Sometimes the words mentoring and coaching are used interchangeably. While mentoring and coaching have similarities, they aren’t the same thing and there are some specific differences. The question is, how do you know when your organization needs coaching, and when it needs mentoring?
Below are some questions to consider when deciding whether mentoring or coaching is right for your organization.
1. What Skills Need to Be Developed in Your Employees?
First, it’s helpful to identify what skills you’re hoping to develop in your employees. Do they need help learning the newest technology? Do they need to make more effective client presentations? Do they need to solve hairy problems in an ambiguous environment? By identifying exactly what transformation you hope to see in your employees, you can decide if mentoring or coaching is the right intervention.
If skills are more narrow in focus and straightforward, coaching is likely to be the best bet. In coaching, the coach will have expert knowledge and tend to take the lead in the relationship. They generally have a more structured approach, which leads to more well-defined outcomes.
However, if the skill development is a bit more nebulous, mentoring might be a better choice. Mentoring focuses more holistically on the mentee, considering both professional and personal development. It may also touch on several different skills and psychological processes, such as developing self-efficacy, better interpersonal skills, and better decision making.
Of course, you may even consider that the organization isn’t focused on skill development at all. Instead, the company might want to increase retention, increase diversity among leadership positions, or increase employee engagement. While these goals don’t center around skill development, mentoring can help achieve them.
Generally, if your organization is focused on improving well-defined skills to increase performance, coaching is a good choice. If the goals are more comprehensive, mentoring might be a better fit.
2. What’s Our Time Horizon?
Overall, coaching tends to be focused more on short-term performance improvements while the benefits of mentoring take longer to realize. An organization might not realize all the benefits of mentoring as quickly as a well-structured coaching program. However, the results from a professional mentoring program tend to be more long-lasting, and companies can reap the benefits of mentoring for years after an initial professional mentorship program has started.
If your company is looking for a boost in the next quarter or two, or needs some help to get an immediate initiative over the finish line, coaching is likely the answer. However, if the organization is looking for development over the long-term (for example, building leadership bench strength), mentoring might be a better fit.
3. How Will the Mentees’ Managers Be Involved?
In an ideal world, every employee would have a capable, involved manager that is dedicated to their professional and career development. However, we live in the real world and for a variety of reasons, managers may be less than involved when it comes to the growth of their direct reports. Perhaps their span of control is too large, or they don’t have the skills to properly develop their staff.
In mentoring, having a somewhat detached or disengaged manager isn’t necessarily an obstacle. In fact, many young professionals get valuable feedback from their mentors that they aren’t getting from their managers. The mentor and the mentee’s manager aren’t likely to have regular conversations about the mentee, which is a good thing: having some separation between the mentee’s manager and the mentor can allow the mentee to be more open and vulnerable with the mentor, which can result in a more effective relationship.
However, unlike mentoring, for a coaching intervention to be successful, you’ll likely need the cooperation of the coachee’s immediate supervisor. A good coach will generally loop in the manager to provide feedback and updates on the coaching intervention. While the coach can provide background, opportunities for practice, and feedback to the coachee, the coachee’s manager really needs to reinforce the coaching and provide feedback on the job. If the manager isn’t aware or supportive of the goals of the coaching intervention, the coachee isn’t likely to be successful.
The work that a mentee does with a mentor is generally more decoupled from the individual’s current role than is the case in a coaching intervention. Therefore, if the managers aren’t as involved or on board, coaching might not be a wise choice.
Even though some people use the terms mentoring and coaching interchangeably, they aren’t the same thing and they won’t accomplish the same goals for your organization. Overall, when talking about the differences between coaching and mentoring, coaching tends to be more narrowly focused on skill development, while the focus of mentoring is much broader. Think about what you hope to get out of the intervention to decide whether mentoring, coaching, or a combination of mentoring and coaching is right for your company.