The Difference Between Professional Coaching and Mentoring

A coach is someone who guides a client on their goals and helps them achieve their full potential. The best starting point is a definition of coaching and mentoring. The relationship is more likely to be short-term (up to 6 months or 1 year) with a specific outcome in mind. However, some coaching relationships may last longer, depending on the objectives achieved.

Coaching is more performance-based and is designed to improve the professional's performance at work. The training agenda is created jointly by the coach and the coach to meet the specific needs of the coach. The outcome of a coaching agreement is specific and measurable, and shows signs of improvement or positive change in the desired area of performance. Participating in a coaching or mentoring relationship can improve your professional and personal life in ways that you couldn't do on your own.

When you have been trained and mentored, then you can give back by training or mentoring others. Take what you've learned and share it with those who can benefit from your knowledge and experience. The role of a mentor is to listen, learn and advise. It's about guiding your apprentice in the right direction and helping their professional development.

The difference between coaching and mentoring in this sense is that mentoring is a softer and more relationship-focused form of orientation, as opposed to a structured training approach that coaching usually adopts. Rather than being in direct opposition, what you'll discover is that mentoring and coaching are often complementary functions that can sometimes be performed by the same people or by different people. It all depends on how you structure relationships and the desired outcome of those relationships. Before creating an employee development program or starting to establish an official training relationship, it is important to understand what mentoring and coaching are, how they are different and in what aspects each type of function is valuable.

Mentoring is much more complicated than that. It is a relationship focused on development in which the mentor shares specific knowledge, experiences and skills to help the learner obtain ideas, achieve development goals and overcome barriers to their professional and personal development. Often, the mentor is someone in a high-level position, but this is not always the case. Because mentoring focuses specifically on learning from the experience of others and on the transfer of skills and knowledge, structures such as reverse mentoring allow unique mentoring relationships to occur.

In her book, Mentor Programs That Work, Jenn Labin, talent development specialist and director of diversity at MentorCliq, discusses some additional differences between these two concepts. In the introduction to the book, Labin explains that it's incredibly important to ensure that programs are designed with the desired results in mind (and to ensure that those results are met and can be measured). Ultimately, that outcome will influence whether a “training” or “mentoring” framework is used, and what terminology is ultimately used to describe the nature of the relationships between your development program. In fact, you can train without mentoring and you can mentor without training, but for the best results, a business employee development program may need to have both. Once again, the fact that mentors and coaches are the same people and that training and mentoring take place simultaneously depends on how your organization's talent development program is structured. Mentoring and coaching are student-centered training methods.

Rather than being polar opposites, coaching and mentoring can be considered subsets that are included in a broader employee development framework. That said, there are a few ways to distinguish between the two. In mentoring relationships, mentors rely heavily on their professional or life experiences and make those past experiences a central part of the engagement. In fact, depending on the type of mentoring program and the pairing method, learners can choose or be matched with their mentor, specifically because that person has a set of skills or experiences that the mentee wants or needs to learn. Mentors often incorporate transferable experiences and skills, but they may not have developed a career around teaching others those experiences or skills. Don't be surprised if you're trying to launch a mentoring program and are having trouble attracting mentors.

Many people who would be excellent mentors for a mentoring program don't realize the positive influence they can have, because they are rarely recognized for the transferable talent they bring. If you want to find and cultivate mentors, create a culture in which your people are actively recognized for the positive and impactful value they bring to your organization. Anyone in your organization can be an effective mentor. It all depends on the learning relationships that most benefit your organization's objectives. Often, this isn't a discussion of one or the other.

Organizations can benefit from both business coaching and business mentoring. In fact, coaching and mentoring are easily combined in the same learning programs, assuming that those learning programs are built from the start around measurable organizational objectives. This is why organizations such as The Clorox Company, Nielsen and Bacardi have chosen to take advantage of mentoring software such as MentorCliq for their mentoring and training programs. By implementing modern mentoring software, organizations like these have found that they can more easily achieve the measurable objectives of their programs, sometimes dramatically. In the process, many learn that training programs can have a new life and an improved structure with the corresponding software, participation reports and measurement tools. Whether you're creating a mentoring or training program for the first time or expanding existing programs, MentorCliq reduces the tension of starting programs and helps program managers easily win over decision makers with exceptionally direct ROI data for each program. Connect with MentorCliq to see how mentoring programs powered by mentoring software and our framework can impact and improve the mentoring and training needs of your employees.

Sam Cook is the SEO manager at MentorCliq. As a former high school educator with nearly a decade of experience in digital marketing he has helped many businesses grow through SEO optimization.

Kristin Almazan
Kristin Almazan

Hipster-friendly music junkie. Lifelong twitter scholar. Proud food buff. Unapologetic music specialist. Twitter trailblazer.

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