There are many benefits of coaching and mentoring in the workplace. Whether you’re mentoring an employee, a colleague, or someone keen to learn from you as they set out on their career path, you should both gain something valuable from the experience.
Coaching and mentoring can be great ways to improve performance, but they don’t just help people reach their workplace objectives. As a mentor, having a two-way collaborative partnership with a mentee could be just what you need to help you become a more effective manager. Across the organisation, having coaching and mentoring schemes in place can lift the working environment and sharpen everyone’s communication skills.
Before you set up any programmes though, it’s important to understand some key differences between coaching and mentoring.
What is coaching?
Coaching is a must in any organisation, large or small. It involves teaching people new skills and processes and fresh ways of overcoming obstacles – and stopping to reflect on progress.
Coaching can be as simple as asking people for their help in delivering a project or asking for their solutions to challenging business issues. It is an approach that can be used at any time, not just during regular catch-ups.
Top tip: Rather than telling people what to do, empower them to find answers. Give feedback and ensure project goals and deadlines are mutually agreed.
What is a mentor?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a mentor as ‘an experienced and trusted advisor’, while Manchester Metropolitan University says mentoring is ‘about helping people to develop more effectively. It is a relationship designed to build confidence and support the mentee so that they can take control of their development’.
Whichever definition you prefer to use, the best mentor/mentee relationships should have a real mutual benefit. According to leadership executive coach Lolly Daskal, being a mentor comes with great responsibility. She says mentors should create a vision of their mentee’s future, helping them to understand what they want to achieve. It’s about taking a personal interest, listening and being available and learning from your mentee, too.
Top tip: To be a great mentor set some goals for you both from day one. Draw up a programme with events along the way to track progress.
The differences between coaching and mentoring
Coaching is often more short-term than mentoring and may be used to achieve a specific aim. It might focus on ‘hard’ skills, such as using PowerPoint or getting to grips with new IT. Leadership site Wavelength explains that coaching can be used for solving problems, helping with goals and objectives and improving performance.
Mentoring, on the other hand, is likely to evolve over a longer period. For some, that can mean many years spent helping their mentee along their chosen career path. That relationship might be more focused on ‘soft’ skills such as communication and support with making choices. It’s more likely to be a one-to-one arrangement, and a mentor will bring a new perspective and will share knowledge and wisdom.
Business magazine INC says mentoring is one of the most ‘challenging and valuable’ relationships you can enter from either side and is something anyone can do. There is certainly plenty to learn, both as a mentor and as a mentee.
The benefits of coaching
Employees expect to be coached and for their place of work to take an interest in their development. Increasingly, senior leaders and managers are expected to be able to coach formally through training sessions or in everyday conversations with their teams. If you coach, you’ll be viewed as a great employer, and it can have a significant boost on staff engagement.
According to UK Business Training and Development team Effective, one of the main benefits of coaching is that it puts the learner at the centre. Coaching assumes that the learner has the answer and draws it out of them. Instruction, by contrast, provides the answer. Coaching rather than instructing encourages someone to find their own solution to a problem and so helps them develop skills and confidence that they can use again in future.
Staff who are coached are generally more confident taking responsibility, while a coaching programme can help you as a business owner or manager to identify talent and see which areas of your business need improvement. It also demonstrates that as a business you are committed to developing your people.
In turn, your team will become more self-reliant, gain job satisfaction, contribute to the business and communicate better with those around them.
Statistics from an International Coaching Federation survey show that 80% of people coached at work reported increased self-confidence, while 70% recorded improved performance. It’s compelling evidence.
The benefits of mentoring
Mentoring is not just about teaching recent recruits or junior staff new skills; it’s about giving them somewhere they can turn to for support when it’s needed. Business adviser Brandon Gaille says that a support network can be the difference between talented people staying or leaving. At an organisational level, mentoring can turn good managers into great leaders because they are accessible and visible.
Getting feedback from a mentor they admire and trust can be a crucial driver of employee performance, while for the mentor there’s real satisfaction to be gained from knowing their protégé is achieving.
Mentoring is an excellent way of ensuring the future success of your business, too. Through it, you can transfer valuable skills and knowledge to the next generation of your company, helping to protect against the loss of experience when people move on or retire.
Setting up a coaching or mentoring programme
According to employee engagement agency Higher Logic, there are five steps to setting up a formal coaching or mentoring plan in your business:
- Set a framework: Decide how long your programme will last and how often and where people will meet.
- Get buy-in across the organisation: Try and include staff at every level and every department. Make sure you fully explain the benefits.
- Take time to match coaches/mentors and employees: List potential mentors’ skills and interests and take time to match them with people’s needs. This pairing doesn’t need to be kept within departments – in fact, there can be benefits to having a coach or mentor from another department as they may bring a more objective point of view.
- Empower the coach/mentor and mentee: Let them set their own objectives and goals.
- Provide opportunities for feedback: Give participants space and freedom to feed back honestly.
With both mentoring and coaching, aligning senior management is key so that they understand the value of the programme and can have input into any syllabus. Take the following points into account when designing your coaching programme:
- Make a plan: What areas do your employees need help in? What are the goals and timelines? Identify your coaches and ask them whether their leadership development can be enhanced with additional training.
- Launch communications: Who will be the leader of the programme? Make sure communications come from that person’s office.
- Schedule: Make sure time is built into everyone’s schedules, so coaching sessions become regular, valued and worthwhile.
- Measure success: It might be a practical result – such as a percentage of employees being able to use a new IT system – or your people might tell you they feel more supported in their work via internal surveys. Either way, determine some tangible measure that you can use to assess the success (or otherwise) of your programme.
With both coaching and mentoring, by implementing a programme in your business you’ll be putting your people’s needs on the agenda and will help build loyalty, trust and empowerment in a workplace where everyone will be able to give of their best.