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Understanding Coaching and Mentoring


Rene Petrin President of Management Mentors Inc. takes a look at 10 key differences between coaching and mentoring.

The term mentoring is increasingly being misused. People frequently say mentoring when they mean coaching, but can you blame them?

Mentoring is a warm, friendly term. Who wouldn’t want to be thought of as a mentor? Coaching, conversely, makes people think about running laps.

Even many human resource consultants use the terms interchangeably. Maybe they don’t know the difference.

And maybe mentoring sells better than coaching.

So what is the difference? We’ve cut the following list of 10 differentiators down from a list of 25 – and we could go even further, if time and space were limitless.

Not understanding the difference can lead to disappointing results and the failure to achieve organizational goals, since the two are significantly different.

Before explaining the differences, it is important to recognize that they also share common elements. The difference is often in emphasis and outcomes. There are also coaches who can mentor and mentors who can coach.

The following are some of the key differences:

1. Purpose
Coaching is about acquiring skills or knowledge.

Coaching systems provide employees with experts who work with them to ensure that they acquire specific skills or knowledge. The primary focus is professional, not personal.

In many ways, being a coach is like being a teacher.

Mentoring systems are designed to promote professional development by pairing employees with mentors who will focus on the overall development of the mentoree.

Mentoring is meant to be transformational and involves much more than simply acquiring a specific skill or knowledge.

Mentoring requires a relationship that is both professional and personal. In many ways, being a mentor is like being a counsellor.

2. Task vs. Relationship Orientation
Coaching is task oriented.

The focus is on concrete issues, such as managing more effectively, speaking more articulately and learning how to think strategically.

To succeed, the coach must have credibility as an expert and be able to communicate effectively.
An ongoing personal relationship is not a critical factor for success.

Mentoring is relationship oriented.

It seeks to provide a safe environment where mentorees can share whatever critical issues impact their professional and personal success.

Although specific learning goals or competencies may be used as a basis for creating the relationship, its focus goes beyond such areas to include issues such as: work-life balance, self-confidence, self-perception and how the personal influences the professional. Content expertise is not as critical for the mentor, since the mentor is a facilitator, not a coach.

3. Short-Term v Long-Term
Coaching is typically short term.

Coaching lasts as long as it takes the person being coached to acquire the necessary skill or knowledge.

Mentoring is always long term.

To succeed, mentoring requires mentors and mentorees to learn about each other and build trust, so that mentorees feel secure about sharing the real issues that impact their success.

At the beginning of a mentoring relationship, pairs are likely to discuss general, task-oriented issues.

Once the mentor and mentoree trust each other, true mentoring begins.

Mentoring typically lasts nine months to a year, and the relationship between the mentor and the mentoree often lasts much longer.

4. Performance v Development
Coaching is performance driven.

Its purpose is to improve an employee’s performance by enhancing skills or adding new skills.

Once the skills are acquired, coaching is no longer needed.

Mentoring is development driven.

Its purpose is to develop the individual not only for the current job, but for the future.

This distinction helps differentiate the role of the employee’s supervisor from the role of the mentor.

It also reduces the possibility of creating conflict between the supervisor and the mentor.

5. Manager Involvement

The employee’s manager is a critical partner in coaching.

The manager often provides the coach with feedback on areas where the employee needs coaching.

The manager and coach are partners in the process.

In mentoring, the manager is indirectly involved.

The manager may offer suggestions to the employee about how to make best use of mentoring or may recommend to the matching committee what would constitute a good match.

The manager has no link to the mentor and they do not communicate during the mentoring relationship. This is essential for maintaining the integrity of the mentoring relationship.

Mentoring prohibits direct feedback to the mentoree’s immediate manager.

The manager controls the mentoree’s employment status, performance reviews, raises and promotions.

Mentorees would be reluctant to discuss personal and professional challenges if they knew everything they said would be reported to their manager.

6. Use of Software
Coaching lends itself to the use of software and online systems, since the personal relationship is less important than content in coaching.

E-learning allows employees to be coached efficiently, at their own pace.

Many software programs that are advertised as mentoring systems actually provide coaching.

Mentoring requires a personal relationship.

Software can be used to gather participant information, assist in the preliminary matching of participants and help the mentoring programme manager maintain ongoing contact with participants, but true mentoring requires frequent personal contact.

7. Payment
Coaches are paid for their services.

The coach has a financial interest in the success of the employee, which impacts how the coach works.

Mentors never receive compensation for their services.

They mentor out of a generosity of spirit.

The most common reason mentors mentor is because they wish to give something back to someone else and to the company.

This creates objectivity, which is missing in coaching.

8. Independence
Coaches operate independently and are usually not part of the organization.

When their task is completed, they leave the organization. Their expertise is gone.

If their expertise is needed again, they are called back.

While an external consultant is frequently needed to help an organization establish a mentoring programme, everyone else involved is internal.

An internal mentoring programme manager serves as a resource for mentors, mentorees and immediate managers, and all mentor and mentoree pairs are internal.

Mentors reside within the organization and are part of the company’s ongoing talent pool. They are part of the company and understand its culture, its politics and its history.

They often serve as mentors for many years.

9. One-Way v Two-Way Relationships

Coaching is a one-way relationship that focuses on the needs of the employee being coached.

Coaching can also be fulfilling, but typically the coach’s only gain from the relationship is financial.

Mentoring is a two-way relationship. Mentors frequently learn from their mentorees and see their organization from a different perspective as a result of their mentoring relationship.

10. Satisfying Different Goals
Coaching and mentoring serve very different purposes.

An organisation should consider using coaching under the following circumstances:
* To develop specific competencies
* When talented employees are not meeting expectations
* When introducing a new system or program
* When a small group of individuals needs increased competency in specific areas
* When a leader or executive needs assistance in acquiring a new skill

An organization should consider using mentoring under the following circumstances:
* To develop leaders or a talent pool as part of succession planning
* To develop diverse employees and remove barriers that hinder their success
* To more completely develop employees in ways that supplement the acquisition of specific skills and competencies
* To transfer internal expertise and experience from retiring employees to the next generation of leaders
* To create a workforce that balances the professional and the personal
* To initiate cultural change within an organization

There are many other differences between coaching and mentoring, but there are also similarities.

As the examples above illustrate, the most important similarity is that both coaching and mentoring can play valuable roles in organizational development.


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