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Is mentoring the poor relation to coaching?


CRM calamityBest Coaching and Mentoring Feature 2008

advice post-itDespite the similarities, the coaching industry continues grab column inches, while mentoring remains firmly in the background. Verity Gough says it’s all a matter of opinion.


Mentoring is…
  • An ongoing relationship that can last for a long time
  • More informal and operated on an ad hoc basis and takes a broader view of the person
  • Focuses on career and personal development
  • Revolves more around developing the mentee professionally

    Coaching is...

  • Relationship generally has a short duration
  • Generally more structured in nature and meetings scheduled on a regular basis
  • Short-term, often time-bound, and focused on specific development areas/issues
  • Not generally performed on basis that coach needs direct experience of clients formal occupational role
  • Focus generally on development/issues at work
  • Agenda focused on achieving specific, immediate goals
  • Revolves more around specific development areas/issues

    Source: CIPD

Coaching vs. mentoring

There is no denying that coaching is the profession du jour: If it's not advances in e-coaching making the trade press, then it's another new product launching to make the coaches life easier. And where there is training to be imparted, there is money to be made. Add to this the impending skills gap and the current government fervour for departmental development and you have a voracious demand for more coaches.

But for all the good this tunnel vision has done for the coaching industry, it has only served to push mentoring further into the background. David Pardey, senior policy research manager at the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) suggests that the main reason behind the imbalance is down to coaching's ability to sell itself.

"Mentoring is worthy but dull, coaching is sexy and professional. I don’t think that’s true or a good thing but I do think the emphasis on coaching has been to the detriment of mentoring."

David Pardey, ILM

"Coaches are more commercial," he admits. "There are an awful lot of people out there who are professional coaches; in fact the numbers are increasing all the time but also within businesses and organisations, there is a growing emphasis put on managers working as coaches with their own teams, and they in turn are having to learn new skills," he says.

Pardey also believes that the popularity of coaching has been aided by lobbying groups and the government push on coaching, as well as the general perception that it is seen as a more 'professional' discipline. "Mentoring is worthy but dull, coaching is sexy and professional. I don't think that's true or a good thing but I do think the emphasis on coaching has been to the detriment of mentoring," he reflects.

Mentoring comes of age

That said, the value of mentoring is gaining momentum particularly among managers where there is a growing appreciation of its advantages. It now plays a critical role in organisations and has been particularly important in the progression of women and other minority groups in the workplace and presents a valuable tool in long-term management and organisation development - something that short-term coaching strategies can often overlook.

Jan West heads up MentorSET , a women-only independently funded organisation that places mentees from the science, technology and engineering sectors with suitable mentors. She has seen mentoring experience a surge in popularity since the scheme’s inception in 2001.

"From our point of view mentoring seems to have become exceedingly popular. Back in the days when we first set up, mentoring was not well known but it's all over the place now," she says.

"People probably don't understand what mentoring is all about. They think coaching is all about having these courageous conversations - well you can do that with mentoring, it's no different."

Linda Grant, Skipton Building Society

However West believes the reason for mentoring's flagging publicity is down to the fact that most mentors aren't doing it for a living and therefore have no reason to advertise themselves as such.

"The mentor has a profession and is helping someone else either as part of their job or in their spare time as a volunteer. As for a coach, that’s their occupation and what they have trained for."

While few of the mentors who work with MentorSET are professional coaches, some are from an academic field such as teaching and lecturing. West finds that rather than simply acting as role models for the mentees, the relationship is far more useful in tackling the issues associated with modern working environments such as career development, confidence issues and work/life balance.

"We have actually had women who have been harassed in this sector and think this it's actually the norm until they have a mentor to point it out that they don’t have to put up with that type of behaviour," she says. "Some women have been ready to walk out of their career. We help people with lots of different issues and have been really successful. It does work and that's why we keep getting the funding."

The holistic approach

One company that makes no distinction between the two disciplines is Skipton Building Society which has embraced the combined force of mentoring and coaching to great success using a holistic approach.

Leadership development manager, Linda Grant has been an instrumental part of the scheme which has been in operation for five years although the company has been offering a staff mentoring scheme since 1998.

Along with a number of external coaches who work exclusively with the executive board members, Grant herself now trains the company's line managers to coach and mentor their own teams.

"Originally it was introduced as part of a development program where it was felt that individuals would have more benefit from having offline support for their personal and professional development rather than just working with their line manager," she explains.

While she conducts training sessions for those interested in becoming mentors, mentees themselves have to opt-in and under go three half day workshops before they qualify for mentoring. Despite the collaboration between the two disciplines, Grant stresses that there is no confusion as to when coaching is required or when mentoring may be more suitable.

"From the scheme's point of view, it doesn't make any difference which we use because we don't make a differentiation between a coaching programme and a mentoring programme. Mentoring tends to be a bit more centred on career development and is more inspirational, while coaching will be more to do with skills or knowledge development," she says.

"From our point of view mentoring seems to have become exceedingly popular. Back in the days when we first set up, mentoring was not well known but it’s all over the place now."

Jan West, MentorSET

Skipton's scheme uses trained line managers from different departments to the mentees. "When we match up an individual with a mentor, I look for someone that has no line responsibility or has not worked with the individual in the past in any way shape or form so it’s completely impartial."

Interestingly, the company operates the programme purely on a referrals basis, preferring not to advertise it in company literature or starter packs. "First and foremost, coaching is the role of the manager but if individuals want this offline support then they can volunteer or ask to be included. It's very transparent but we don’t insist that everybody does it or that it is the right thing for everybody to do," she says.

Despite the scheme's soft, almost silent sell, the take-up is around a quarter of the entire company which consists of 1200 staff across 83 branches and a head office. What's more, Grant says the feedback has been so positive that it has now spawned a 'second generation' of mentors.

A matter of semantics

Mentoring and coaching mean different things to different people but the fact remains that both present different and incredibly powerful methods of helping individuals develop. "People probably don't understand what mentoring is all about," says Grant.

"They think coaching is all about having these courageous conversations - well you can do that with mentoring, it's no different – you should still be having very difficulty conversations with people, asking taxing questions in fact mentoring can be more far reaching,"

Coaching and mentoring could and should enjoy a more symbiotic relationship where coaches refer clients to mentors and visa versa. "When it come down to it, coaching isn't necessarily the right thing to use, there are times when mentoring would be far more beneficial," says Pardey. "Because the roles are different, the coach and the mentor can co-exist and that would be a really powerful support method."


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