As an organization starts to grow and expand, the need to develop employees becomes a necessity. This development can be achieved several ways, including through coaching, mentoring and sponsorships. But how does a company know which one their employees need and will benefit the most from? Here are a few similarities and differences of the three processes.


Coaching is a task-oriented, performance-driven relationship between an experienced or expert coach and an employee (or a group of employees) at any level in an organization. This relationship is important for both the employee’s and the organization’s success, because it involves more than just one-time feedback from a supervisor or a one-time training session. A company looking to hire a coach would do so if it needed to develop a small portion of staff or if there is a skills gap.

Coaches help further the development of an individual by focusing less on technical skills and more on soft skills, such as becoming a better public speaker. It allows for individuals to grow by discovering and defining their personal and career goals, creating a plan for achieving those goals, and receiving consistent feedback and guidance, which helps them acquire new skills and improve overall performance and engagement.

This process can occur either in person or virtually, allowing more employees to receive coaching at the same time. The ongoing support offered through coaching, whether in person or virtually, is a partnership between a coach and an employee that helps develop the individual. One important attribute is that coaching is specific to an individual’s needs: Coaches take the time to discuss with employees what they want to achieve in their career. This personalization caters to their motivation to complete their goals, thus benefiting the employees and the company in the long run.


Sometimes, development can be an inside job. Mentoring is relationship-oriented and occurs when a person who has years of experience in a field provides guidance to an individual with less experience to raise the potential for their future career goals and success. The needs of the mentee are important in this relationship, and the mentor helps whenever possible in this development-driven relationship.

A company might consider choosing mentoring as a way of transferring internal knowledge and experiences from a more experienced employee to junior staff, for developing leaders or to help someone gain a stronger skillset. It’s important for employees to have a mentor to hold them accountable for achieving their goals, because it improves the chance of success for all parties involved: the mentee, the mentor and the company.

It might seem as though the benefits of mentoring are a one-way street, but that is not the case. This relationship is a partnership. While the mentee gains insight and experience in their field, the mentor can take pride in their protégé’s successes, knowing they were made possible through their guidance.


Sponsorships usually only include the sponsor and the individual who is on the receiving end of his or her support. A sponsorship is similar to mentoring, but it is almost a higher level of mentoring. Unlike with mentoring, the sponsor should be a person with a high status in an organization who can advocate for an individual’s future successes. This upper-level status means that the sponsor is someone who holds power and influence in the company and can therefore successfully endorse and advocate for an employee’s advancement by communicating with other people in the company.

A sponsor develops successful strategies, which may include staying on top of new, required skills for the individual’s desired position, as well as new opportunities. Then, the sponsor informs the individual of these requirements and opportunities to help prepare them for a promotion or raise. By working toward that goal under the encouragement of a sponsor, the employee becomes more engaged and motivated to accomplish tasks and projects, which benefits the company as well.

An Overview

The mentor or sponsor is typically someone who works in the same company as the individual(s) they are helping, which creates a deep understanding between them. While mentoring is generally related to good advice and key objectives, sponsorships typically go one step further, as the sponsor is more personally involved in the further development and success of an individual. Coaches, on the other hand, are usually (but not always) an informal second party who plays a hand in helping employees grow and develop on both a personal and a professional level in a shorter time period. Even though they aren’t always within the organization, they are still deeply invested in the development of the individual.

When considering what process to use to grow and develop employees, first consider what type of environment your employees would prosper in. Here’s the question to ask: Would an employee benefit more from a one-on-one relationship or from a team effort? No matter what developmental process a company chooses, the one that is chosen should be in the best interest of everyone involved.

Want to learn more about coaching? Check out this issue of Training Industry Magazine, which focuses on coaching and culture.