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What is the Difference Between Mentorship and Coaching?

Many people use the terms mentor and coach interchangeably, but they really are two different concepts. While they share some concepts in common, they also have many elements that differentiate them from one another.

Organizations that are looking at enhancing employee engagement will need to be clear on whether the worker could benefit more from mentorship or coaching. Depending on the challenges or goals for the employee, a coach may be the best fit while other situations are better handled by a mentorship program.

Some of the key differences include the intent of the relationship, the length of time the participants are involved with each other and the role of leadership.

Both mentorship programs and coaching are well-used around workplaces, but often they have different goals and procedures. In addition, there are times when mentors and coaches may seem to use the same approach, but they often have very different goals in mind when it comes to employee development.

Mentor vs Coach

Mentoring has been around in the workforce for a long time, but coaching is a fairly new concept. They are not unrelated, yet there are some important contrasts between each role. Traditionally, a mentor was someone senior in the company who had lots of life experience in addition to company knowledge. They were often there to help onboard new hires or pass along wisdom to those who will fill their position when they retire.

A coach has been someone with specific knowledge about the skill or ability the employee struggles to master. They are often from outside the company and their guidance never stretches beyond helping the worker develop the skill. Essentially, a coach is there to help an employee overcome a challenge in their career. When that has been achieved, both move on.

“Coaching is a partnership that helps the individual work out what they need to do themselves to improve and, in the process, what motivates them and what gets in their way (attitudes, prejudices, preconceptions, assumptions),” according to the Association for Project Management. In contrast, a mentor relationship can be on-going. A mentee usually feels a connection to their mentor unlike that of a coach. The mentor is seen as someone they can always seek out for advice and guidance, even if they do not meet on a regular basis. Organizational management or leadership have a bigger role in coaching situations than they do in mentoring. With coaching, supervisors are more involved because they measure the employees’ performance and will be tracking the skills that need to be developed. A mentorship program is often organized from the bottom up, with the mentee having the dominant role while leadership steps back, allowing for more independence to allow the mentoring relationship to develop.

To sum it up, a workplace mentorship program involves setting out a plan covering what the mentee hopes to take away from the experience. The focus is more long-term and developmental. Whereas, coaching in the workplace is more action-based. It looks at what challenge needs to be overcome, develops a strategy to do so and when there is success both parties move on from the relationship.

Differences between coaching and mentoring

Here are a few of the differences between coaching and mentoring:

  • Mentorship is about relationships
  • Coaching is about task completion

Often a coach will be called upon to help an individual learn a new skill, such as public speaking. They are often there to encourage and train. In contrast, mentorship is not about achieving a specific goal but rather about creating a nurturing relationship between the mentor and mentee. Workplace mentoring programs often encompass more than skill development. It is more about overall professional guidance.

Mentoring takes time. Coaching is often short-term. Basically, coaches are only there for as long as they are needed. Once the individual or employee starts to master the skill, they are no longer in need of a coach. However, in mentorship, there is a longer time commitment involved. Because it is based on relationship and trust-building, mentorships tend to take up to a year to fully meet expectations.

Mentoring is about development while coaching is about performance. Coaching revolves around the employee learning a new skill. The success of a coach relies on whether or not the individual becomes better at the job. Alternatively, mentoring is about developing the potential in an employee. This has more wide-reaching impact. It is not just about helping the mentee perform better in their role with the company. Instead, it is about their future career path. A good mentoring program seeks to direct and guide the employee, setting them on the path to success over the long-term. Mentoring is a casual experience. Coaching is more structured. Mentoring takes place in a more casual, relaxed setting. Both parties are working at understanding each other and building trust. Coaching can be more structured and formal. These can include workshop-like experiences or additional training classes.

When to coach

Coaching is needed when:

  • A company is looking to sharpen a specific skill of the employee
  • When employees are falling short of job expectations
  • A new procedure or system is being implemented
  • If a group of employees needs to become more competent in a certain area

When to mentor

Mentoring is needed when:

  • Employers are looking to help workers develop leadership potential
  • Succession planning
  • Help promote diversity in the workplace
  • A well-rounded development experience that allows employees to grow both as a worker and a person

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