Generally there is a misconception about coaching and mentoring; it is assumed these are one and the same and although some similarities maybe present there are also significant differences. However, both are practices that target personal or professional development.
Coaching focuses on specific skills, knowledge and development goals by breaking them into tangible tasks to be completed within a specified period of time. It is a non-directive form of development aiming to improve a persons’ job performance with the focus of achieving organisational objectives. Coaching is based on individual and organisational goals and can be used for various reasons e.g. addressing individual and organisational change, handling complex problems, development of leaders etc. It is development focused, facilitates critical thinking and decision-making, takes place on a one-to-one basis and can be informal or unstructured. Also, the agenda is owned by the individual not the coach.
Sometimes coaching can also be confused with training but again, there is a significant difference. Training is more learning focused, trains something specific, provides new knowledge and skills, often takes place with groups, is structured, is led and driven by the trainer and can be a one-time event.
Mentoring is a process used to support the development of less experienced or new staff members. A mentor, in simple words, is someone who offers their knowledge, expertise and advice to those with less experience and by doing so, they will guide the person in the right direction which could ultimately, result in better efficiency across the organisation. Its focus is to help individuals improve skills and manage their career. Again this is based on individual and organisational goals and used for various reasons i.e. improving productivity, to support a learning culture, build diversity, to enhance cost effectiveness etc. There are several different context where mentoring may be applicable e.g.
- Peer mentoring – Individuals at the same level providing skill training;
- Situational mentoring – mentoring for a specific purpose/skill;
- Formal mentoring – with a defined beginning and an end.
There are obvious similarities between coaching and mentoring, both are about increasing individuals’ effectiveness in the work environment with its overall objective to improve performance or achieve and sustain high performance in the organisation. Coaching and mentoring is also beneficial in developing self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills which are vital for work and life success and if these are achieved, the individual will feel better about themselves and about their work, then the quality of output will improve.
Apart from those already mentioned, coaching and mentoring may have many other benefits:
- Help to encourage loyalty in the company
- Supports effective communication
- Gives a positive work experience
- Supports retention
- Supports resolution management/boundaries
- Supports team efficiency
- Empowers individuals and encourages them to take responsibility
- Increases employee and staff engagement
- Helps identify and develop high potential employees
- Helps identify both organisational and individual strengths and development opportunities
- Helps to motivate and empower individuals to excel
- Demonstrates organisational commitment to human resource development
In relation to coaching and counselling/therapy there is also similarities e.g.
- they both create an atmosphere of trust, non-judgement, and support
- they both want you to find your own answers that work for you
- both counselling and coaching focus around good listening and asking you good questions
- they both have the goal of helping you reach your potential etc.
But fundamentally, coaching is action orientated, it helps you recognise what you think helps you set and achieve goals, challenges you frequently etc. Essentially this is positive and forward thinking whereas, counselling and therapy is coping orientated where counsellors/therapists want to help you realise how you feel, recognise and solve your problems in life, support you with empathy and understanding etc. (although they might gently challenge you.) Counselling and therapy have a greater focus on gaining an understanding of the reasons why the person has the problem they have.
Clearly there are many benefits to coaching and mentoring but to enable this to be undertaken effectively organisations need to have a strategy in place which is based on the expectation of what direction they see their company going, what they want to achieve etc., they will also need to consider how this is likely to be implemented, cost implications and also the short and long term impact. Coaching and mentoring is not something just to be done because it sounds good and other organisations are doing it; this should be a clearly defined role with the right people having the responsibility of such positions. Organisations need to put in what they expect to get out e.g. in the short term there will be additional cost implications i.e. paying coaches additional pay or allocating additional hours, training and supervision for those who are the coaches and mentors, allocating rooms for such sessions to happen, training which may be identified from receiving coaching and mentoring etc. By getting this right from the onset the rewards will speak for themselves in the long term.