There has been a significant increase in the number of organizations implementing coaching and mentoring programs in recent years, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shift to hybrid work.

Employers are having to work harder than ever to attract and retain talent while adjusting to a remote workforce that operates across different locations and environments. This presents challenges around training and development, with more employees wanting organizations to invest in their career development.

Research bears this out: According to a  LinkedIn Workplace Learning report, 94% of employees say they would stay with an organization longer if it invested in their careers, and 9 in 10 workers with a mentor report feeling happier within their careers. In a study by the Human Capital Institute, 51% of organizations with an effective coaching program report having a higher return on investment (ROI).

The increase in coaching and mentoring is perhaps unsurprising, yet despite the seemingly interchangeable use of these terms, coaching and mentoring mean very different things. Knowing the key differences can help organizations tailor their approach to meet the specific needs of people they wish to develop.

The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

In a mentorship program, the mentor is a more experienced employee who shares their knowledge, skills and experience to support and guide a less experienced employee (the mentee) to help them gain the skills needed to advance in their career. It’s often growth driven, less structured and tends to be long-term, although no formal qualifications are needed to be a mentor.

Coaching is a developmental or training technique that is often used for executives or new leaders and involves a professional coach or external consultant who works with employees to develop their skills and achieve business goals. However, internal, high-performing employees may act as coaches as well. It is usually performance driven and supports employees in their personal and professional goals with feedback and direction.

While mentoring uses firsthand experience and guidance, coaching empowers individuals to use their own resources to achieve goals to reach their full potential. There may be situations in which an individual may benefit from a coach or a mentor during different stages in the employee lifecycle.

When To Use Coaching Versus Mentoring

For organizations relatively new to the nuances and subtleties of coaching and mentoring, it’s not always obvious which approach is best suited for any given circumstance. Fortunately, there are useful guidelines: For an individual wishing to find their own solutions to a particular challenge such as public speaking, overcoming limiting beliefs or improving self-awareness, a coaching relationship can help unlock and utilize an individual’s potential to achieve their goals.

On the other hand, an individual requiring guidance or expertise to navigate something more long-term such as career progression or workplace relationships may benefit from a mentor who can provide insight, experience and ongoing support.

6 Best Practices for Coaching and Mentoring

As coaching and mentoring initiatives continue to increase in house and externally, it’s important to meet the needs and expectations of employers and employees alike. Here’s some best practices to consider when implementing a coaching and mentorship program in your organization.

  1. Set clear, goal-orientated expectations.

Setting clear expectations and desired outcomes for coaching and mentorship programs at the outset is fundamental. These should be goal orientated as this helps individuals to develop an action plan of achievable targets and goals over a predetermined period of time.

Agree on key outcomes at the commencement of the program, at the midpoint and at the end, bearing in mind the time available.

For mentorship programs in particular, initial training should be offered to both mentors and mentees so they are aware of their role and what to expect.

  1. Provide a program manager.

It’s important to establish a set contact — a group of one or more who’re responsible for running the program. It might be a point of contact to allay concerns or to provide additional information and/or key dates.

  1. Build rapport.

Building rapport through empathy and active listening, where the coach or mentor listens carefully to what’s being said and responds and reflects appropriately, is a key part of this type of relationship and can help foster a safe, non-judgmental environment.

  1. Encourage self-reflection.

Since a major part of the coaching and/or mentoring journey is built on goals and objectives, self-reflection should be an important part of the program. Ask open questions that stimulate critical thinking such as: “What obstacles are preventing you from moving forward” or “If you could go back in time, what would you change about this situation?” Open questions like these can prompt the learner to think of new perspectives to solving challenges.

  1. Adopt a tailored approach.

No two coaching or mentoring relationships are alike, even if the underlying purpose or experiences are similar. A good coach or mentor will tailor their approach to the individual they’re working with, taking into account personality, needs and individual career goals.

  1. Maintain confidentiality.

Every session must be kept confidential to ensure privacy and build trust between the mentee and mentor as with the coach and coachee. According to a Harvard Business Review article, high-trust workplaces help employees develop new skills in their personal and professional life. It can encourage the learner to trust their coach or mentor in their development.

Coaching and Mentoring: The Future

In many ways, the pandemic was a catalyst for technological advancements across all sectors and industries. Training and development has been no exception. According to The International Coaching Federation’s 2021 Covid-19 Snapshot survey, coaches increased their use of audio-video platforms by 83% during the pandemic, while in-person sessions inevitably decreased by the same proportion.

Thanks to virtual coaching platforms and social media channels, coaching can continue to reach more people across the world, eliminating time and/or travel challenges. Team coaching, where group interventions take place, is also likely to increase, while highly specialized executive coaching will remain sought after in many management and leadership circles.

Mentoring, meanwhile, remains a key way to develop individuals from a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) perspective and also to support mental health and well-being. Gen Z can benefit too:
The generation who had a disrupted education and early work-life due to the pandemic, mentoring can be an effective way of reintroducing them into the workplace.