Rising demand for mentoring (mentors) and coaching (coaches)

In recent years the demand for mentors and coaches has risen exponentially. And the main reason behind this: more and more executives, managers and other specialists are expected to be involved in intentional and significant professional/personal development. Mostly because the workplace and business environment is becoming increasingly more competitive; because changes in industry is forcing radical changes in the skill mix required of professionals; and because a wide diversity of personal and professional skills, knowledge, and expertise is needed to succeed in today’s global business environment.

As this demand increased, many variations and combinations of mentoring and coaching emerged. To such an extent that it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between coaching and mentoring. And it has become almost impossible to categorize the variations available today.

The difference between coaching and mentoring

Workplace mentoring is a structured, organized element of an organization’s training and development activity. But it is also visibly separate from formal training activities. Mostly because the formal training is done by line managers and within a hierarchical relationship between the mentor and mentee. This hierarchical relationship, however, is not a suitable vehicle for effective mentoring.

Mentoring generally takes place in a confidential, one on one relationship, where a more senior person helps a more junior one to make progress as part of a planned development program (for example as part of management fast-tracking, preparing for a more senior post, leading a phase of workplace activity or managing a specific project).

Within this situation the mentor offers guidance and advice, in a supportive and non-threatening manner and within the culture and goals of the company. The aim is to give the necessary support that will enable the recipient to move forward confidently and to achieve his/her personal workplace objectives, and also the objectives set for them by the company.
In workplace coaching the coach works with individuals – and organizations – to help them achieve higher levels of performance and/or specific goals. The coach will, by necessity, take into account past performance and events, but focuses on actions and goals for the future. The approach is action oriented, focusing on where the client is now, where they want to be in the future, and how best to get them there. The coach takes this simple, structured approach, and build on it to develop a plan of action that will enable their client to achieve their objectives.

The benefits of coaching and mentoring

For individuals, the benefits can be many, including helping the individual: to avoid making mistakes in their business or personal lives; to achieve more, in less time; to minimize current problems; to effectively prepare for potential difficulties; to be happier with their personal and-or work life; to achieve career or personal development targets; to change career or career direction; to become more effective and influential in all areas of their life; and to be more attractive to others. And these benefits can be manifested in their career/professional development and/or their personal life.

For organisations, the benefits are similar. They include: learning from a person who has a broad range of knowledge; obtaining independent, unbiased, objective, advice and guidance; gaining improvements to productivity, quality levels, customer satisfaction, shareholder value; gaining increased commitment and satisfaction levels in operational and management staff; improved staff retention; supporting other training and development activity; visible evidence that the organisation is committed to developing and improving; establishing an effective process for organisational development.

Qualities of mentors and coaches

The ideal mentor is a person who has been trained in mentoring techniques, and has a blend of appropriate work experience, qualifications, and general business knowledge, that can be used to guide and advise a particular mentee. In addition it is very important that the mentor is a person who has an enthusiasm, if not a passion, for helping others to develop, fulfil their potential, and achieve their and the organization’s objectives.

The ideal coach is a person who has been trained in coaching techniques, has a broad range of experience and expertise, has knowledge and understanding of current business activity and trends, and an understanding of how an individual’s career and professional development should be tailored in order to assist that person in being successful in achieving their development objectives.

The traditional setting for coaching and mentoring

In an organizational setting, coaching has traditionally been part of the supervisory role played by line-managers, or more experienced employees, who show less experienced colleagues how to carry out an activity, or set of activities, competently. This is by default part of the process of developing an individual’s skills, evaluating their performance, appraising their progress, carried out by the line manager.

If the line manager does not carry out the coaching personally, they will have arranged for an experienced employee, usually within the same team as the person being coached, to deliver the coaching. In this context, coaching is, in effect, the teaching of a skill until the skill is learnt and can be consistently performed, independently, to the required standard.

Although the majority of this type of coaching is delivered by people who are more experienced, it is not always the case that they are more senior. Often, because the coach is explaining or demonstrating a skill, or process, the coach can be a younger person, but someone who is capable of passing on their skills to others who are less experienced in that activity.

Shift in the role of mentoring and coaching

Today, the traditional roles of mentors and coaches can still be seen in action. However, in many organizations there has been considerable change. The main changes have been in the widening of the range of coaching approaches and the merging of mentoring and coaching into one approach, generally under the title of Coaching.

Despite the best efforts of some academics and management gurus, the terms mentoring and coaching (and the roles each implies) are now used interchangeably in many business sectors. The main reason for this is that individuals are demanding and expecting their mentor-coach to have a wide range of skills that encompasses the best features of both categories. Many organizations are also establishing mentor-coaching systems that combine the best practices of both. The result is that, increasingly, the terms are in effect synonymous, and what one individual or organization will label as Mentor, another will label as Coach.

Also, many individuals work with a personal coach, whose role is a combination of mentor and coach. This is similar to the relationship between a sports person, for example an athlete, and their personal coach. Or to that between individuals and their personal fitness trainers. In the business and professional development world, the result is a hybrid of mentoring and coaching that most people now label as Personal Coaching.

As can be seen, there are similarities in the two roles, and, as a result, the differences are virtually indistinguishable and they are now frequently combined. Both are expected to have appropriate knowledge and experience, both must be skilled in: listening actively; communication techniques; being able to understand the work and personal environment of the person being coached; building a rapport and developing a relationship; asking appropriate questions; directing the coachee to other sources of help when appropriate; identifying, agreeing and setting goals; helping to devise action plans to achieve the goals; helping to monitor and make adjustments to the plans; and finally, knowing when it is time to end the relationship.

The role of mentoring and coaching has changed radically over recent years. However, the changes are generally accepted as being positive ones, and today coaches are accepted as an integral feature of the development process, both for individuals and for organizations.

As always, great care must be taken to ensure that the coach and any process that is undertaken is appropriate for the particular client, but with this caveat, it is now clear that coaches have an important role to play in the development of individuals and organizations in today’s business world. As the pace of change and the complexity of business activity increases, it is certain that coaches will continue to play a key role in helping individuals and organizations manage that change and complexity more effectively.