Mentoring and coaching are both valuable methods for improving performance, but they can often be confused, and at times thought of as interchangeable. However, they are not, and it is important to understand the differences between the two and in what situation each should be used.
In short, mentoring is focused around more experienced individuals (the mentor) supporting less experienced individuals (the mentee). The role of the mentor is to guide the mentee, offering knowledge, advice and expertise drawn from their own personal experience and learning. As such, mentors are usually more experienced and qualified than mentees and often have first-hand experience of the mentees circumstance or position.
A key factor in the relationship between a mentor and mentee is the development of a safe, trusting environment, allowing the mentee to openly discuss challenges they may be facing and for the mentor to support and guide the mentee.
Importantly, the role of the mentor is not to offer solutions or answers; instead, their focus is on drawing out solutions through open dialogue with the mentee, encouraging them to think deeper about their circumstance and view things from different perspectives. Ultimately, they are there to help mentees identify the right solutions for them and the issues they face.
Due to the need for openness, mentoring relationships are often long term and can be open ended, with the aim to develop a partnership that supports learning and encourages growth for both present and future roles throughout the mentees professional career. It is also a two-way relationship with mentees needing to invest as much time as the mentor in developing the relationship.
Often task and performance focussed, coaching is usually employed to directly improve a coachee’s performance in their current role or situation. Coaches do not need direct experience in the coachee’s role, however it is often very beneficial.
Coaching relationships are often built around a specific area of development relating to the coachees current role. Commonly these are identified by the coachee’s manager or business and throughout the process, the coach will aim to build the coachees competence and unlock their potential to achieve a specific, measurable goal.
In contrast to mentors, coaches will draw on coaching techniques to help coachees develop their skills; breaking development goals into tasks and milestones to complete during the relationship. The coach will also use effective questioning to help explore any challenges or obstacles that may be keeping the coachee from reaching their goals.
Coaching relationships tend to be shorter in term, therefore meetings tend to be more structured in nature. The coach’s aim is to equip the coachee with the skills needed to become self-reliant so once coaching is complete learnings stay with the coachee even as their environments and situations change.
Mentoring and coaching are both valuable, but how do you know which is needed and when?
Mentoring can provide individuals with direction on specific business issues, pass on valuable knowledge and insight, develop careers or transfer skills and supports a broad range of organisational goals such as:
- On-boarding employees
- Strengthening organisational culture
- Succession planning
- Developing individuals more wholly, beyond skills and competencies
- Knowledge sharing
- Knowledge retention e.g. experienced generations mentoring younger generations coming up through the business
- Improving the effectiveness of Senior Leaders and Executives
- Supporting newly promoted Leaders and Executives
Whereas, coaching acts as an effective tool to unlock employee potential, enhance capability and transform individual performance, such as:
- To develop specific competencies relating to an individual’s role
- Develop high potential employees
- Support leaders or executives to acquire new skills or enhance existing ones
- Change behaviours
- Develop skills in line with new systems or processes
- Hone team performance
- Successfully transition employees back to work after parental leave
Mentoring or Coaching?
When it comes to making the decision, it doesn’t have to be an either or scenario, some individuals may require both mentoring and coaching, however it’s important to be clear on the individuals true needs and make the right choice to ensure the most positive outcome.