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Does Your Business Need a Coach or a Mentor?

By business.com editorial staff,
business.com writer
| Updated
Apr 06, 2020
Image Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
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A coach and mentor perform two different functions. When considering what training resources employees need, it is important to understand the difference.

  • A business mentor is a more long-term relationship between the mentor and mentee. The goal of the relationship is to provide personalized and trustworthy business advice to the mentee.
  • A business coach is a short-term relationship where the coach used their expertise to provide training on more specific areas of business.
  • One of the keys to the success of effectively utilizing a business coach or business mentor is to understand the difference between the two and then involve the right person to the role. The employees need to be actively on-board the idea for it to be successful.

Which one is best for your employees?

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 to assign a coach or a 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 is a business mentor, and what do they do?

A business mentor is someone who uses their experience, expertise, wisdom to offer advice or guidance in business or life. Typically, a business mentor and the mentee establish a long-term relationship.

Mentors serve as role models for the mentees, although they do not necessarily have to be from the same industry or job function. A mentor could be a friend, family member or colleague. The foundation of any business mentorship is based on trust. With a lot of generic advice available from different sources, a mentor can provide personalized, reliable and educated advice to the mentee.

What is a business coach, and what do they do?

A business coach is someone who offers short-term training or coaching related to a business function or industry. Typically, a business coach focuses on specific goals for the development of skills. For example, a business coach for sales could hold training sessions for the sales team to help them identify a value proposition for the product or service they sell and then help them make strategies to increase sales. A business coach often challenges the existing practices of the business to determine if there is room for improvement and encourage businesses to look at their business from a different perspective.

What's the difference between a coach and a 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 several pitfalls you could face along the way, including a lack of objectives and a lack of leadership support. You need to be 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 for hiring external coaches. (Though the preference for hiring 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 onboard. This is the key to success.

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