Mentoring and coaching can have many benefits for the employees being mentored and coached, the people doing the mentoring and coaching, and the organization itself. Although many people use these two terms interchangeably, it’s important to understand the differences between mentoring and coaching and the best practices for each.

What is Mentoring? What is Coaching?

Although mentoring and coaching offer similar benefits, the processes are very different.

A mentor shares their knowledge, skills, and experience to help someone else grow and develop. Relationships can last anywhere from six month to a lifetime. Mentoring is normally less structured than coaching, and generally, there are few, if any, specific goals. Mentors act as guides. Having attained success in an organization or industry, mentors share their knowledge, skills, experiences—the things they have found helpful in their success—to help someone else, usually someone the organization values.

A coach generally works with someone for a shorter term, usually to develop specific skills. Coaching is a performance-driven intervention to improve the employee’s job capabilities. It is more formally structured than mentoring. The coaching approach typically involves setting specific goals and agreeing to a process of discovery, practice, reflection, and implementation in which the employee accepts responsibility for changing his or her behavior. Coaching is non-directive. Instead of offering advice or telling employees what to do, coaches ask probing questions, give feedback, and discuss options to help employees clarify their thinking and find their own solutions.

Effective coaches must possess specific skills. Coaches are facilitators—they help to increase employee self-awareness; they inspire and build trust; they challenge assumptions and encourage individuals to uncover the root cause of problems; and they teach them how to capitalize on their strengths. These skills often require special training.

A coach can be an external professional or the employee’s immediate supervisor. However, organizations frequently engage external coaches to develop high-potential employees who need to improve their interpersonal and management skills to ensure that the discussions are confidential. This relationship creates a psychologically safe environment that is conducive to personal discovery and growth.

In short, mentors offer information and insights based on their own experiences. Coaches help employees identify their own strengths, weaknesses, and development needs.

What Are The Benefits of Mentoring and Coaching?

In both cases, the main benefits are that employees increase their performance and self-confidence. They gain skills and knowledge, and sometimes they develop a different attitude toward their organizations and their careers.

Multiple studies show that coaching and mentoring have many benefits, such as increasing employee loyalty and reducing turnover, and employees see coaching and mentoring as important to their own success.

Mentoring and coaching can also be useful when helping diverse candidates advance in their careers and within an organization.

When To Mentor and When To Coach

Mentors are often most helpful to employees during career transitions or stages when they need an expert guide who can provide knowledge and wisdom on an informal, unstructured basis.

Coaching is often most effective for developing specific, performance-based goals that will enable employees to achieve their organizational objectives and career aspirations.

In both cases, the process only works when the employee is willing to learn and grow. An organization invests in employees when they offer coaching or mentoring, but to achieve a return on that investment, the employee also must be willing to do the work. The employee needs to be willing to question his or her actions, to reflect on personal behaviors, and to look for lessons learned.

Coaches and mentors can serve a purpose at different stages in a career. For help in deciding which is best for your employees and your organization, contact the Lindenberger Group—a two-time recipient of the national Athena Award for Excellence in Mentoring. We can help assist you in developing and implementing formal and informal coaching and mentoring programs.

For more information on managing workforce transitions or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.