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  • Irina Ketkin - Learning and Development Expert

What are Coaching and Mentoring?

Definition and purpose

Coaching and mentoring have been around for quite some time though in recent years they’ve gained even more popularity in UK organisations – by 2015 three-quarters of surveyed companies had coaching and mentoring programmes in place[1].

There are various types of coaching, which will be explored in details later on. The 2 types that add a layer of complexity to the task of defining coaching are on-the-job coaching and business coaching. Harvard Business School (2004) defines OTJ coaching as an “interactive process through which manager and supervisors aim to solve performance problems or develop employees capabilities”. McGuire (2014) offers a definition of the other type of coaching - “human development process aimed at bringing about growth and effective change, often through knowledge, skill and experience acquisition.” Stewart and Rogers (2015) offer another 3 definitions of coaching:

  • Coaching is a process that enables learning and development to occur thus performance to improve (Parsloe, 1995)

  • Primarily a short-term intervention aimed at performance improvement or developing a particular competence (Clutterbuck, 2005)

  • The art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another (Downey, 1999).

Looking at mentoring, the same authors provide 3 definitions of mentoring, which are as follows:

  • Mentors are established managers who provide support, help and advice more junior members of staff – ideally not a direct line manager (Price, 2011)

  • Mentoring is the long-term passing on of support, guidance and advise (CIPD, 2008)

  • A mixture of parent and peer, the primary function is to be a transformational figure in an individual’s development (Clutterbuck, 2005)

Ross (2007) looks at mentoring through the activities mentors engage in[2]:

Manage the relationship

Encourage the learner

Nurture the learner

Teach the learner

Offer support, advice and guidance

Respond to the learner’s needs

Similarities and Differences

Both coaching and mentoring are development activities, this is something most authors agree with[3]. Again, most authors imply that the initiation of either of these is voluntary and that both the coachee and/or mentee are responsible for their own development[4]. Michael (2008) further adds that neither is “about teaching, instruction or telling somebody what to do”; it’s about asking the right questions in order to guide better self-awareness and decision making. Finally, Gold (2013) outlines that neither of the two is applicable when basic skills or knowledge is required and that both can be time-consuming.

There are some key differences between the two. Harvard Business School[5] outlines the main differences using the following categories:

  • Objectives: coaching is used when inappropriate behaviours need to be corrected, performance needs to be improved and new skills need to be learnt. Mentoring’s objective is to support and guide personal development of the mentee.

  • Initiator: the coach guides learning and training, while the mentee is the one responsible for his or her personal development.

  • Relationship: the coach is usually also a line manager, where as a mentor rarely has a direct hierarchical relationship with the mentee.

Another difference is provided by McGuire (2014) in that the key emphasis of mentoring is to transfer experience from a more experienced professional to the mentee, whereas in coaching the emphasis is on an equal partnership with the aim to facilitate the development and enhance the performance of the coachee.

By far the most user-friendly differentiation is given by CIMA (2002):

“Coaching is a little bit like having the professional equivalent of a fitness trainer – a specialist dedicated to working with you on specific goals and objectives you would like to achieve (…). Mentors are more likely to have followed a career path similar to the one on which you are embarking. They are, therefore, charged with passing on their knowledge and expertise. Importantly, the knowledge transmitted in this way will contain invaluable details about organisational values, beliefs and culture that are hard to acquire through formal training”

Key benefits for different stakeholders (2017) outlines 4 types of stakeholders – the learner, the learner’s manager, other reporting lines and the project manager. The last two are not applicable for every organisation. So, let’s explore some of the key benefits of the learner and his/her manager[6].

Learner (coachee/mentee):

  • Improve self-awareness

  • Achieve development or performance goals

  • Can focus on problem solving

  • Help shape individual’s career, beliefs and values

  • Becomes responsible for own development

The coach or mentor are also stakeholder. As CIMA (2002) outlines “people choose to become coaches or mentors because they themselves get something out of it. Many would say that they enjoy being involved in someone else’s development and (…) enjoy nurturing young talent”.

Finally, the sponsoring organisation also benefits from having a coaching/mentoring program (CIMA, 2002):

  • Development of management and leadership capabilities

  • Increased commitment and engagement with the organisation

  • Improve overall communication

  • Support change management initiatives

Griffiths (2004) uses research by the Association for Coaching to demonstrate how coaching can improve retention and “save a business 1.5 times the annual salary of the individual, taking into account replacement, training, productivity and lost knowledge”. There is another argument for coaching – it creates a responsible and cohesive environment, that raise morale and, in turn, improve the employer’s image in the market.

[1] CIPD (2015). Learning and Development 2015. Annual Survey Report. [online] London: CIPD. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2017].

[2] McGuire, D. (2014). Human Resource Development. 1st ed. London: SAGE Publications.

[3] McGuire (2014), Stewart and Rogers (2015), Megginson and Clutterbuck (2005)

[4] Coaching and mentoring: how to develop top talent and achieve stronger performance (2008), p.97

[5] Coaching and mentoring: how to develop top talent and achieve stronger performance. (2008). 1st ed. Sofia: Harvard Business School Press/Класика и Стил.

[6] Based on Gold (2013), McGuire (2014) and Butler and Rose (2011)

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