Mentoring or Coaching: What’s Best for Your Company?

One of the major effects of the recession was a lack of investment in developing business skills for younger, midlevel workers. Today we’re faced with a serious talent gap and, with the improving economy, greater difficulty in recruiting highly skilled employees to fill those positions.

As organizations realize the depth of their talent predicament, many are developing strategic talent pipelines, with eight out of 10 saying they are “taking the steps to grow the talent pool and ensure access to the rights skills that will help drive business results,” according to “The Talent Shortage Survey: Research Results,” a ManpowerGroup survey.

However, when building out these programs, questions often arise about how to use coaching and mentoring to develop talent, and the tools available to run them.

There is a difference between coaching and mentoring. Coaching helps employees make the most of their potential and performance capabilities. This is typically accomplished via an internal or external coach primarily aimed at developing skill competence and improving performance in specific areas. Coaching initiatives tend to have shorter timelines than mentoring programs, with more finite and tangible learning objectives and goals.

Most talent development programs in enterprise corporations will use mentoring to supplement their coaching initiatives. Mentoring can help improve career development, simplify increased responsibilities, build confidence, and help individuals learn and grow within an organization. Mentoring typically falls into two categories: non-directive mentoring, where the mentor acts as a sounding board, catalyst and role model, and sponsor mentoring, where a senior executive will promote, oversee and control a protege’s career. Often, a mixture of both models can provide the most effective support for organizational talent.

There is no perfect model or one-size-fits-all solution for every organization to adopt. When evaluating a coaching or mentoring strategy, organizations must keep both options mind, and answer the following best-practice questions:

  • Program goals: Are you developing tomorrow’s leaders, or more concerned about working on educating newer employees about certain procedures?
  • Desired outcomes: What should program results be? Immediate performance improvement or a longer-term development of management skills?
  • Methods to achieve the outcomes: For skills training, a month-long coaching program may be a better method. For longer succession planning, a more long-term mentoring solution could be the answer.

Identifying these parameters up front will help organizations identify which types of coaching and mentoring programs are best suited for their organizations. For example, a company might use a combination of sponsor and developmental mentoring to support key talent engagement as well as individuals’ personal career development. Or, an organization might implement a senior role model developmental mentoring program supplemented by external coaches to increase employee retention.

Coaching and mentoring programs are proven to increase productivity, morale and leadership. But managing these programs can be a challenge. Manual management using spreadsheets is not effective or scalable. Talent management software vendors can provide some tracking capability, but do not provide in-depth coaching and mentoring program workflows optimized to help guide these programs. Some enterprises have tried using social software such as Yammer or Jive to connect individuals, but without a formal mentoring or coaching structure, this approach is not sufficient to achieve measurable results.

Today there are emerging software options coming to market specifically to support a variety of mentoring and coaching programs. For example, companies could employ a software program to enable learning departments to start, manage and measure programs. An online platform can improve participant engagement and program outcomes while reducing the administration time and effort required.

Software also can provide reporting on key metrics such as program enrollment and completion dates and auto-populate employee records with program results. With a smart, thought-out use of technology, learning departments can scale programs to develop more of their employees faster and meet tomorrow’s challenges.

Lis Merrick is managing director at Coach Mentoring, and Steve O’Brian is vice president of marketing and client services at Chronus, a mentoring consultancy. They can be reached at

This story originally appeared in Talent Management’s sister publication, Chief Learning Officer. To read the orginal article, please click here.