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The True Difference between Coaching and Mentoring

A study by RW3 Culture Wizard found a discrepancy between the perceived value of mentorship, and the ultimate implementation of a mentorship program. In this month’s Tip of the Month, we differentiate coaching from mentoring and how mentoring expands development opportunities for virtual team members and builds engagement.

89 percent of U.S. employees in an RW3 Culture Wizard study said mentorship is important to their success. That’s even higher than the percentage of employees who check their email outside work hours (81 percent). Despite the expressed importance of mentorship, the same study found that only 47 percent of leadersreported having a mentorship program in place for their team members.

Part of the challenge may be that many leaders don’t make the distinction between coaching and mentoring. While both have their place in the workforce, each serves a slightly different purpose and one may be more effective in a particular situation.

Coaching is typically development that is focused within a team member’s current job/role. It is often oriented around a specific goal or assignment and any challenges the team member may be experiencing in achieving it. This type of coaching is done primarily by the team member’s direct leader/manager. When done well, coaching can yield significant positive results for the coach, the coachee, and the organization. In last month’s Tip, we outlined the proper way to prepare and execute coaching sessions as the coach (if you missed it, click here).

Mentoring is generally broader in nature and not directly related to a specific job or objective. A mentor is usually someone who is not the team member’s direct leader. Often it is a leader from another department, more senior in the organization, who can provide views of the organization from a perspective other than one’s current role or department. This broader perspective may cover topics such as the business/industry environment, other functions in the organization, networking, opportunities for cross-training, or organizational politics. The intent of mentoring is to expand the mentee’s view of the organization and how they may contribute in future opportunities. 

Executive coaching is often used to develop the talents of upper level managers in their current role or to prepare individuals to assume roles of greater responsibilities in an organization. This type of coaching is typically executed by an upper-level manager, or an external resource. It is usually focused and within a determined timeframe.

Virtual team leaders and members sometimes get overlooked for these developmental opportunities because they lack the day-to-day visibility of onsite employees. Organizations who wish to keep their virtual and remote workforce engaged and high performing should not neglect their virtual team members as part of their employee development and successions planning initiatives.

Here’s a Tip:

  • Be sure to include skill and career development conversations in your one-on-one coaching sessions.
    • Ask your team members about their career interests and skills they would like to develop. Include development planning, as a part of your annual performance management process.
    • Partner with your Human Resources department to provide development resources to your team members, while recognizing their unique needs and contributions.
    • Find ways to make developmental resources and mentoring relationships accessible to virtual team members.

Challenge of the Month

This month, identify among your team members who could benefit from mentoring or coaching relationships. Talk with your Human Resources partner to explore opportunities for them. See what a difference it makes. Let us know how it worked for you and we’ll share it in an upcoming issue of our Tip of the Month.


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