Does Your Business Need a Coach or a Mentor?

Business.com / Leadership / Last Modified: August 31, 2017
Photo credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Explore the differences between utilizing a coach or a mentor in the workplace.

Employees need a variety of training resources to be a top performer in the workplace. Effective training means the employee has every chance of advancing and flourishing within the company. There are numerous ways to train and develop employees that businesses can utilize, such as performance reviews and training courses.

Another way to develop and train employees is by assigning a coach or mentor to them. Coaching and mentoring are terms often used interchangeably. But they are very different roles. It's important to identify if your employees require a coach or a mentor. There is no point assigning your employee a coach when they need a mentor or vice versa.

There are three steps involved with mentoring and coaching:

  1. Understanding the difference between a coach and a mentor

  2.  Finding out what knowledge or skills employees need

  3. Implementing an effective mentoring or coaching program which will benefit your employees

Let's take a look at each of these three steps in more detail.

What's the difference between a coach and mentor? 

Coaching and mentoring have vastly different objectives, aims, focuses and questions that need to be answered. Once you know what these are, you can decide which one your employees need.

A mentor is there for an employee's professional development and to guide them throughout their career. They can offer advice for the future and take on different roles, such as coaching, being a critical friend, a role model, career advisor and counselor.

A mentor is usually a voluntary role best suited for someone with extensive business experience. A mentor-mentee relationship can last for years and have a lasting impact.

A coach's role is more short term. A coach will train the employee on a specific skill or strategy. While a mentor often focuses on the future, the role of a coach is to focus on the here and now. Coaches can often be external, brought in to help with a particular problem or strategy. 

What do your employees need to learn?

Identifying whether your employees need a coach or a mentor is essential. This can be done by analyzing the gaps in employees' skills and understanding what they want to learn.

One of the best ways to understand exactly what your employees need is by talking to them and getting feedback through effective performance management. Regular performance reviews are an excellent way to determine what your employees need to learn. Ask employees about their professional development and where they need help to improve and develop.

How to start a mentoring or coaching program

Implementing a mentoring program is not an easy task, and there are a number of pitfalls you could face along the way, including a lack of objectives and a lack of leadership support. You need to be absolutely clear about the purpose of a mentoring program, and have engaged and willing employees. If neither the mentors or mentees are interested, the plan is doomed to fail. Attending a professional training course about how to set up a mentoring program is advisable.

For coaching, the first step is to decide if the coaches are hired internally or externally. Different circumstances will dictate which is best for the company and employee. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. Bringing in an external coach means they can bring fresh ideas, and they're more likely to be a specialist in a certain area. However, this could be a more expensive option.

An internal coach will know the company very well and is more likely to be available and work around the schedules of others. However, they might not have all of the qualities or qualifications needed.

Fifty-nine percent of leaders stated a preference in hiring external coaches (though the preference of hiring an external or internal coaches is at the discretion of individual companies). However, the important thing to keep in mind is whether the end goal will be completed. Always think: Will the employee be able to do their job more efficiently after coaching?

Both coaching and mentoring can be very effective when properly planned. If you're going to do both or either, make sure everybody is actively engaged and on board. This is the key to success.

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