Coaching, Human Resources

What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring?

The American writer, George Matthew Adams once observed that "many moments of personal success and fulfillment in an individual’s life come about through encouragement from someone else." No doubt you can remember those who impacted your life when you were young, during the school years, involvement in community activities, at your first job and perhaps, the job you hold now.

Whether the support came informally or through a deliberate, formal program, helping you personally or professionally, there is no doubt that others can be easily identified who influenced and shaped your future. Those were or are your mentors.

Typically informal mentoring programs do not have a structure, time limit, or support from a sponsoring business or other organization. How often the mentor and protégé meet is up to them. There are no entrance requirements.

Formal mentoring programs are long-term. They have minimum requirements including selection of participants, training, support and frequency of meetings between mentor and mentee.

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Coaching and mentoring: Different goals, different methods

Establishing an internal mentoring program is not a new idea. In fact, a front page article in the Harvard Business Review in 1978 declared, "everyone who makes it has a mentor." Until recently, however, business has been less involved in establishing formal mentoring programs for employees, focusing more on internal coaching.

It is easy to get confused about the differences between coaching and mentoring. The purpose and expected outcome of each is distinctly different; although at times, some overlap exists. For example, coaching, which provides specific feedback, can be used within mentoring. But as Lorraine Stomski, senior vice president of Aon Consulting, explained, mentoring is more holistic than coaching in that it develops the whole individual through guidance, coaching and development opportunities.

An employee serving as the "coach" assists another colleague known as the protégé in order to improve their job performance. Often the purpose is to work with the protégé toward the goal of climbing the ladder of success and get ahead.

Some companies even offer reverse coaching. That is, a senior employee who has, perhaps been in the company for several decades is coached by a newer, junior employee in areas such as computers and advanced technology. Research informs that these kinds of formal coaching efforts improve career success and employee morale and retention.

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In tomorrow’s Advisor, Dr. Weinberger will give more details on coaching vs mentoring–plus you’ll learn about an exciting and effective online HR training resource.