Workplace mentoring and coaching are two development techniques that can be delivered in-house. Both approaches can meet an individual’s unique needs, at a relatively low cost.

The terms are often used interchangeably, and there are some common features. However there are also distinct differences. Understanding the differences will help you to choose the most appropriate intervention.

The purpose of mentoring and coaching

Mentoring meetingBoth approaches are based on discussions in the context of a trusting and respectful relationship. Generally these conversations will be one-to-one, and take place in a private and confidential space.

The purpose is to develop or enhance knowledge, skills, awareness and performance

Underpinning beliefs and skills

Mentors and coaches both start from a belief that everyone can grow, learn and develop if they are motivated to do so, and this process may be enhanced with skilled support.

The skills of both coach and mentor include listening, questioning, clarifying, challenging, giving and receiving feedback.  Coaches and mentors may at times offer an different perspective on an issue, but they do not give advice, nor tell the learner what to do.

Where coaching and mentoring differ

Coaching tends to focus on either developing or growing particular skills, or setting and reaching specific goals. Mentoring often follows a broader agenda. It can help people to develop themselves, for medium and long term success, as well as dealing with immediate challenges and concerns.

Mentoring therefore tends to take place over a longer time period, perhaps a year or more. Coaching is usually a shorter, more targeted intervention, often encompassing a set number of sessions, focused on specific objectives.

A mentor can be a more experienced colleague or associate who can support a less experienced individual from the standpoint of greater knowledge and understanding of the learner’s job role. On the other hand, a coach is skilled in facilitating reflection and learning, but does not need to be an ‘expert’ in the learner’s job role.

The role of a coach is usually that of an objective outsider. They may challenge your perspective, and suggest new approaches to reflecting on issues and finding solutions. A mentor will also encourage reflective practice and challenge assumptions, and they may also share their own experiences of successes and difficulties, where relevant.

What about line managers?

ClarityAll good managers will draw on coaching and mentoring skills within their role. However they will do this within the context of their line management accountabilities. Coaching skills are increasingly seen as core management skills and worth developing.

Although managers could and should have coaching skills, there is also value in a relationship where the mentor or coach is not the line manager. For example, a mentor may be an experienced colleague or buddy doing the same job, an internal adviser, an external consultant, or a technical specialist.

As the mentor or coach is not the learner’s line manager, the boundaries of the relationship need to be clarified and negotiated at the start. Examples are: confidentiality of content, agreement on how outcomes will be evaluated, and an appropriate reporting structure.

The important of mentoring for staff in a “consultant” role

In reflecting on the different “hats” that you wear at work, you may find that you sometimes act in the role of an internal adviser, technical specialist or consultant. For example you may be a volunteer co-ordinator who supports staff who supervise volunteers – Volunteer Service Managers within the NHS or hospices often fall into this category.

Other “consultant” roles include advisers in a council for voluntary action or volunteer centre, national or regional specialists within a large charity, and museum development officers.

In these roles you need to be able to guide, encourage, teach and inspire, and you will often find yourself coaching and mentoring others.

If coaching skills are relevant to your role, you might be interested in our Level 3 Certificate in Coaching.  Find out more HERE.

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