking in the workplace. Some common techniques used include sending emails to both supervisors and subordinates about their day at work or stressful issues they faced during the day. This promotes self-reflection and creates a culture of openness where these issues are addressed rather than being swept under the carpet, which in turn inculcates a more positive vibe among the workforce.

Google has been ranked number one for its recent and innovative mentoring programme called CareerGuru which focuses on building long-term relationships between the mentors (from the company side) and the employees (learners), encouraging long-term working associations. The 'Gurus' are usually the industry experts hired through external recruiting mechanisms.

Coaching and mentoring ultimately depend on the motivational needs of your employees and choosing the right techniques requires thinking about how to align strategies with broader organisational objectives and goals; both long- and short-term.

As evident from such examples, companies all over the world are shifting towards creating learning environments rather than stopping at performance evaluation. Coaching and mentoring are becoming extensively popular owing to the results they can bring for a company in the long run, especially in the context of career coaching, bringing improved individual performance and productivity, better organisational performance and succession planning. Moreover, statistics suggest that coaching will shift from being an exclusive 'cottage industry' - a small and informal sector - to a larger, more regulated group of individuals belonging to professional associations that specialise in accrediting skills in areas such as global management, engagement, virtual leadership and more.

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Last updated: 30 Mar 2016

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