Coaching and mentoring are widely used terms in the business world today. Organisations look to coaching and mentoring for a number of reasons but the bottom line is focused on the actual business value they can bring; can we see increased productivity and profitability if we invest the time and money in either programme? The answer to this is ‘yes’ if the right steps are taken to implementing either type of programme.

Jooli Atkins, BCS Fellow and Managing Director of Matrix FortyTwo discusses the differences between coaching and mentoring and explains how both kinds of programme can improve business productivity.

An understanding of the history of mentoring is something that I believe adds tremendously to the skills of a good mentor.

Questions that always surface are ‘What are the differences between coaching and mentoring?’ and ‘When would you use either one?’ Therefore to better understand how coaching and mentoring can demonstrate the business value we need to understand at the differences between the two.

For a coach, the task at hand is most important. The coach has to help the person learn the requisite attitude, behaviour and skills needed to perform the job successfully within the agreed success parameters. The task is therefore well defined and the conversation happens with a clear focus and specific timelines.

Mentoring focuses on the individual and the conversation transcends more broadly into general work life. This means the interaction can be more philosophical, more focused on attitudes and behaviours than on specific skills.

Of course, these discussions could also have the same level of focus and timelines but the entire individual is the topic of discussion and exploration and not just a specific task. Coaching is about performance, mentoring is personal.

So while it is appropriate and desirable for a person's immediate supervisor to coach them, a mentor is best not to be in the direct reporting line.

Both mentoring and coaching have their use in the leadership interventions of organisations, but leaders need to be clear about what they are doing, what the other person needs, and what the situation needs.

Here are four differentiators that you can take a look at and better understand the differences between the two:

Differentiator #1:  Orientation

Coaching: Coaching is task oriented. The focus is on concrete issues, such as managing more effectively, speaking more articulately and learning how to think strategically. This requires a content expert (coach) who is capable of teaching the coaching candidate how to develop these skills.

Mentoring: Mentoring is relationship oriented. It seeks to provide a safe environment where the person being mentored shares whatever issues affect his or her professional and personal success. Although specific learning goals or competencies may be used as a basis for creating the relationship, its focus goes beyond these areas to include things such as work / life balance, self-confidence, self-perception, and how the personal influences the professional.

Differentiator #2: Timescale

Coaching: Coaching can be short-term. A coach can successfully be involved with a coaching candidate for a short period of time, maybe even just a few sessions. The coaching lasts for as long as is needed, depending on the purpose of the coaching relationship.

Mentoring: Mentoring is always long-term. Mentoring, to be successful, requires time in which both partners can learn about one another and build a climate of trust that creates an environment in which the mentoree can feel secure in sharing the real issues that impact his or her success. Successful mentoring relationships can last nine months to a year or longer. I have some relationships that are past the one year time frame.

Differentiator #3: Drive

Coaching: Coaching is performance driven. The purpose of coaching is to improve the individual's performance on the job. This involves either enhancing current skills or acquiring new skills. Once the coaching candidate successfully acquires the skills, the coach is no longer needed.

Mentoring: Mentoring is development driven. Its purpose is to develop the individual not only for the current job, but also for the future. This distinction differentiates the role of the immediate manager and that of the mentor. It also reduces the possibility of creating conflict between the employee's manager and the mentor.

Differentiator # 4: Relationship 

Coaching: The coaching candidate's immediate manager is a critical partner in coaching. They often provide the coach with feedback on areas in which their employee is in need of coaching. This coach uses this information to guide the coaching process.

Mentoring: In mentoring, the immediate manager is indirectly involved. Although they may offer suggestions to the employee on how to best use the mentoring experience or may provide a recommendation to the matching committee on what would constitute a good match, the manager has no link to the mentor and they do not communicate at all during the mentoring relationship. This helps maintain the mentoring relationship's integrity.

There are roles for each to play in your organisation. Make sure that you understand what the outcomes are that you are striving for. There is a role for each and there is a handoff that can take place, further validating the business value. Embrace the power of mentoring and realise the business value that it brings.

About the author
Jooli Atkins has been working as a learning and development professional for almost 30 years, mainly helping organisations to implement IT-enabled business change through her company, Matrix FortyTwo Ltd.  A chartered IT professional and active Fellow of BCS, she is also a CITP Assessor and Chair of the BCS Learning and Development Specialist Group. Jooli is a regular contributor to a number of IT and L&D journals, and her personal passion is helping subject-matter experts, particularly those in IT, to become excellent learning facilitators.