Insightful guidance

During our careers, we have been coached and have served as a coach. We also have been mentored by someone in our organization, by a friend or fellow executive.

In order for companies to be successful implementing such programs, they need to distinguish between the two approaches, mentoring and coaching. In a recent discussion I had with a group of managers, they were not able to clearly differentiate between coaching and mentoring.

In the past, coaching and mentoring were reserved for senior managers and company directors. Now it is available to all as a personal development tool. A recent CIPD (Chartered Institute of Development) survey has reported that the use of coaching and mentoring as development tools are on the increase within organizations. According to those who responded, 72 percent use formal mentoring schemes and 63 percent undertake coaching activities as part of their wider human resource strategy.

The adoption of these critical personal development tools within organizations is an encouraging sign and demonstrates corporate maturity. Coaching and mentoring are both helping activities, employed either as distinct interventions or together as part of a personal development plan. The differences in the application of these processes are naturally reflected in the outcomes.

Coaching and mentoring are also closely linked with organizational change initiatives. They both focus on the individual. They can enhance morale, motivation and productivity and reduce staff turnover, as individuals feel valued and connected with both small and large organizational changes. These roles may be provided by internal coaches or mentors and, increasingly, by professional coaches.

In “The Manager as Coach and Mentor,” Eric Parsloe defines coaching as, “a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve.” The typical coach is focused on improving an individual’s performance, is task-related and is driven by a specific agenda to reinforce or change skills and behaviors. The coach has objectives/goals for each discussion.

Skills coaching programs are tailored specifically to the individual, their knowledge, experience, maturity and ambitions. They are generally focused on achieving a number of objectives for both the individual and the company. These objectives often include the individual being able to perform specific, well-defined tasks while taking into account the personal and career development needs of the individual.

Coaching and therapy should not be confused. Coaching does not seek to resolve the deeper underlying issues that are the cause of serious problems like poor motivation, low self-esteem and poor job performance. A coach attempts to direct a person to some end result. The person may choose how to get there, but the coach is strategically assessing and monitoring the progress and giving advice for effectiveness and efficiency. Coaches do not need any specialist experience within the area in which their associate requires support, and as such, do not offer “advice.” Coaches are skilled in questioning and listening, but it is their role to enable individuals to find answers within themselves. Coaching intends to improve and develop work-related skills and knowledge, which are often performance-related. Coaching is normally a time-bound relationship with a defined duration to meet the specific goal or goals identified. It is not unusual for individuals to use the same coach to assist them with different issues.

Mentoring is a power free, two-way mutually beneficial relationship.

In a study done by Matt M. Starcevich, Ph.D., for the CEO Center for Coaching & Mentoring, Inc., the top four words chosen to best describe their mentor’s dominant style were, friend/confidant, direct, logical, and questioner.

Mentors are facilitators and teachers allowing the partners to discover their own direction. Mentoring is more often used to change the behavior and attitudes of the individual. Mentors in either a formal mentoring program or informal relationship focus on the person, their career and support for individual growth and maturity while the coach is job-focused and performance oriented.

Starcevich goes on to state, “A mentor is like a sounding board. They can give advice but the partner is free to pick and choose what they do. The context does not have specific performance objectives.”

Starcevich goes on to say the mentor’s influence is proportionate to the perceived value they can bring to the relationship. He sees the relationship as power free and based on mutual respect and value for both mentor and partners. Mentors are usually experts within a particular field and have a wide-ranging and recognized wealth of experience within the field in which they are advising and supporting others.

Mentors should be skilled and experienced in managing relationships and communication processes. The focus of a mentoring relationship is more on developing individual and work-related capability and talent. It often forms part of management or career development programs. It has a structure but less defined outcomes than specified for coaching.

The mentor supports and guides the individual as part of a development path which opens doors, shares experiences and widens networking systems. Mentoring relationships can go on for a long time, seeing progress through many stages and often survive through numerous relocation and career changes.

However, the success of either of these interventions is dependent upon the skills of the provider, often left to managers according to the CIPD survey, who may not have the capacity or the ability to deliver. It is important to attend carefully to the distinction between the two approaches. Selecting the right coach or mentor for the individual is the key to the success of the relationship.

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