[Podcast] Coaching and Mentoring – the Same or Different?

Posted in : HR Updates on 16 January 2020
Mairéad Regan
Clarendon Executive
Issues covered:

Rolanda: Welcome to the "HR Bitesize Podcast" series and conversation with Clarendon Executive. Clarendon Executive works with companies across Northern Ireland to help maximise their leadership capabilities across all aspects of the employment lifecycle from executive search through to organisational and staff development.

Today, we are joined by Hugh McPoland and Mairéad Regan, associate consultants at Clarendon Executive.

In April, Mairéad provided us with an article which discussed the overlap between coaching and mentoring and outlined when best to use each approach. So could we maybe start with reminding listeners what coaching and mentoring are?

Coaching and Mentoring – the Differences

Mairéad: Coaching and mentoring are terms that are used interchangeably, but they are quite different, and it is important to understand those differences when you're making decisions about what is the appropriate development support for an individual in your organisation.

And there are a number of key differences. So coaching would be quite task-oriented. It would be where you're looking at a specific goal that an individual or an organisation wants the individual to achieve. It's quite short term, where an individual will sit down with a coach and they will look at perhaps specific skills or a development goal and they will look at how they get from point A to point B. And the coach, through a structured process, will ask questions of the individual to tap into their knowledge and their understanding.

So the whole premise of coaching is that the individual has the wisdom and the knowledge themselves. They just need support to access that and some questioning and a structured approach to get to that. So it is quite task-oriented.

Mentoring would be more about looking at a relationship. So, in the mentoring process, an individual has first-hand experience and knowledge, which they are passing on to another individual. Typically, a mentor will be working either in the same sector or the same skill base as the mentee, so they understand the challenges that the individual has. And the mentor will build a relationship with the mentee to pass on their experience and skills and knowledge.

So the coach is a relatively short-term process. The mentoring process is long term.

Coaching is performance-driven, so it's about here and now. "Here is where I am. Here's where I want to go or the organisation wants me to go." Mentoring is about developing the capability of the individual.

In the coaching process in an organisation, the line manager plays a very critical role, because the line manager is a part . . . it's a three-way process. The line manager who's brought the coach in will have set objectives for that. Whereas in the mentoring process, the line manager isn't really involved. The line manager is another source of resource for the individual.

And as I said, in the coaching process, it's structured and quite formal. So there'd be a series of meetings where the individual will sit down and ask questions of the staff member and allow them to tap into, to look at possible strategies, possible ways of achieving. We'll ask them questions. We'll look at areas of, you know, maybe limiting beliefs or their self-image, how that's impacting on the organisation.

Whereas the mentoring process is a little bit more informal and can be done over a cup of coffee. You can have a number of mentors as well, so you don't necessarily have to have one mentor.

So both provide a safe space for the individual. Both are to do with a questioning process and a sharing of knowledge. But the mentor will provide advice, will provide guidance, will signpost an individual to other resources, will provide contacts. The coach will actually encourage the individual to come up with their own answers and to become aware of the resources they already have and the things that they need to think about.

So they're two very different processes and, in fact, a number of individuals have both a coach and a mentor, but both of them are about providing support to the individual and about giving them access to additional knowledge and skills.

Using Coaching and Mentoring – some examples

Rolanda: Could you maybe give us an example then of when it would be appropriate specifically to use each approach?

Mairéad: Okay. So I've seen coaching used in a workplace environment where an individual was having behavioural issues. So it had come out through a performance review process that this individual was delivering the skills and the output that was required, but because of their challenging behaviour, it was having an impact on their team members. And it was decided by the organisation that rather than send this individual on a generic interpersonal skills type course, that this individual should work with a coach.

And in that coaching process, the first step was to ascertain from the individual how they saw their behaviour and then work through to look at what options were available for them to change and for them to look at and to explore with them the strategies that they could use. Allow them in a safe space to talk through a number of approaches and what would and what wouldn't work, and then very importantly in the coaching process, to walk away from that session or those sessions with some specific goals, which would go through the SMART process. So they'd be specific, they'd be measurable, they'd be achievable, that the individual would actually do.

And then when they returned in the coaching process to the next session, it would be to reflect back on what had worked well, what hadn't worked well.Were there things within the individual that, you know, beliefs that they held, which maybe served them at some point in the past which weren't serving them now? So that was an interpersonal type scenario.

Then the mentoring scenario is where an individual is progressing through an organisation, and because of the work they did on a day-to-day basis, it was felt that to facilitate their progression within the business, giving them access to somebody who was very skilled in this area would allow them to develop contacts and would allow them to ask questions of someone who wasn't their line manager, but someone who had been there, done that, and could perhaps share their knowledge and experience.

And both of those are providing an environment where an individual can ask whatever questions they want. There isn't anything that's barred, and it's a safe space for them to do that and a confidential space for them to do that.

Internal or External Coaches and Mentors

Rolanda: Does a coach or a mentor come within the organisation? Are they always from outside the organisation? How do you decide who is a good coach or who's a good mentor?

Mairéad: Both scenarios can be implemented. And I think the important thing is for a company to decide, "What is the objective? What are we trying to achieve here?" If an internal coach is used, the pluses of an internal coach are they'd be very well aware of how the organisation works, what the culture of the organisation is. They can also work with the timetable and the availability of staff. And they can sort of say, "Look, can I see you after lunch?" It's perhaps more informal and more flexible.

The risk with it is that because the coach knows the individual, they will come to that with . . . if they're not a trained coach and they don't have the necessary skills and experience, perhaps with a slight bias in terms of what they already know about that individual.

But again, having an internal coach saves costs for the business. Although the reality is if somebody is coaching, they're not doing another part of their job. So there is a cost there.

Having an external coach, the benefit of an external coach is somebody who's coming completely independent from the organisation who can offer a fresh perspective and who can, through their questioning, go at it from a number of angles not just from what was right for that business, but can say, "Have you thought about, and have you considered?" and ask those sorts of questions.

So I think an external coach, preferably somebody who is trained in coaching and the appropriate tools and techniques, because there are a lot of tools and techniques which are very useful. An external coach can be very beneficial, but the organisation has to realise that there is a cost to that as well.

Hugh: Could I ask about external coaches? Maybe it is just sort of my sense of needing to know lots of things. That conversation is entirely confidential between the coach and coachee, unless they agree to feed back to the organisation. How can an organisation actually ensure that what's been said to the coach is actually correct?

I'm thinking of one circumstance where we had a person taking a coach, and every time I met this individual, who was under investigation about his behaviours, he told me this coach was telling him that we were handling it all wrong.

I'm just wondering, again, from an organisational perspective, is there any control, or is it simply a process of saying, "Okay, we think you can do it with a coach. Go forth and be coached"? And then that's it. Is there any . . .

Workplace Coaching v Individual Coaching

Mairéad: Workplace coaching is different from coaching. A coaching relationship, you're absolutely right, is confidential between the two individuals, and that's one of the parameters that you discuss as part of the coaching agreement.

But when you are brought into an organisation, it is a partnership. So you're not brought in by that individual. You're brought in by management. And it is absolutely important that the objectives of that and the degree of confidentiality is discussed and agreed upfront.

You may be happy to feedback themes, and you certainly will make the individual aware that you are going to feed back, but it may not be the specifics. You may not be breaching the confidentiality to say, "Well, he said such and such had happened". But you may feed back to the organisation, "There seems to be a concern here about bullying or harassment", or whatever. So you could certainly feedback themes.

I think if you genuinely felt that something that was being said was inappropriate, check it out. I think the onus would be on the coach to be very honest and transparent with the coachee and say, "I'm not comfortable with what has been said here. It doesn't fit with what I am hearing. I will need to have this conversation with the line manager or whoever is brought in and be very honest".

I think if you break the confidentiality or if you do something underhand, then that's a breach of the coaching relationship. So it's really the upfront conversation with the line manager.

And indeed, what I would do is I would have a conversation with the line manager and the individual together. So everyone signs up to the expectations and the requirements.

Hugh: That's interesting, because certainly my sense in the past and not being an expert coach was that it was a very much a closed shop to the employer. But I think what I hear you saying is, in some circumstances, it can't be a tripartite arrangement.

Mairéad: Yeah, which is the difference between workplace coaching and coaching that happens outside of the workplace.

Hugh: Okay. Again, because I don't fully understand all this, what's the difference between workplace coaching and coaching?

Mairéad: So individuals can approach . . . so someone who goes for an interview and doesn't get a job, somebody has an issue with their line manager and doesn't know how to handle it, they can approach a coach separately outside of work and have coaching.

Say somebody approached me as a coach. Even if I know their business and their manager or whatever, I haven't been brought in by the company. I'm not being paid for by the company. But when the contract is with the organisation, there has to be that tripartite.

But you're right, 95% of what is said in the room is confidential. But if there are things that are of concern or that are genuinely causing a blockage, then the coach's responsibility is, first of all, to reflect back to the individual if they don't share it, how things won't improve.

So the aim would be for the coach working with the individual to get the individual to raise the issue or to agree that the coach raises the issue.

Key Differences between Coaching and Mentoring

Rolanda: Okay. So if you want to just maybe finish off by summarising. Mairéad, the key differences between coaching and mentoring.

Mairéad: Yeah, I'll finish . . . to me, both approaches are very, very useful. And I suppose in my work in life, I've had a number of mentors. And I think we can all think of . . . you know, sometimes you don't want to necessarily talk to people within your own organisation and you might identify somebody who's very good at project management or somebody who's very skilled at networking. A mentor doesn't necessarily have to be a formal relationship as such, but organisations do have mentoring schemes, which will allow you to work with somebody who's very experienced and very happy to share that knowledge. And indeed, sometimes it becomes a two-way sharing because the person who's very experienced can learn from perhaps a younger individual who has different ways of wording.

The coaching is the safe space for the individual to look at, "There is point A. They want to get to point B". And that might be on a skills front, but it might be with interpersonal issues. And how does the coach, through a series of clever questioning and approaches, allow that individual to tap into the knowledge that they already have and also to come up with a set of steps that will help them move from one point to another?

And I heard a lovely quote, which I think it just summarises it perfectly, which is, "A coach has some great questions for your answers, and a mentor has some great answers for your questions."

Rolanda: Excellent. Thank you very much, Mairéad.

Thank you for listening to the"HR Bitesize Podcast" series in conversation with Clarendon Executive. Further podcasts in the series are available at legal-island.com within the Employment Law Hub. Thank you.

Related Article:

Coaching vs Mentoring: What’s best for you and your business’ development?


This article is correct at 16/01/2020

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Mairéad Regan
Clarendon Executive

The main content of this article was provided by Mairéad Regan. Contact telephone number is +44 (0) 28 9072 5750 or email Mairead.Regan@clarendonexecutive.com

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