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What's the difference between mentoring and coaching?

In a nutshell, it's the relationship. A coach works with an individual to achieve finite objectives in a defined timeframe. When an external, professional coach is hired to work with an individual, specific goals and measurable outcomes are immediately identified. The focus is about behaviors, performance and change. Formal assessments and feedback are typically included to identify key performance drivers and areas for development. In a mentoring relationship, a mentor is concerned about an individual's career satisfaction and success beyond specific objectives. Also, the mentor/mentee pairing is typically a more lasting relationship developed by individuals within an organization.

When organizations implement a formal mentoring process they tap into internal talent to form partnerships that assist with professional development. In a mentoring relationship, mentors focus on overall development while coaches generally focus on performance issues and behavioral change.

A mentor is an individual with the skills, knowledge, expertise or experience in a given area, who is willing and able to share this information with another individual. The role of the mentor is to help sponsor and guide an individual's development. Listening, communication and coaching skills are all vital in the role of the mentor. This criterion has nothing to do with age, gender, job grade level or seniority.

Coaching is a skill and one form of development that a mentor may employ to ensure that an individual's learning meets his or her objectives. One-on-one training or job shadowing, where one individual instructs and demonstrates a skill, is another learning method. The mentor employs these and other approaches to achieve objectives, but in the context of a broader relationship. A mentor is concerned about an individual's career satisfaction and success beyond meeting specific objectives. Coaching is shorter and more focused.

What is mentoring?

A mentor is an individual with the experience, knowledge and skills who is willing and able to share this information with another individual. A mentee is an individual who is seeking particular knowledge, skills or experience in a specific area and who looks to another individual to advance his or her learning. The relationship these individuals undertake for the transfer of teaching, training and knowledge is known as mentoring. A formal mentoring program provides structure and guidance for individuals to be successful. It helps leaders broaden functional experience, clarify performance goals and develop strategies to address job-related challenges.

Traditionally the term "mentor" or "mentoring" was associated with "upward" mobility and career advancement. Historically, individuals thought mentoring just sort of "happened" and having a mentor was vital for many individuals if they desired to advance to the most senior levels within an organization. Many times, an individual's mentor was that special "sounding board" or "confident" that an individual went to for those issues that he/she didn't feel could be discussed with his/her manager or anyone with whom there was a reporting relationship.

The new focus of "mentoring" within an organization is with an emphasis on positioning such an initiative as part of the business strategy and creating specific processes to ensure success. The role of the mentor is now much more expanded to not only help sponsor and guide an individual's career path and be a confidant, but to provide assistance and teaching in a specific skill/competency or knowledge area in a focused and planned format.

Mentoring is one of the most valuable and cost efficient tools an organization has for the development of its people. Mentoring delivers measurable, bottom-line results when linked with business objectives. It can:

  • Support recruiting and retention goals.
  • Drive inclusion by promoting diversity of thought and style.
  • Develop leadership talent and build bench strength in your talent pipeline.
  • Accelerate employee development, performance and cultural assimilation.
  • Facilitate knowledge transfer and create a learning organization.
  • Strengthen competitive advantage in the marketplace.

What results can my organization expect from a mentoring program?

Mentoring is one of the most valuable tools that an organization has for the development of its people because:

  • Mentoring makes the most of an organization's internal talent and facilitates knowledge transfer.
  • Mentoring allows individuals to learn on the job on a just-in-time basis, without spending time away from work.
  • Mentoring reinforces formal training.
  • Mentoring gives an individual ownership of continuous learning and helps to create a true learning organization.
  • Mentoring builds sponsorship and visibility for diverse talent.
  • Mentoring provides models of leadership that are directly applicable to participants' roles in the organization.
  • Mentoring decreases time needed for advancement.
  • Mentoring increases retention and internal promote-ability
  • Mentoring enhances the culture of the organization
  • Mentoring speeds up soft behavioral shifts

Can a person's manager be their mentor?

A person's manager can be their mentor. However, that does not usually occur for several reasons. A mentor is someone who is there to support an individual towards broad objectives. A manager must be concerned, first and foremost, with the individual's specific performance objectives in their current job. A manager certainly can share their broader skill and knowledge with an individual and should take an interest in the individual's career. Mentoring relationships can be more supportive and open when the mentor has no vested interest in, and does not formally evaluate, the individual's performance. If a manager does engage in the process, it is critical for him or her to clearly understand the role and exhibit the necessary sensitivity.

How does the mentoring process work?

The foundation of the DEC Mentoring process is the Launch or Kick off. It is the roadmap that guides the mentoring relationship. The Kick off training is designed to ensure that both Mentee and Mentor know what to expect and how to handle each challenge.  It insures that their goals are clearly defined, and expectations for the relationship and timelines are communicated and agreed upon. Areas of focus include:

  • Get acquainted – build a relationship
  • Communicate goals and objectives
  • Meeting times and locations
  • Establish protocols – learning styles
  • Confidentiality parameters
  • Agreements
  • Review next action steps

How can mentoring support diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Pairing two individuals together-one who needs to learn and one who able to teach-is the perfect opportunity to expose employees to new ways of learning and interacting. Our programs encourage diversity in thought and action, as well as in gender, orientation and ethnicity. A mentoring initiative allows people who would otherwise have limited or no access to certain people or facets of the business, structured access.

Specifically, mentoring can support diversity initiatives by:

  • Broadening the reach of development offered in the organization.
  • The learning achieved through pairing individuals of different backgrounds or styles.

How do you match mentors with mentees?

We pair individuals based on values first, then the needs and learning skills of the mentee and the skills and experiences of the mentor and finally personal attributes of each participant. Factors, such as style or background are not considered, and it can be a mistake to assume that individuals with like styles or backgrounds will be the best match. Growth may occur by virtue of sharing different approaches or perspectives. Note that there is nothing in this definition that says that the mentor has to be a certain age or at a certain job level to be effective.

What's the first step in implementing a mentoring process?

Before launching a mentoring initiative in your organization, we hold a meeting with the stakeholders of the Program.  Typically this would be a representative of HR and possibly Training along with the Manager that brought the program to the organization – Operations for example.  The concept of mentoring, along with specific guidelines and criteria are presented to allow participants to confirm the value of mentoring as a business strategy for their organization and determine how to launch or enhance a formal mentoring process. This meeting session will strengthen the team committed to the mentoring initiative and provide the opportunity to learn about and benchmark best practices of our program. During the meeting, attention is given to specific elements that ensure that the organization will implement a successful mentoring initiative and how to create measurable results.

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