What is the difference between coaching and mentoring? Both use the same skills and approach, but coaching is a short-term task-based process, while mentoring involves a longer-term relationship.

Coaching versus mentoring

Coaching targets high performance and improvement at work. It usually focuses on specific situations, skills or goals, although it may also have an impact on an individual’s personal attributes (such as social skills or confidence). The coaching process typically lasts for a relatively short period.

Mentoring engages the same models and skills of questioning, listening, clarifying and reframing that are associated with coaching. Traditionally, however, workplace mentoring has tended to reflect a relationship in which a more experienced colleague uses their greater knowledge and understanding of the work, workplace or industry to support the development of a more junior or inexperienced team member over the longer term.

When well designed and integrated, coaching and mentoring programs help businesses cultivate an able, resilient and motivated workforce.

Characteristics of coaching

In a business environment, the following are typical characteristics of coaching:

  • It is essentially a non-directive form of development (but this is not a set rule)
  • It focuses on improving performance and developing an individuals’ skills
  • Personal issues may be discussed but the emphasis lies on performance at work
  • Activities have both organizational and individual goals
  • It gives employees feedback on both their strengths and weaknesses
  • It is a skilled activity, which should be delivered by people who are trained in basic coaching techniques

Mentoring programs and strategies

Mentoring programs and strategies can vary widely between organizations. Examples of mentoring include:

  • Women executives assisting other women to break the “glass ceiling”
  • Business managers taking new employees “under their wing”
  • Employees managing job transitions (such as having a new manager) or requiring performance improvement
  • University alumni providing guidance to students seeking business careers

Ensuring success in mentoring programs

To help a mentoring program succeed, an organization should ensure it:

  • Develops the corporate culture, processes and procedures to support such a program
  • Designs jobs so that coaching and mentoring functions are integrated into an employee’s role and awarded sufficient time and priority
  • Undertakes skills assessments of their coaches and mentors and supports these individuals with appropriate ongoing training and development
  • Ensures that coaches and mentors appreciate the responsibility they assume for their colleague’s professional development, and that they are suited to this role in terms of attitude, emotional maturity and motivation
  • Makes clear the scope of the relationship and where it fits within a broader development program. This may include defining boundaries, objectives and key performance indicators as well as offering guidelines for delivering the program
  • Monitors, measures and records the effectiveness of the program as a whole, as well as at the individual level, through comprehensive feedback and review procedures