The Critical Differences Between Mentoring and Coaching

March 29, 2011
Today, coaching and mentoring are both seen as critical employee development strategies within leading companies. But ask several organizations about their approach to mentoring and their approach to coaching, and you are guaranteed to get (sometimes very) different ideas of what coaching and mentoring actually mean. This is indeed an ongoing hot topic for HR and business leaders who must evaluate, determine and prioritize which development strategies to implement.

What are the biggest distinctions between mentoring and coaching? Judy Corner, mentoring subject matter expert at Insala with over 20 years experience implementing successful mentoring and career development initiatives, clarifies some key points.
  1. Differences in Dynamics of the Relationship
    In her previous experience in the talent development space, Corner observed the following to be common in most coaching and mentoring situations. Coaches focus on enhancing specifically required areas of job performance, while mentors focus on assisting individuals based on what they desire to learn or accomplish. Coaching occurs around specific on-the-job situations or issues, and mentoring occurs more to promote overall professional development. While coaching occurs as specific “events”, mentoring relationships are typically ongoing for a specified period of time, and longer term. Coaches seldom mentor, while mentors often coach. In coaching situations, the coach is the driver of the meeting or conversation; in ideal mentoring situations, the mentee is the driver of those developmental conversations. Most importantly – coaching situations are much more one-way and high-tell; the best mentoring situations are interactive two-way partnerships.

  2. Differences in Objectives of Mentoring and Coaching
    Companies seem to be turning to coaching and mentoring for slightly different strategic reasons. Most coaching is designed for a senior-level audience with a single objective in mind. For example, according to a 2008 HDA Associates study, 55% of respondents indicated coaching occurred in their organization on a reactive basis to address critical skill gaps among their leaders.

    Mentoring programs, on the other hand, are used to achieve several different objectives. A recent mentoring survey conducted by Insala found the top three priorities of respondents for implementing mentoring programs are: development of high potentials, building a succession pipeline, and leadership development. However, mentoring is also implemented for recruiting, onboarding, knowledge sharing, employee retention, productivity, skill development, diversity enhancement and employer branding.
While there are many benefits of both mentoring and coaching initiatives, it is only after a careful assessment of unique organizational needs, budgets, internal processes, measures of success and leadership buy-in that organizations will know how best to proceed. Conducting careful due diligence in advance yields proper next steps in creating initiatives that produce measurable ROI for both employees and the organization. Particularly in the area of mentoring, Insala offers a mentoring readiness workshop that helps organizations determine whether they would benefit from implementing a mentoring program, as well as the critical components that need to be in place for mentoring to be successful.

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